Creating a culture of kindness in your organization can lift your team’s spirits, make your employees feel valued, and increase your company’s bottom line. If that weren’t enough, research shows that people tend to pay it forward to colleagues, clients, and vendors, allowing kindness to quickly spread throughout, and beyond, your organization.
Fostering this kind of culture begins and ends with your leadership team. If you are not hiring and promoting leaders who live out this kindness promise, if leaders are not holding those who do not accountable, the foundation will crack and serious long-term consequences will ensue.
What is a culture of kindness?
A culture of kindness involves caring about a coworker or colleague’s concerns, appreciating their individual viewpoints and contributions, involving them in decisions that impact them, and at a fundamental level, respecting their humanity.
Kindness in the workplace can be as simple as small, but consistent, acts like acknowledging someone’s presence with a smile and a warm “hello,” giving people your undivided attention, not interrupting colleagues when they are speaking, and saying things like “please” and “thank you.”
But cultures of kindness go much further. In them, leaders create a safe and caring environment for their employees. They listen intently and share information openly. Their goal is to make sure their employees feel appreciated, acknowledged, and supported so they can grow and prosper.
Kindness at work: examples of kind company cultures
1. The Container Store
When Inc. profiled ten like-minded CEOs, they uncovered a fact that holds today – leaders that put their people first prosper with purpose.
The former CEO of The Container Store, Melissa Reff, was one of the leaders included in the piece, and a big part of her legacy was her belief that ‘communication is leadership.’ This commitment is now one of the company’s seven Foundation Principles and is dedicated to Melissa.
Their website states, “At The Container Store, we believe communication must be consistent, dependable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate, and yes, even courteous.”
Another principle contributing to their culture of kindness is their belief that “when it’s a win-win, we all win.” Their website explains: “Simply put, nobody must lose for someone else to win. We treat our business partners with respect, honesty, transparency, and trust, and they flourish. “
When you think of cultures of kindness, snack company KIND is naturally top-of-mind. Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky makes sure that KIND is more than a brand name but a way of life and work. The company’s mission statement is to “create a kinder and healthier world – one act, one snack at a time.” They also believe that “if you are not kind to yourself, it is hard to be kind to others.
KIND reinforces its mission with recognition opportunities. “We have an annual tradition called ‘Kindos of the Year,’ when we recognize those team members who have gone above and beyond to live out the kind values and champion them within the organization,” Lubetzky told Business Insider. “Kindos is just as high an honor, if not more so, than meeting an important sales goal or other business objective.”
According to former ‘Googler’ Lars Siemon, the tech giant has three different types of recognition programs. ‘Kudos’ are short, public thank you messages that recognize “someone doing something helpful, cool, or in any way impactful to you.” gThanks are fixed, monetary rewards. “Everyone has the same, defined number of gThanks, like a budget, each quarter, which is paid by the company, to no cost for the giver. So, you can freely give them to your colleagues (or even managers),” explains Lars.
Lastly, Google’s Spot Bonus system is an extension of gThanks. These rewards can be given to employees by managers and project leads for significant contributions during the year.
Why does kindness matter today?
After everything people have been through in the past couple of years – from the pandemic to social unrest to financial stressors and rising inflation – many employees are actively disengaged. They feel burnt out and underappreciated. The stats are alarming. According to a recent survey conducted by OnePoll of more than 2000 American workers, 59% feel that they have never had a boss that truly appreciates their work. Many of these people – often your top and most talented employees – are on their way out, looking for leaders who will truly appreciate their contributions.
At a time when attracting and retaining quality employees is both difficult and costly, creating a culture of kindness in the workplace, one where employees feel safe and inspired, boosts company performance and keeps the best talent engaged.
Oversight of culture is also a growing priority in the boardroom. And it makes sense why they are beginning to sit up and take notice. A company’s intangible assets, which include talent and culture, are now estimated to make up 52% of a company’s market value. And for some companies, it can be as high as 90%.
This valuation is higher than ever and shows no signs of slowing down. Today, company value is defined less by physical assets, and more by your people and engagement. A company’s talent and workplace culture are its competitive edge.
Can an organization be kind and high performing?
Without a doubt, yes. In fact, there is a positive correlation. There is a long-held belief in the corporate world that kindness in the workplace could make one appear weak or passive or that an organization could not be both kind and high-performing. However, research today backs up the notion that kind workplaces deliver in the most important ways.
Research shows that kindness has the power to:
- Increase sales
- Motivate employees
- Improve creativity and drive innovation – an organization is five times more likely to be considered innovative if it is also considered kind.
- Boost well-being
- Reduce attrition
- Drive higher customer loyalty
- Lower marketing costs
- Lower recruiting costs
- Decrease training costs
The single most important thing you can do is hire and promote kind leaders
Seventy percent of employee engagement scores are related to their manager. So, logic tells us that managers make the most significant impact on engagement and building a people-first culture. If we know this, why aren’t more companies hiring and promoting leaders and managers who have the right stuff?
The truth is that companies miss the mark on identifying high managerial talent in 82% of their hiring decisions. We have all seen it – leaders hire and promote people based on their success in a previous non-managerial role or tenure in their company or field. But none of these factors mean they will be successful managers and leaders.
The good news is that managerial talent exists within every company. Admittedly, it’s rare (Gallup’s research reveals that about one in 10 people has inherent management talent), but it’s there. You just have to seek it out, find it, and promote it consistently.
So, what do you look for? Assess team leaders by performance and by how they treat their team members. Start with the data:
- Which managers consistently drive high productivity while enjoying high eNPS and engagement scores?
- Which leaders have high retention rates for top talent? Or, looking at it another way, which managers have high performer resignation rates? That is a red flag.
- Which leaders consistently have low attrition on their teams?
- Which managers have high promotion rates? This metric tells us who is good at growing talent.
- Which managers are good stewards of the company’s resources. In other words, how leaders’ “people costs” align with their forecast or plan provides insight into how well a manager is doing at stewarding resources.
- And finally, look at absentee rates. Do any teams have a recent spike, or are they trending above average? This information can pinpoint if a team is disengaged or over-worked.
In addition to the data, it is your job as a leader to be observant. Great leaders are honest, transparent, trustworthy, and compassionate. They celebrate people’s successes, shine the spotlight on others, openly recognize and reward excellence, and treat people like real people. Do you know leaders on your team that embody these traits? It is time to celebrate them and hold them up as the model for your organization’s future workplace.
Get started today
Why delay? Put these four actions in place today to begin to reap the many benefits of a culture built on kindness:
1. Commit to lead by example
In their book, Leading with Kindness, authors William Baker and Michael O’Malley identify six qualities of kind managers—compassion, integrity, gratitude, authenticity, humility, and humor—and believe a kind management style improves employee performance and retention.
Ask yourself if you are portraying these qualities and leading by example. If you are falling short after an honest assessment, start small. Choose one or two focus areas and be intentional about living these every day:
- Be courteous.
- Be patient.
- Openly share genuine compliments.
- Celebrate others’ achievements.
- Say “Thank you,” or “I appreciate you for….”
- Practice being curious, not critical.
- Come from a place of appreciation, not expectation.
2. Review data on current leaders
As we mentioned earlier, review key metrics like engagement scores and retention rates to uncover the leaders who are worth celebrating and emulating. Use the same data to identify leaders who require a deeper look.
3. Make it a prerequisite
Make kindness a prerequisite for leadership. The stereotype of the jerk who rose through the ranks by “kissing up and kicking down” is grossly outdated. Today’s most progressive organizations understand that kindness is not soft or weak, but a critical key to success.
4. Evaluate your formal and informal recognition programs
Finally, did you know that one of the easiest, quickest, and best ways to build a culture of kindness is through employee recognition? Overall, companies with cultures that prioritize employee recognition are 2.5 times more likely to see increases in employee engagement. What programs do you have in place to recognize employees? Are your leaders actively engaging with these programs? It’s time to find out and make recognition more than a nice to have.
Author: Megan Raftery, Director Employer Brand and Culture, Blu Ivy Group Inc.
Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands, and high-performance cultures.
From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future.
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