Is there room for kindness in business?
At a time when many of are carrying an even greater burden of underlying stress than usual, due to Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainty, the answer is a resounding yes!
In fact, without kindness, it is rare for businesses or humans to prosper in any meaningful or enduring way.
This article is a short, public reminder to all of us that kindness is the key to making it through these unsettling times in all facets of life, and there's evidence for this claim from the realms of:
- Country Music
Okay, the last factor might not be all that persuasive but it will help us sign off on a happy note.
The biological reasons for kindness in business and life
After taking part in the global behavioural science event, Nudgestock, curated by Ogilvy, I discovered the work of author, James Wallman, and his book, Time And How To Spend it.
In an article for the OECD Forum, entitled, The Great Reset? Let’s aim for a “kinder capitalism”, and one measure for well-being, James shared this insight about kindness from a biological perspective.
When you’re kind to someone, your system releases oxytocin. And their system, too. And anyone who sees or hears about this act of kindness. And since oxytocin – also known as the “love drug” and the “cuddle hormone” – makes people feel all warm and good inside, any act of kindness delivers a whole world of goodness. And so thank you coronavirus, because the other thing that’s gone viral in lockdown is kindness. If only you could bottle and brand it, and make a profit from it.
James' tongue-in-cheek call for exploiting kindness for profit raises an important point.
Whether we experience kindness, deliver an act of kindness, or witness others being kind, we all get the same emotional pay out.
Imagine this being the experience between you and your clients, between you and your colleagues, or for your clients witnessing such interactions between your team members.
I recall reading a study which noted that when managers berate staff who've made mistakes in front of customers, it backfires for the brand. Maybe the old Stephen Covey adage of praise in public and criticise in private should be more routinely taught and practiced?
Psychology and acts of kindness
One of the earliest books I read in my marketing career was, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
I have used insights from Influence right to this very day and naturally, this seminal book has much to say about psychology and kindness in business and the workplace.
The very first principle that Cialdini talks about in his book is reciprocity. In essence, he argues we are wired to return favours and pay back debts. In other words, we "do unto others as they have done unto us".
He shares insights from the world of psychology that demonstrates how most of us do not like being in debt to others; if we've been treated kindly we like to find ways to pay back that kindness.
From a marketing perspective, this is directly on target with the foundations of digital marketing that Michael Shanahan and I share with clients. We argue that your website needs to have helpful, valuable content front and centre; content that anticipates and meets the needs and questions of your ideal customers / audiences.
Interestingly, most of us slip into "me too" mode when we write website content, newsletter content, ads, or other forms of communication.
For example, the Talked About Marketing website was created in a hurry, without the usual lead time I'd like to take to think through these questions (there's a lot of reasons for that). However, now that I have had time to develop experiences to reflect upon, and now that Michael has brought his perspectives and experience into the mix of our products and services, we are investing time and energy into branding and marketing strategy. I am publicly stating right now, that within the next few months, I'll be able to proudly share this website as a stellar example of what we preach.
And at the core of the re-launch of Talked About Marketing will be the concept of reciprocity. There will be no room for showboating or indulgence, it will be content created for you with the scope to co-create helpful content with others, too.
In this way, marketing can, is, and should be an act of kindness.
But what if someone gets what they want from a blog post or page and never uses your services or pays you? This common question I get in workshops, especially blogging workshops, is met by two truths:
- In all likelihood, if someone has come with a question and left with an answer that completely solves their problem, it's most likely they were never going to be (or need to be) fee paying clients any way. Good luck to them.
- In reality, this situation simply grows your band of advocates by one. This momentary exchange will continue having a ripple effect of value or "word of mouth" marketing that will amortise the investment of time over and over again, as hundreds and thousands of people discover our work.
Based on this idea of reciprocity, then, a successful website is one that will naturally cultivate "fans" who will derive great satisfaction from being the ones who help others discover your work.
Kindness in business literature
The US Chamber Of Commerce Foundation has captured some important papers about the business case for kindness.
I encourage you to visit that page and look at some of the reports it links to. But let's just focus on the key ways kindness adds to the bottom line, as they have summarised it:
- Fosters trust within an organization - PwC’s 2016 CEO Survey finds that kindness increases employee commitment to the organization, eliminates communication barriers, minimizes negative competition among staff, and strengthens relationships with other business partners and investors.
- Assists in talent recruitment - A study from researchers at the University of Delaware demonstrates that having a culture of kindness at work may attract employees to a company, allow them to do their work with more compassion, and lead to lower recruiting, hiring, training costs, and higher productivity.
- Heightens employee engagement and commitment - Gallup research has shown that in the past twenty years, employee engagement has become a significant predictor of an organization’s profitability and productivity. Kindness enhances engagement of both employees and customers. Research also indicates that loyalty increases when employees have opportunities to demonstrate kindness in the workplace.
- Fuels learning and innovation - Empathy and kindness is crucial in learning from failure and fostering innovation because it increases what researchers from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor call ‘psychological safety‘ in sharing information. Because innovation rests on learning from failure, kindness is an important aspect of creating new ideas.
- Promotes high-quality service and brand loyalty - Research from Gallup shows that genuine expressions of kindness in service interactions create brand loyalty, drive customer engagement with a service or experience provider, and forge lasting bonds with customers.
- Improves business performance - A Deloitte University study shows an 80% improvement in business performance when levels of diversity and inclusion were high.
I would go so far as to say this article by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation is, itself, an act of kindness to business owners everywhere.
Kindness in country music
Before I end with the iconic country music anthem of kindness, Glenn Campbell's Try A Little Kindness, some closing thoughts.
I know there will be a few readers who are still thinking this article shows Steve has gone soft. To them, I say that there are three "human" reasons I am happy to publicly advocate for kindness as a virtue - in life and in business.
- Firstly, I actually believe kindness is a fundamentally important life value. I am attracted to kind people and repelled by unkind people. Life's too short to be surrounded by nasty, cynical personalities so my starting position is that kindness matters.
- Secondly, businesses and business people who are kind, are the ones who get the "best" out of colleagues and customers. You go the extra mile for people you like.
- Thirdly, kind people are not necessarily weak pushovers. If we are motivated by kindness at our core, we will stand up to correct errors and give guidance. After all, nobody wins if somebody is letting down a team or trying to take advantage of situations.
My message to you, if you find yourself fraying at the seems and losing the plot within your business, is to place a high value on finding a way to get some breathing space and reconnect with a source of motivation that reminds you of your love and passion for the field you are in. Think of the beautiful sense of power that comes from knowing how simple acts of kindness have a biological effect on everyone around you, that benefits you, them, and witnesses.
If you are already finding that being kind is just part of who you are, please keep on keeping on. I've been touched by kindness from clients this year during different challenges and I am forever in their debt. And I strive to live this advice in all my dealings.
Only this morning did I reply to a client who sent me a message of support and commiserations, saying how incredible it feels to know that I don't just have clients I work with but I have friends.
There is no room for "this is just business" in my world. We are all humans, striving to succeed in different endeavours and without kindness, our victories are most likely to be hollow and short lived. This time of Covid-19 makes this resolve even more important.
If kindness is missing from your business and marketing mix, now is the time to add it, and we can canvas that as part of one of our marketing packages, if you need some extra help.
Here's to a rich life. And apologies for indulging in a country hit to see out this article.
PS If you have examples of kindness in action in business, please leave them in the comments so we can inspire and motivate each other to stay true.