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Why kindness is good for business

By Sophie Francis | 16 October 2012

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Kindness is viral. In a world where people are increasingly connected across digital networks, and becoming less connected in workplaces and communities, acts of kindness have enormous power to motivate and inspire others. Sharing these stories helps us identify what is important and meaningful and expand it.

 

Sharing stories of kindness

Here are some compelling stories we came across recently.

Chris Hurn, CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation, returned from a family holiday at a Ritz-Carlton resort without his son’s favourite stuffed toy, Joshie. To get the distraught child to sleep, he fibbed the toy was taking an extended holiday. When hotel staff called with news they had located the toy, Chris asked if they could kindly take a photo of Joshie lounging on a deck chair to back up his story. Shortly later a package arrived with a whole album documenting Joshie’s holiday (driving a golf car, having a massage, hanging with friends and more). Chris was amazed and the morale of the lost property team got a huge boost. As a Huffington Post writer, Chris is now giving the hotel chain some great word of mouth. Even for a company famous for turning service problems into opportunities, that unexpectedly generous act proved exceptional for business.

A similar story happened to Sue Langley at a Singapore hotel. Needless to say, she stays there whenever she passes through.

Another virtual word-of-mouth story about kindness was recounted by Bill Taylor in the HBR Blog. Brandon Cook’s grandmother, seriously ill in hospital with cancer, begged him to bring in a bowl of clam chowder from Panera Bread, a well-known American restaurant chain. Panera only sold chowder on Friday. When Brandon called the local store manager, she made up a batch especially and included a box of cookies from the staff. Brandon’s mum posted the story on Panera’s Facebook page generating 500,000 likes and over 22,000 comments. Bill was struck by how much people are craving to engage with companies on more humane levels and why small acts of kindness seem so exceptional. We were too.

What about kindness that isn’t part of a customer service strategy?

When Howard Cooper, CEO of an award-winning Honda dealership, retired he gave $1,000 for each year of service to 89 employees, thanking them for their contribution. Honda didn’t ask him to do that; this generous act was spontaneous.

 

Kindness in business

Kindness as a strategy goes beyond savvy commercial practice. Showing genuine care and appreciation to the people who work for us and with us makes us feel more connected. It appeals to our inner motivation to increase others’ welfare, which is how social psychologist Daniel Batson defines altruism . More than simply feeling empathy for others, altruism involves compassionately taking action to relieve suffering.

People who are kind to others become happier as a result. Studies show happy people score higher on their motivation to perform and are more likely to recognise and enact kind behaviours. The more they acknowledge their own kind gestures and experience the gratitude of others, the more positive, energised and generous they feel.

In his book The Hidden Gifts of Helping , bioethicist Stephen Post, explores how simple shows of concern, such as mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbour or volunteering to mentor a young person starting out in their career, improve our health and wellbeing and allow us to express our deeper identity. These strategies help us survive and thrive in hard times and challenging transitions.

Positive organisational psychologists call this pro-social behaviour. In an influential 2000 best seller Bowling Alone , political scientist Robert Putnam chronicled the decline of human connection, the glue that binds our social networks. In Better Together (2003), he highlighted organisations such as UPS that follow a “social capital” agenda. Building social capital depends largely on cultural norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trust. Whether an organisation is motivated more from philanthropic or profit motives, creating a culture that genuinely encourages kindness and compassion reaps positive outcomes.

 

Is kindness becoming best practice?

Australian School of Business researcher, Christina Boedker, thinks so. In a study of over 5,600 people in 77 organisations, she found that of business practices, compassionate behaviour in a leader has the highest correlation with productivity and profitability. She defines this as the ability to “understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be.” People want the people who lead them to have their best interests at heart, and they reward this behaviour with greater loyalty and discretionary effort.

Boedker notes that compassion in managers and leaders involves holding hard conversations. Preparedness to engage in authentic, honest exchanges coupled with genuine curiosity, care and willingness to go out our way for others, makes up this picture of a kind and compassionate leader.

Even small gestures and acts of kindness send powerful messages that connect us with inner values and balance the task, goal and profit focus of our daily work lives. People who go out of their way to be kind to others, even in small ways, help show us how.

References:

  1. Batson, C (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  2. Otake, K, Shimai, S, Tanaka-Matsumi, J, & Fredrickson, B (2006). Happy People become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361375.
  3. Post, S (2011). The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the power of giving, compassion, and hope can get us through hard times. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Putnam, R (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  5. Putnam, R, & Feldstein, L (2003). Better Together: Restoring the American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  6. Australian School of Business (2012). The Rise of the Compassionate Leader: Should You Be Cruel to Be Kind? [email protected] school of Business, Aug 21.

 

About the Author: Sophie Francis

Sophie Francis

Sophie writes about positive psychology, emotional intelligence and neuroscience for the Langley Group. She is an accredited R2 Strengths practitioner with a Master of Business Coaching from University of Wollongong, and co-author of Working with Strengths in Coaching, in the SAGE Handbook of Coaching (in press).

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