If you’re looking for when the word ‘kindness’ last appeared on your company’s agenda, you might find yourself left wanting among dusty closets and archived boxes. Like all things much loved, but a little neglected, perhaps it’s time to dust off the ‘word’ and give it a new lease of life…
By Michael Lloyd-White
I often ask executives, next time they get the chance, try a word search on all company correspondence; minutes of AGMs, annual reports, manuals, employee handbooks, board meetings, over any given period, to find how often the word ‘kindness’ might appear?
The most common response is ‘zero’.
It is fashionable to talk about creating a positive workplace environment, but rarely is the word kindness – simple, yet universally understood both conceptually and concretely – ever used when discussing organisational culture. It is a fascinating omission, given that acts of kindness are arguably the common glue that creates cohesion between peoples of different faiths, cultures, status, gender and postcodes.
Sadly, kindness has not only gone missing-in-action in corporate life, but we find plenty of examples of unkindness in our daily consumption of media and interactions.
Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of having many conversations with different people from around the world, from various industries, and I think I can safely conclude why kindness has been off the agenda for so long.
It may be fair to argue that people are reluctant to use the word kindness in a professional sense as the word is associated with weakness. We substitute the word kindness for words like wellness, well-being or mindfulness.
The fact is, words are powerful.
Kindness is powerful and when we witness it in action, it can be transformative for both the giver and receiver of kindness.
Over time, kindness has been naturalised to have feminine, rather than masculine denotations, which is unfortunate.
We might convince ourselves that it is the purview of the masculine that men must choose the ‘lesser of two evils’ or ‘make hard decisions’ or ‘be cruel to be kind’ are better than asking ourselves if our choices reflect the best we can be?
Kindness appears to be relegated to the feminine, or children, giving men a license to culturally endorse unkindness as a means of ‘getting things done’.
Perhaps dusting off the word begins with removing these layers of cultural myths about kindness.
The truth is, it does take a village to raise a child. It is the same village that allows a child to be abused, or to harm the environment or to discriminate against minorities.
I have news for you. Businesses are also part of the same village.
We must ask ourselves what role our businesses are contributing to the betterment of village life? Can we conceivably imagine ourselves participating in creating a kinder world, being kinder employers and employees?
It stands to reason that a kinder society is safer and therefore, less fearful.
When we discuss Corporate Social Responsibility, we really are discussing kindness.
If we say, ‘may I see your value proposition?’ perhaps we should be saying, ‘how are you being kind?’
Most NFPs need to have a very clear value proposition (VP) when approaching the corporate sector for sponsorship or donations. The reality of having a VP is about saying, ‘what’s in it for us?’
I’m sorry to rain on the NFP parade, but we all understand that when someone expects something in return for an act of kindness, they are not doing kindness, they are doing business.
When we speak to businesses about becoming a corporate member to World Kindness, I admit I am reluctant to tell them about any benefits. I certainly don’t want to tell them how a European confectionary company in China invested USD 500,000 into a Kindness Campaign and their sales increased by 17.5 percent, or how they attracted an additional 500,000 followers on social media, in just three months, and I certainly don’t want to tell them how staff morale increased, which reduced staff turnover, or how the same company’s act of kindness resulted in it winning three international marketing awards.
No, I certainly should not mention any of that because there are no benefits to becoming a corporate member to a World Kindness national peak body, in fact, if they are seeking ‘what’s in it for them?’ they are talking to the wrong person.
Becoming a member to World Kindness USA, Australia, China, France or India as is not about the individual or the company receiving benefits. It’s about having an opportunity to contribute by adding collective value through collaboration.
Whether you are an individual or a company, by having a purpose greater than the bottom line and knowing you are an agent for positive change has a tremendous impact.
Unfortunately, most CSR programs adopted by companies have very little impact on the workplace and its morale because many tend to focus on external perceptions. Some, however, are authentic and driven by the CEO because of a personal connection; but what happens when the CEO leaves?
The next time your Board gets together, put kindness on the agenda and ask yourselves a few simple questions:
- Is providing employee options for pay deductions to go to charities creating a kinder workplace?
- Is allowing staff to take one day off per month for volunteer work, creating a kinder workplace?
- Is hitching the company brand to a large NGO creating a kinder workplace?
- Is writing a cheque to a charity creating a kinder workplace; and
- What are we doing as an organisation where we are not just doing business to get something in return, but are simply doing acts of kindness?
You might be surprised about how powerfully reflective, and potentially transformative, a few questions in kindness can be for your organisation.