It’s time to reclaim kindness

It's business sense, not just common sense, to act from the heart, argues corporate reputation practice managing director Peter Roberts.

Agency luminary Bill Bernbach once said the policy to successful recruitment was hiring ‘talented and nice’ people (and you would not get in if you only had one of those).

We are acutely aware of the fragmented, lonely lives people have led during COVID. However, despite the vividness of the toilet roll scuffles, it has been difficult not to register narratives of kindness that have played out across media outlets in recent months. So, it’s in light of this backdrop and with the gradual return to the office that I say there won’t be a better time for business to champion this currency of kindness.

Smart workplaces will get it. They’ll be mindful of the need to reflect those social changes in ensuring they remain authentic to the consumer and attractive to the new recruit. The smart businesses will also do it sincerely and that’s the point. Bernbach was no fool; his talent and niceness idea may have smacked of the simplistic, but it is nothing of the sort. You may be able to feign talent and niceness in the short run, but the show can only last for so long if such attributes aren’t intrinsic.

There has been enough research and experience out there which demonstrates that the right behaviours at work, including praise and courtesy – in short, acting kindly to each other – lead to cultures of collaboration and innovation. Google, for one, has used peer bonus systems, whereby employees are encouraged to send small sums of money from a business-funded pot as a mark of appreciation for effective work. Such a move is smart as it’s economically viable, even for those without the depth of Google’s pockets, and strengthens those co-worker relations. In short, the argument for greater kindness goes beyond the sentimental; quite simply, it makes business sense to be kind. Conversely, workplace ‘negativity’ – including gossip and the wrong attitude – was costed by the University of Southern California to hit business to the tune of $3 billion (USD) a year. But despite the clear and compelling case for greater kindness, businesses don’t tell it like they should.

Organisational values have long been used and championed as the embodiment of who a company is and what it holds dear. Yet, despite its universal importance to young and old, kindness barely gets a mention when it comes to those prized business beliefs – indeed, the agency world seems to do its darndest to be anything but kind. There is a business-speak at play within such places that stymies the way we want our people to behave; the usual totems of ‘equity’, ‘respect’ and ‘trust’ are rolled out, when a bolder, more compelling message can be extolled. Plain, simple language leads to clearer understanding – never as a child was I asked to ‘be equitable’. The values of trust and respect used by organisations are well meant, but they lack that deep-rooted nature of kindness.

As colleagues we can respect and trust others, but such feelings won’t bring us closer and without this, we can only dream of greater collaboration and innovation. Kindness is the stuff of greatness but in business is the trait that dare not be spoken. It speaks of innocence and is maligned as weak, but maybe now, as good people make their way back to work, is the time to reclaim kindness. As the brilliant Maya Angelou put it, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

Peter Roberts is the managing director of the Corporate Reputation Practice.


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