For many organizations, core values are nothing more than window dressing. Happy, vacuous words buried deep within outdated presentations, printed on lucite, and stuck to the wall behind the receptionist's desk.
At ThoughtFarmer, when we embarked on developing our own values in 2015, we considered the challenges many organizations typically face when determining core values:
What do we want to say? Who are we anyway? What makes us unique?
We knew that there was definitely a way we did things around here, but how do we articulate that? And if we can’t easily recall these values or live by them, then are they really our values?
There is a lot of talk about ‘culture fit’ in workplaces, yet very little on ‘values fit.’ Defining and living a shared set of core values provides a way for different people to work together and be on the same page without denying what makes each of us unique. Core values can also assist in recruitment efforts, as they can attract the right kind of people.
While some of our values were harder to construe than others, we immediately knew we wanted a value that touched on the civility. Being civil and respectful to each other is much more than something we strive for; rather it is entwined into everything we do at ThoughtFarmer. Hence, we arrived at kindness at a core value:
We are kind. We’re relaxed but professional, casual but respectful.
It is short, succinct, and allows room for growth.
We deliberately chose “kind” instead of “nice” when defining our core values. While these two words are often used interchangeably, they are distinctly different. We’ve all been in situations where someone was nice, but not kind. ‘Nice’ typically refers to actions on the surface, while ‘kind’ indicates a deeper level of compassion and empathy that goes beyond polite behaviour.
In the last five years we have had a lot of opportunities to reflect on kindness as a core value, and more importantly, lean on it to become better in everything we do.
But if kindness as a core value has proved so powerful for us, why aren’t other organizations keen to adopt this value? And why do companies with ruthless dictators appear to thrive?
The case for kindness as a core value
Kindness has received a bad rap in the corporate world. This is partly because of the misconceptions and beliefs people have about civility in the workplace. For example, many of us associate kindness with softness or incompetence: She’s nice, but she’s a pushover. Or, we associate coldness with competence: He’s callous, but he’s a great leader.
A large study by professor and author Christine Porath revealed that one quarter of organizations polled believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they’re nice at work. Nearly half think that is better to flex your muscles to garner power.
But is there any truth to these beliefs?
Fortunately, research dispels these misconceptions. Civility, or being kind, actually increases the likelihood that people want to work with you. So while it may feel like the jerks in this world get further ahead, that isn’t really the case.
One study found that those viewed as civil have 1.5 times more energizing ties (people are energized to work with them) than those seen as uncivil. Those seen as uncivil have three times as many de-energizing ties (defined as enduring, recurring set of negative judgments, feelings, and behavioral intentions toward another person) than those seen as civil.
Research also reveals that judgments of warmth and competence account for more than 90 percent of positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions then provide the foundation for people to trust us and build relationships.
The impact on collaboration
Kindness positively impacts collaboration. In the same study above, it was found that people were 59 percent more willing to share information, 72 percent more likely to seek advice, and 57 percent more likely to seek information from the civil person compared to an uncivil person.
Kindness also breeds safety in the workplace, and when we feel safe, we are more willing to share ideas and information. This is often reciprocated, thereby creating a culture where employees want to share knowledge.
A study of the U.S. Congress found that when members of Congress use prosocial language (words that convey cooperation, trust and respect), their approval ratings increased; and when they did not use prosocial language, their ratings plummeted.
If it feels like common sense it probably is. If you treat people badly, all the technical skills and confidence won’t get you to the top.
The impact on leadership
A large international study with Harvard Business Review found that the leader behavior that had the single most powerful effect on employees was respect.
Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback–—even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.
Those who felt respected by their leader reported 56 percent better health and wellbeing, 1.72 times more trust and safety, 89 percent greater enjoyment and satisfaction, 92 percent greater focus and prioritization, and 1.26 times more meaning and significance. Those who felt respected by their leaders were also 1.1 times more likely to stay with their organizations.
A great example of this is the leadership at the Seattle Seahawks National Football League team. When many of us envision the environment of professional football we picture an unsympathetic coach with high player demands. Fortunately, the Seahawk’s head coach Pete Carroll disagreed with an uncivil approach.
Carroll created his own environment of kindness by mandating positive, respectful words and behavior among everyone. This includes coaches, players, personal assistants, and even the media. He replaced yelling and swearing with civility, and requested that every player and coach end media interviews by thanking the reporter. In only his fourth year as the head coach, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.
Simple steps to take today
Kindness doesn’t always come naturally depending on the environment or culture we were raised in. The good news is that kindness is easy! It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, offering to help clean the kitchen, volunteering at a staff event, saying please, or taking the time to really listen when a colleague is speaking.
It also can also be about doing the opposite of what our instincts might otherwise tell us. For example, resisting the urge to point out others’ mistakes, or forcing yourself to say hello or goodbye, when you previously may have avoided it.
And if you think your organization cannot benefit from just a little kindness, consider the fact that an LA based hospital sends uncivil doctors for training to improve their interpersonal skills. Time spent at ‘charm school’ decreases the probability of lawsuits against the doctor and hospital, which is a win for everyone.
How we live this value at ThoughtFarmer
With more organizations being disparate, and remote work increasing, it’s become more convenient to hide behind technology. And unfortunately this growing reliance on tech-based communications has removed many of the fundamental elements that comprise good communication.
For example, email and instant messaging technology can remove any sense of sincerity, emotion, or empathy. This can result in misunderstood comments which can easily derail relationships. Technology also can enable people to hide behind their comments and say things they might not have said in person.
As intranet software providers we see first hand the impact electronic communication has on our employees, and our customers’ employees. This is why we have aimed to provide as many opportunities as possible to foster friendships, build trust, and recognize employees for their contributions.
Kindness as a core value also plays a huge role in our Customer Support team. As evident below, how we communicate with our customers is critical to our success. Case in point, we recently achieved a negative churn rate by having customers who had previously left, come back to us.
We’ve even seen a similar theme with our own employee turnover, as a few employees who have left our organization to pursue new opportunities have returned back to ThoughtFarmer. And, naturally we are thrilled to welcome them back.
The bottom line is that civility pays. As Mr. Rogers famously said, there are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.