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This blog is about kindness. Not kindness in general, but kindness in organizations. You might ask yourself if we really need to talk about that. You might qualify the topic as being too soft, sentimental and not business appropriate. You might think it’s a moralizing and patronizing topic, pedantic even.


Zadkine – The Poet (Knokke)

The base-line of this blog is not at all sentimental. We need to integrate human characteristics like kindness into organizational culture. We need to make companies into habitats in which people are able and willing to engage and perform. Companies should be aware that psychological and social capital is the main leverage of corporate success and sustainability. Not taking into consideration the human traits and psychological processes that define engagement, innovation, adherence, … is a strategic weakness. And kindness is an essential part of human behavior.
We all know successful companies that are treating their people like cattle. Recent reports about companies like GLS, Amazon, Zalando, Zara, Foxconn, …  show that the topic is relevant. Those companies might even excel for some time thanks to a dehumanizing approach. But we know from research that companies that do good, perform better in the long run. Even though this research is not all that conclusive, humanizing corporate practices contributes to overall company performance. By the way, a CEO is usually interested in humanizing the company because he or she is a decent person.
Kindness is also not about obeying the law. It’s about being human.
Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor explain how human kindness has been exiled and reserved for the caring behavior of mothers. There is also growing literature on the emergent organizational capability of compassion.
 As organizations are human constructions  they should embrace human behaviour. Like acts of kindness.
There is only one reason that I can see why kindness has been ousted from corporate life. These behaviors may stand in the way of swift economic progress and efficiency. Companies are often built on competitive behaviors and these are often contradictory to helping behavior.
Helping another might lead to a relative weakness. Not helping another might lead to a relative strength. And this behavior starts in school. Companies have designed systems of performance management and variable pay, that stimulate competitive behaviors. Those systems discourage behaviors of kindness. So we might need to look again at those processes and systems.
 Every company needs to look at how it can integrate behaviors of kindness into its own culture. By doing so, a great company environment can be created. Kindness in itself is not contradictory to achievement. Both can go hand in hand.
Some info
Lilius, J. M., Worline, M. C, Maitlis, S., Kanov, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Frost, P. 2008. The contours and consequences of compassion at work.
 Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29: 193-218
Morten T. Hansen, Herminia Ibarra, and Urs Peyer (2013).
Can Companies Both Do Well and Do Good?
Harvard Business review Blog Network.
Phillips, A. & Taylor, B. (2009). On Kindness. London, Penguin Books
Originally Posted on 13/03/2013 in Human Interest Magazine

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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