A quick search on empathy and business may indicate that it’s somewhat of a buzzword in marketing circles. Skeptics may even go as far as to say, “Empathy is for losers! Winners focus on getting the job done.” However, in my experience, the business world often misinterprets the word.
The misconception of empathy can have a detrimental impact on the organization. A company culture that is not founded on empathy can lead to disgruntled employees, unsatisfied customers, and ultimately losses in revenue.
My latest book, “Mean People Suck: How empathy can bigger profits and a better life,” makes the case it does not have to be this way. I share stories and examples about employees at all levels who used empathy to improve their work culture and ultimately, the business. Here are are a few of my favorites about how compassion, kindness, and self-reflection can benefit a company.
A broken formula
I published my first book, The Content Formula four years ago. In addition to the book, readers had the option of purchasing the Marketing ROI calculator. Fast forward to April 2018 when I received an email from Alicia Haugen.
She had purchased the book along with the calculator. She soon discovered a problem: one of the formulas didn’t work. When I saw her email, I immediately issued her a refund and contacted my developer to fix the issue. We even took it a step further and made the calculator free until the glitch was resolved.
To my surprise, Alicia went on social media and created a testimonial video about the situation. In the video, she praised my developer and me for our rapid response and attention to her issue. Her response was proof that if we focus on customers and listen to what they have to say, it will create a positive feedback loop. Not only was Alicia’s experience positive, but our communication helped us attract more customers.
Be a learn-it-all
In 2014, Microsoft’s current CEO Satya Nadella took the reigns from legendary Steve Ballmer. Two years prior, Microsoft had gone through its first major rebrand in 25 years, and the company was on shaky ground.
Nadella sensed the overall culture needed to change. He’d learned the importance of empathy when his son was born prematurely. At birth, their son weighed only three pounds and suffered from severe brain damage and cerebral palsy.
His first reaction was the obvious one, the one we’d all probably have if we were in that situation: Why did this happen to us? Over time, Nadella’s perspective shifted, and he realized the real person who was wronged in this situation was his son, not him. He wrote in his autobiography Hit Refresh, “It was time for me to step up and see life through his eyes and do what I should do as a parent and father.”
When he took over at Microsoft, he took the lessons he’d learned. He worked to change the company from a “know-it-all” culture to a “learn-it-all” one. He set out to create a “soul” for the organization and reminded managers that no one ever learns through criticism.”
His work paid off. In November 2018, Microsoft was valued to be worth as much as Apple. A New York Times article said, “Microsoft has become a case study of how a once-dominant company can build on its strengths and avoid being a prisoner of its past.”
That lesson in empathy remained with Nadella when he took over as Microsoft CEO in 2014. Nadella felt that the culture of Microsoft needed to change. He wanted to turn the company from a “know-it-all” culture to a “learn-it-all” one. He told managers that “no one ever learns through criticism,” and he set out to create a “soul” for the organization.
Old businesses can learn new tricks
Microsoft is not the only company whose continued success has depended on reinvention. When the startup culture flourished a few years ago, General Electric (GE) realized they needed to try something new to remain competitive. Instead of pouring resources into projects that could fail, they set out to foster more innovation among their employees.
The 127-year-old company’s CEO at the time, Jeffrey Immelt, felt strongly that GE’s culture resembled that of startups. He looked at Silicon Valley and saw that startup mentality allowed for production to happen quickly on new ideas. He wanted that combination of creativity and speed to become a bigger part of the company culture. Soon, GE developed on a program called FastWorks.
Prior to FastWorks, the old process would have required a significant amount of time for building and perfecting new ideas. Immelt modeled the new program after Eric Ries’ book, The Startup Way and even hired Ries to help oversee FastWorks. The core concept of the program was to foster more creativity and innovation among employees, and in doing so, GE could generate new ideas in a short amount of time. It would sidestep the lengthy old process, allowing the company’s newfound efficiency to put them on par with startup competitors.
FastWorks was a significant shift for the company. Leadership knew that by championing new employee ideas and allowing them the flexibility to think outside the box, the company would rise to the next level. It was successful because it focused on the customer by tweaking products based on feedback. The program also promoted new employee ideas and encouraged more input in the decision-making process. The ancillary benefit was that by keeping the customer in the center of their planning, GE was also able to create efficient products more quickly.
Don’t be a company that sucks
These examples tell a compelling story about the impact empathy can have on businesses. They prove that adopting a culture of empathy can create happier employees, empower them to share their ideas. Our customers benefit and as a result, so do our profit margins. And really, no one wants to be part of a company that sucks.