I would like to convince you that kindness is a measurable performance indicator and should be a significant measure of success for all leaders and all teams.
You may think this sounds like more wellness-bandwagon do-goodery, but I will argue that at the very least kindness is as convincing a metric as any financial “more-for-less” measure has ever been.
I qualified as a lawyer in 1987, for over thirty years I have worked as a lawyer or mentored lawyers around the world. The relentless focus on efficiency and effectiveness that characterises much of the current working environment is exhausting and fosters a background hum of intolerance, short-termism and bullying. So called “hard” measures are not enough to convince people to give of their best or to be at their best.
Kindness, at this time and in these workplace environments, is not a sedative for a snowflake generation, but an essential pre-requisite of a supportive culture where the focus must include realising potential and not just securing profit.
We do not lose rigour by being kinder, on the contrary I believe we gain more rigour by having a relentless focus on kindness as well. I firmly believe that if we continue to dehumanise the workplace we will perpetuate a crisis of well-being, accelerate the loss of talent and we will most likely continue to fail to tackle inequality and workplace bullying and harassment.
In a short article like this I do not want to share a supportive anecdote and then claim I speak a truth and must be right. We can however approach this from a values perspective. Back in the day it was effective and efficient to send children up chimneys. Back in the day* it was efficient and effective for women to be paid less and have less opportunity than men (*today). I do not believe anyone would claim these ideas can be revived and renewed in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. We move on and we make things better.
Today I observe that many teams work in an unsustainable way. There is often more demand than resource, less infrastructure than needed, fewer tools to do the job required, more hours worked and even more connectivity through our mobile devices to our work and therefore to our work-related stress. As a result, we have more stress-related absence, less permanency, more short-termism, more change, more churn, less time to think, reflect and grow. We treat people as part of a supply chain and dehumanise their effort in every three-letter-acronym we create to drive profit and reduce cost. Is this the limit of our ambition or can we make it better?
I believe that technology deployed well, as part of a purposeful plan to create an environment in which people can thrive, can be a huge force for good; but I have had enough of claims that technology and process improvement alone will create a perfect paradigm of humans doing important thinking work and tech doing the drudge work. It might be a nice idea in theory, and we may even get there one day, but it isn’t the reality today. Email, mobile devices, connectivity without community are all examples of technological advancements that have contributed to people working harder, longer and with less support than ever before – it is crushing us.
In this context, kindness offers some hope, but if kindness is seen as just a sticking plaster to systemic dysfunction it is going to fail as well. However, if kindness can be framed as a metric that enables people to be more effective we have a fighting chance of rebalancing our workplaces.
My friend and brilliant commentator on leadership, Ciaran Fenton, urges us to see that the purpose of leadership is to create an environment in which people can thrive. For people to thrive they should feel positively challenged, while supported and encouraged to explore their talent, to support each other and to give of their best. For this to happen consistently and purposefully we should know people as individuals. To truly know people takes time and care. To give people time and to care is of itself to be kind. Leadership is kindness.
How then to measure it? For kindness to be a metric, we need evidence of kindness as a behaviour and as an action. We then need to see a correlation between behaviours, actions and positive impacts. My suggested approach is not complex, but does require some commitment. Like all good things it does not happen without their being an authentic effort.
First, we should meet as teams and be together in the same place to recall and write up examples of kindness that we have experienced in and out of work, creating a conversation about kindness. The detail is important, so please ask your teams to describe in detail their experiences through their eyes and the impact on them in that moment and following. The recalling of these examples is off itself affirming and positive.
It is important to note all impacts (positive, neutral or negative) and to consider what else might have been a contributing factor (correlation is not always evidence of causation). Take time to reflect with your team whether there are any shifts in behaviour that can be attributed to acts of kindness and their impact. This might be one-off changes or persistent change, both are valid and should be noted.
Now begin to reflect with your team on how small changes in behaviour might result in more acts of kindness and therefore more positive impacts. Experiment for a period of a month with conscious acts of kindness and attempt as far as practicable to note the impacts these acts of kindness have had.
Teams need to meet regularly to reflect on the evidence gathered and to repeat the approach of noting behaviours, actions and impacts. Through this process you will have collected real data, you will have identified behaviours and actions that have had predictable positive impacts, and you will have started to work on repeating the behaviours and actions to make their impact consistently predicable.
By any judgement, following these simple steps, kindness becomes a reliable performance indicator. You are measuring kindness and the workplace has become a better place for people to be at their best. No budget is required, no extra resources are needed, no expensive consultants have to be hired, no business case has to be made to start. Why on earth would you not do this?