A 2018 Harvard Business Review article discussed how both bad and good behaviors, including kindness, are contagious. My personal favorite definition of culture is “the way we do things around here” which clearly explains why when people demonstrate acts of kindness, others will do the same.
I often get questions from founders and CEOs who experience team members behaving in ways that go against their values. They’ve communicated, documented, and disseminated their core values so they have trouble understanding why people aren’t following them.
One executive who contacted me described the behavior of a senior leader this way “It’s so clear when he disagrees or doesn’t like someone else’s idea. He’ll sit in the staff meeting with his arms crossed and shoulders hunched, a scowl on his face. Is that ok?”
My response was to ask if that was ok with him. What did his company values say about behaving that way toward others? When we fail to swiftly address this negative behavior, the result is the same as if we were condoning it.
Do you want to create a culture of kindness? Is it important to you how people behave and treat one another at work? Do you believe that people will be happier, more productive, and feel an increased sense of belonging if they’re treated with respect and dignity?
If you want to increase kindness at work, here are five easy ideas that can help.
Role Model Good Behavior: What we say is important, but it’s what we do that really matters. People look to leaders to see what behaviors are expected and rewarded. Years ago, I was sitting in my office rubbing my head due to a headache. A senior executive stopped on his way to his office to ask if I was ok, and if he could get me anything. It would have been so easy for him to keep walking but he chose kindness instead. Even today, he’s one of my personal role models.
Emphasize Kindness in Your Values. Dedicate one value to kindness or something similar. Behavior matters, and your values remind your employees what behaviors you care most about. You might very well use a different word but make sure the message that kindness matters is clear.
Use Storytelling: Behaviors come to life when we tell real stories about our leaders, teams, and customers. Values are no exception. I’ll bet you see examples of kindness every day! Share those stories, and ask others to share them too using team and all-hands meetings, Slack Channels, etc.
Address Unwanted Behavior: Most of us learned to give positive feedback in public, and corrective feedback in private. But when someone’s behavior crosses the line in a public setting, you may need to act in the moment. That executive who called about the negative and off putting body language? Since private feedback didn’t result in a change, it needed to be addressed in the meeting so everyone got the message.
Talk about what it looks like, even when it’s hard: All values, even kindness, sound easy until the rubber hits the road. So think about when it’s hard to be kind, and talk about it. When someone is having a bad day, a vendor is being rude, or when unkind behavior is subtle but persistent, that would try anyone’s patience. Giving people the tools to address those situations is something they’ll appreciate.
Whether you’re just starting to create your values or have had them in place for a long time, you can easily turn up the dial on kindness. It will spread quickly throughout the team and directly impact customers as well. Why not give it a try?
About the Author
Mikaela Kiner is a CEO, mom, executive coach, and author. In 2015, Mikaela founded Reverb, to help companies create healthy, inclusive cultures that engage and inspire employees. Prior to Reverb, Mikaela held HR leadership roles at Northwest companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, PopCap Games, and Redfin. Mikaela enjoys coaching leaders at all levels and working with mission-driven organizations. She’s the author of Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace. Born and raised in Seattle, Mikaela is married to Henry, a musician, artist, and teacher. Their two teens are good at challenging the status quo and are a constant source of learning and laughter.