Elton John thought that sorry was the hardest word. Well, I’ve got news for him. It isn’t.
However difficult it may be in particular situations, sorry isn’t the hardest word. Empathy is…especially if you’re serious about building a high-performing business.
That’s because you can’t lead people you don’t understand. And people are unlikely to give their best to a boss who they perceive, rightly or wrongly, doesn’t care about them.
Now, if you work for a business where people are used to issuing memos to make things magically happen, and the organisation is comfortable with extreme pressure being placed on people to do exactly what’s laid down in that memo, it is possible to make progress in the short-term.
Maybe not as much progress as you wanted. Maybe not entirely in the right direction. Maybe not with the output you were hoping for. But possibly enough for you to claim a “victory” in time for the next board meeting.
However you shouldn’t be under any illusions that, generally sooner than later, that technique becomes ineffective. You might have people sullenly doing the bare minimum to avoid getting fired, but no great business was ever built like that. And precious few terrible businesses were saved by that approach either, for that matter.
At some level, to be a great business, you need people to be bought into your mission, to be enthusiastic about the goals they’ve been asked to deliver, and to be willing to do far, far more than the bare minimum.
You might compel your way to lip service of those things, but you’ll never compel your way to seeing them in reality.
The impact of compulsion is purely short-term and it quickly becomes ineffective. Empathy has an impact in the long-term and never loses its effectiveness.
Kind of makes me wonder why so many organisations are run on a “it’s my way or the highway” basis. The odds of that being a successful in the long-term are tiny. The chances of it leading to a slow, lingering death are huge. Those aren’t great odds.
The good news is there are three simple things you can do to counteract all this and build a vibrant, growing, successful business. Of course there are more than three things you can do to build a great business, but even if you only did these three, and did them well, you would be doing better than most of the businesses in your sector.
The first thing to do is spend a day on the frontline with the people who work for you. Delivery drivers, call centre operators, receptionists, canteen servers, factory operatives. Anyone you can think of is fine, but make sure they’re frontline folks,. This isn’t about a cushy time-out relaxing on the sofa in another executive’s office, drinking coffee as they cycle through their meetings for the day.
Pay attention to what you see and hear on those days. Over time you’ll discover just about everything that’s important when it comes to running your business better if you do.
The second activity is to repeat that process, but this time with your customers. That is, with the people who actually use your products and services, not some head office executive in the business you supply. If you keep your eyes and ears open on those days, you’ll find out just about everything that’s important when it comes to serving your customers better.
And the final thing is that while you’re on one of those sessions, you should do everything you can to understand their story, not use your time to try to get across your story. People in broadcast mode aren’t empathising with anybody. You have to be on listening mode for that.
No matter how strongly you feel the new HR policy you implemented is fair and reasonable, don’t spend your time on the frontline trying to sell it if you encounter a sceptical and suspicious workforce. Even if you think your frontline staff member’s objections are mistaken, you don’t build empathy by telling people they’re wrong.
Find out what they think, non-judgementally, and do something about it. That’s how you establish empathy and, in the long run, get the best out of your people and build a better business.
Same goes for your customers. Don’t waste your time with them trying to convince them your new returns policy is the right thing to do. Find out what their problems are and do something about them. Then you’ll find the returns policy won’t matter nearly as much as it used to.
What’s more, you’ll be getting recommendations and referrals from that customer you weren’t getting before because your customer will come to feel that you’ve got your best interests at heart.
But one word of warning. It’s easy to tell you how to build empathy. It’s very hard, in practice, to actually do it.
Things get in the way…we lose heart…we don’t like people complaining to us…so we stop asking the questions and give up listening to the answers.
This is one of the key areas where we work with clients in our coaching, precisely because it is so powerful.
Spending a day on the frontline will bring more benefits to your business than a legion of HR managers and a weekly employee survey ever could. And at a fraction of the cost.
To discover more about how to build the power of empathy into your business, why not try one of our free Double Your Profits Strategy Sessions?
We’ll show you how to build your business fast with the help of your customers and your staff…faster, and more profitably, than you ever thought possible.
If that sounds like something your business could do with more of, we should talk.