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Why kindness and culture go together

"Wellbeing needs to be woven into the fabric of culture," argues SAP's global HR advisor - ©CoffeeAndMilk/Getty

Kindness is essential to achieving organisational goals while enabling employees to flourish.

There’s a concept promoted by several charities, particularly those in the mental health arena, that promotes the idea of ‘random acts of kindness’. The idea is that carrying out very small acts to help someone, from walking their dog to fetching groceries for a neighbour, spreads a little bit of happiness, so generally lifts the wellbeing of everyone, both the giver and the receiver.

So how does this relate to business and to the wider culture within an organisation?

We’ve pointed out before in this series that organisational culture is critical. In the last piece I even suggested that employee value propositions (EVPs) should be dusted off and once again be given serious attention. A good EVP is a window into the organisation’s very soul. This becomes even more important in times of stress and disruption. We’ve seen plenty of that in the last five years, and I expect we’ll see a lot more of it in the next five.

Which leads to the observation that both EVPs, and the overall culture of any organisation for which the EVP is a shop window, cannot be fixed entities. Those stresses and disruptions require responses – some rapid, some more long-term – and it’s essential that organisations flex and adapt. This isn’t easy. Change, and managing change, as again we’ve discussed, is ultimately vital, but not easy to achieve. There are many, many challenges, not least being able to maintain that culture and those values in the face of disruption and stress.

Wellbeing – the bedrock of any organisation  

Why is maintaining that culture at times of stress vital? Because as humans we are wired up with a desire to do well and succeed in whatever we set out to achieve. So a culture which is both progressive and supportive speaks directly to this inherent desire within us all. It speaks to something deep in our DNA, and when we don’t have it, boredom can kick in, engagement can drop and mediocrity can happen.

Avoiding that requires the achievement of a careful balance between the goals the business sets and the support necessary to achieve those goals. The culture may be right, but if the employee feels a disconnect between what is said and what is practiced then we have a major problem. If my boss is driven by targets and only targets, and has no empathy with the reality as the employee feels it, then something is going to give. For that reason things like wellbeing needs to be woven into the very fabric of the culture and the behaviours which that culture sets out to achieve and promote. This needs to be demonstrated each and every day.

Kindness is not weakness

Which brings us back to those ‘random acts of kindness’. Kindness of itself is sometimes viewed as a ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ option. It’s far from it. You don’t have to set out to wound people to improve their performance or provide feedback which aggressively challenges what they are doing. Kindness will always win over aggression. Because it’s all about helping people to grow, being there for them, making them feel safe and supported but equally equipping them with what they need to rise to the challenges they face without them feeling that they are going to be destroyed by those challenges. We are all in this together. Culture is inclusive or it’s nothing.

There has never been a more important moment to focus on what matters and differentiates organisations – and at the heart of that has to be the way we develop and channel the skills and talents of our people towards the wider goals we set for our businesses.

Culture is what will make the difference to achieve those goals while at the same time enabling our employees to flourish and feel good. Kindness will be essential to achieving those goals; and it has to be consistent, not just randomly applied. Though don’t let that stop you offering to pick up someone’s shopping or walk their dog. When it comes to kindness, every little gesture helps.

Michael Esau is global HR advisor for SAP

SAP's podcasts series, The Human Factor, has been created to discuss just such tricky but highly relevant topics such as kindness and wellbeing. In the podcasts SAP leaders talk to experts about the issues and themes that influence people and the world of work, and they share their thoughts about the skills and techniques you need to succeed. The whole catalogue of episodes is available right here.

To find out more about how technology and forward thinking help you to answer the vital questions which your business needs to address, contact SAP.