Empathy or Output? Why Not Both?

I recently listened to a really interesting broadcast from Simon Sinek talking about Empathy and its importance in the workplace. Now, we are huge fans of Simon, he is interesting and certainly knows his subject.

In this webcast Simon talks about how the business climate has changed since the years of ‘boom’ and calmer waters in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He stresses that things were far more predictable then and that we are in much more difficult business circumstances now. He also cites the fact that many business owners still run their businesses as many business owners did 30 – 40 years ago with the main goal being that of ‘maximising shareholder value’ with everything else secondary, including the welfare of the people within the business.

Having operated in those times running businesses I can identify with some of the characters that were indeed solely focused on ‘shareholder value’. People like ‘chainsaw’ Al Dunlap who stripped about 40% of the workforce out of Scott Paper to ‘maximise shareholder value’ before Scott was swallowed up by Kimberley Clark. In reality Dunlap was a ‘one trick pony’ with cutting costs his only tool – hence the rather apt nickname above! People like Dunlap operated in many companies at the time but their ‘cut and clear out’ policy hasn’t done anything for the longer-term health of the businesses concerned. Indeed, many of these businesses have long gone.

Those that have survived and continue to do well didn’t embrace this ‘maximise shareholder value’ view as their main goal – yes, they felt that generating healthy profits is a key requirement for any successful business but that these profits would occur naturally if the right things were done within the business – those things relating mainly to their people, their products and their customers. Companies like Walmart, Hewlett Packard, Disney and Procter & Gamble have long held the view that these aspects all take precedence over a singular drive for profits at any cost and their longevity justifies that approach.

To return to Simon Sinek – he talks about the need for Empathy, the need for business owners to care about their people, to see the world as they see it, to be open and to establish trust. Simon is right. Understanding what makes your people ‘tick’ and what motivates them as individuals are key aspects of good leadership and the business that taps into these motivators will get superior performance out of their people which in turn leads to better results and – yes – better profits.

With all of the mental stress people have faced in the last year owner/managers would be well advised to embrace empathy with their people. This doesn’t mean going soft either. You have every right as a business owner to expect good performance and the right degree of output from your people, but these things are reliant on how your business is set up and how much you have put into that process and also how much your people understand their own role and how it helps the company, in its totality, to perform well. In other words, the importance of that individual and the quality of work they do to the end product. Good people will respond to this because they do not want to let their colleagues down.

There may well need to be some changes in people and number of people you employ when you return to full, unsupported work but this can be handled with empathy and should avoid ‘chainsaw’ tactics at all costs. By treating those that may be leaving you well and communicating things openly and clearly to those who remain, you will create an environment of trust where those remaining do not exist in fear of the fact that ‘I might be next’.
The top companies make tough decisions, but they make them fairly and communicate the reasons why very clearly to those leaving and those who are staying with an empathetic approach. As a result, employees feel that they can trust their management and are prepared to be open and honest in return – being comfortable to ask for help, to admit to a mistake as opposed to staying silent and ‘keeping heads down’ which only leads to future issues and the loss of good people.

Make sure you put empathy on your agenda going forward but realise that you need a combination of empathy AND output and that the two can and do go together.

If you need any help in these areas don’t hesitate to contact us at ignite@tinderboxbusinessdevelopment.co.uk, or call on 0116 232 5231

Alternatively you can contact me directly at the points below:

David Turner
Managing Director

07747 023610