Viewpoint: The Importance of Creating a Culture of Kindness and Respect

By Gordon Smith-Bouler October 17, 2022
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Viewpoint: The Importance of Creating a Culture of Kindness and Respect

​Is your organization a place of kindness and respect? Are you, as an individual, a person of kindness and respect?

Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to be part of an HR team that made a conscious decision to foster kindness and respect within our organization's culture. We put programs in place that aimed to nurture kindness and respect, and we've seen them bear fruit. 

Not only is kindness a matter of good principle, but it also creates a culture that attracts and retains great talent, particularly in a difficult job market. Seventy-seven percent of respondents to the February 2022 Kindness in the Workplace survey from the Born This Way Foundation said they were more likely to apply for a job posting that listed "kindness" as an important value of the company.

Another report, published by the American Psychological Association, found recipients of kindness at work are a whopping 278 percent more likely to pay it back than those who don't receive kindness.

As my colleague Missy Lawrence, a principal consultant at Information Services Group (ISG) and an expert in organizational culture who works with our clients on "the human side of digital," says, enterprises need to build resilience and adaptability, as well as address workplace culture, to retain and optimize their key asset: people.

Enterprises that address the human side of digital create psychologically safer environments—a prerequisite for organizational agility and high-performing teams.

Kindness as a Strategy

We've all had a co-worker or leader who made no room for kindness in their leadership style or approach to work. A person like that often has this excuse: "It's not my personality to be warm and fuzzy."

However, kindness is not a personality trait. Kindness is not a character trait. Kindness is a virtue that every human should possess, regardless of your personality or leadership style. Even for the most hard-hearted, it's in there someplace.

Bruce Pfau, who retired as vice chair and CHRO of KPMG, an audit services firm in New York City, once told me, "Kindness is often the missing ingredient to a high-performance culture. Lots of corporate cultures emphasize integrity, decisiveness, intelligence, teamwork, urgency and tenacity—all of which are necessary but not sufficient. The best companies also promote kindness and empathy; that's what completes the formula for workforce engagement and consistent business success."

Pfau put several "kindness-centered" programs in place during his tenure at KPMG, and his advice remains helpful in our journey.

My organization started out with that exact principle, recognizing that kindness is a virtue possessed by every one of our employees. With that acknowledgment, we knew we needed to create a platform that encouraged our people to do kind things.

We launched a straightforward program called ISG Cares that encouraged our employees to give back, help others and share with their communities. Instead of partnering with a single charity, we encouraged our employees to support the charities of their choice.

Within weeks, our workforce made positive impacts in their communities with organizations including the Little Sisters of the Poor, disabled veterans' groups, Books for Africa, food banks around the world, educational facilities, cancer research charities and so many more.

Kindness as a Brand

After launching ISG Cares, we created an employee Brand Ambassador program. This empowered each of our 1,400 employees to leverage our digital platform to share their stories of kindness with the world. We made it simple—an app on their phones, a simple click of a button.

The snowball of kindness grew. We gamified the Brand Ambassador program with monthly awards, a points leaderboard and executive recognition. Two-and-a-half years later, the program continues to be a banner of pride for our employees and a reminder of the goodness of our colleagues.

These programs reinforce the importance of kindness and provide opportunities for our employees to understand one another more fully and learn about our unique passions. They cross cultures, religions, genders and ethnicities.

Kindness as an Approach

Rudeness, negativity and unkind behavior can spread like cancer. There is no place for unkindness in a successful organization, so be prepared to make tough decisions if an employee is negative or downright mean.

Ideally, you can provide coaching or training to encourage someone who exhibits negative behaviors. Many times, people see the weight of good and kindness within your culture, and they usually self-correct. If coaching, mentoring, training or self-correction doesn't happen, be prepared to cut ties with the employee.

Lead by example. The fastest culture shifts start from the top. We were fortunate that our leadership led the way with the ISG Cares and Brand Ambassador programs. With a CEO, CHRO and vice chairman who are personally involved in community support activities and who demonstrate kindness in their personal and professional lives, our programs have instant credibility.

It was our CEO, Mike Connors, who stood next to me at the office celebration when my husband and I finally became parents after a grueling, three-year adoption journey. He also matched 100 percent of all ISG employee donations to Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for relief in Ukraine.

Our CHRO, Tom Kucinski, is one of the most charitable people I know. His humility would keep him from ever sharing it himself, but he is personally involved with more charities than I can count.

Similarly, our vice chairman, Todd Lavieri, spearheads a program called ISG Food for the holidays, repurposing funds for holiday parties that were canceled during the pandemic into monetary donations to food pantries in six cities. ISG Cares is real.

As Pfau said, "The best companies promote kindness and empathy; that's what completes the formula for workforce engagement and consistent business success."

Chances are, you already know and live the power of kindness, respect and empathy. Accept the challenge to live it every day.

Gordon Smith-Bouler is the global head of talent acquisition for Information Services Group (ISG), a leading global technology research and advisory firm in Stamford, Conn.

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