Empathy: The secret shadow of business success

BY COLIN SMITH - JUNE 8, 2015

Ground-breaking business leaders the world over are turning their backs on the traditional top-down autocratic business style, choosing instead to lead with empathy.

Forming a sense of integrity underpins the ethos of any company, setting up a leadership style which staff look up to and which customers respond positively to.

A recent study by consultants KRW International has highlighted a link between a business‘s performance and the integrity of its leader. According to the study, firms where employees rated a CEO’s moral principles highly outperformed other companies whose upper tier management received lower character ratings.

It is a secret tool of success which any new age business needs in order to build a solid foundation for bringing added value to staff and customers alike. I am not alone, although many business leaders still dismiss this view as a gimmick.

A case in point: When Irish airline Ryanair last year reported its first full-year decline in profits since the late 1990s, bombastic boss Michael O’Leary decided to inject empathy into its product mix.

O’Leary was quoted saying later: “If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I would have started many years ago.”

From a pragmatic perspective, the training involved in setting up any position within the company takes time and effort – and some considerable cost. Treating those employees like just another number will more easily translate into a higher staff turnover, which in turn leads to higher overhead costs in the long run.

If a business owner can understand where his or her staff are coming from – and what their needs are – it creates a bond which is hard to break. Furthermore, greater morale, higher productivity, and low rates of absenteeism are all benefits of this system.

Treating staff as people rather than numbers has been one of the best business moves we could have made. It might not stop attrition within the business, but it certainly makes employees think twice before leaving.

Customers are, in turn, on the receiving end of an empathetic system. They are treated as individuals; return customers are known by name; and they have a sense of belonging.

It plants a seed of commitment in the customer thanks to an active interest being taken in who they are by staff.

Looking at the business case for the empathy model, it is something we can without reserve stake our business successes on.

 

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