I won’t hold it against you if you accord less than warm reception when I go on to mention ‘empathy and organization’ in the same breath. For far too long, virtues, in general, have been getting a solid beating from their flashy cousin ‘numbers’ ( to do with top & bottom line, performance & other tangible titbits). It is only natural to get lured into thinking that ‘numbers’ along matter and everything else is not worthy of our attention .. such abrasive attitude surprisingly even attracts applauds in boardrooms across the world, today. There is no denying the fact that such talks have a tendency of sounding aggressive .. so much so that even wisest sometime forget to pause to look for substance beneath the claim. We greet it as it hits us .. warm and loud and move on with a happy and satisfied feeling. What happens after however is not always desirable and we know that for a fact, don’t we? Targets get missed, deliveries do get delayed and prospects shut doors .. real world failures.
I do not wish to say that numbers aren’t important, they indeed are ; unless you are making the money that you need to run your affairs you won’t be able to sustain .. this write up is towards highlighting that foundational layer that comes handy in creating a base on which you can lay plans for the future firmly .. of growth, relevance, and of sustenance.
Before you go on any further : I need to mention this that I’m very much for numbers and have been driving those for most of my life; as a student .. grades and as a professional organisational ’mandates’ and at the risk of sounding boastful, would say that have done a damn good job at creating spectacular results, some of which are standing benchmarks in my area of work. What I’m here to discuss however is what I have uncovered in my own mad and sometimes even mindless perusal of numbers and how it has deeply affected the way I operate. It is my duty to mention that my way is not essentially the ‘best’ way. It is merely a statement of the way that has worked surprisingly well for me.
Our work routine invariably revolves around three things;
1) Where am I?
2) Where should I have been?
3) How do I get ahead from wherever I’m?
These apply to everyone in equal measure; you could be an individual contributor, a beginner, team managers, someone in the mid-management rank or an executive from the higher office – all that you do can be categorized in these three statements, broadly though. Let’s take a pause here and think .. what are organizations really? At its core, it is a group of people, larger the size more heterogeneous the mix, coming together to fulfill what is a ‘common goal’. That goal can be expressed in monitory terms: “Have to become a trillion dollar company” or can have relative connotation: “We must be the biggest and the largest in our area” etc. I personally like the later more.. because it doesn’t have a ceiling, not even in the short term.
How are these goals going to get accomplished? The science part of it gets addressed rather easily, see what is working, what is not .. validate by data, research action, build prototypes, refine and regulate .. implement, observe and rework. Keep repeating the sequence & the cycles for so long as you discover the set of activities that meet your effort capacity and give you what is your desired output, at the cost that you can bear and in the time that your customers would happily give you. What is difficult to achieve is that ‘art’ of problem-solving. There, let me come back to that statement that I made a while ago; organization are essentially a group of people and thus human emotions play a part, seminal in nature. And therefore it is only vital for leaders like us invest in it. Remember, you’ll need great people by your side to weather storms of a bad market, poor economy, upset client and cyclic poor performance that will keep showing up every once in a while.
Because we’re talking about organizational symmetry & set up; let us look at what could be a measure of success; a number .. we all need it.
Attrition could be one
Employee satisfaction another
I don’t think I need to make a case here to say that an engaged and happy workforce almost always outperforms those who are dissatisfied or plain unhappy. Happiness can’t be bought by throwing stacks of cash .. you can be paying handsomely, providing your employees with shiniest of the offices or most efficient of the infra but they could still be disengaged, unhappy, disturbed and even disgusted. A good way of testing if that is the case is seeing if problems keep resurfacing, check for clients expressing repeated discomfort, check for how much people actually care about the issue at hand. Do people take responsibility for errors easily or keep explaining how it is not to do with them but everyone else on the planet? If these tests come positive .. you have a problem which you wanna solve.
Happiness is created by trading in the currency of intent. Bad results are often overlooked if ‘intent’ somehow proves itself to be good & intact. From an organization, it is critical that ‘intent’ is always voiced out loud and clear. Over-communication here is not entirely undesirable. And that brings me to the word with which title of this blog begins “Empathy”.
All of us have at least once watched tightrope walk being performed by artists in circus .. when they walk on that rope, the onlookers feel sweat in their palm, wide open eyes get glued to the point where the rope meets the feet of the walker, heart begins to race faster than usual and we almost unknowingly start praying that he ends up on the other side of the rope without falling off and when he does it; we clap in cheer and feel happy as though, we conducted the gymnastic ourselves – This feeling is “empathy”!
When you not only understand other’s feeling but also feel it yourself; you connect at a level which is deep and meaningful. From it comes the resolve to act and then the delivery gets magically aligned to the purpose and from there on it is a function of time that one puts on the issues, that determines success. Solutions only keep getting better. Think of it yourself .. if you were to bet your life on someone; who would you choose? Someone who empathizes with you completely and honestly or those who understand your problem but do not quite care as much for its impact on you? 9/10 people will choose the one with empathy .. the 10th person, well .. let’s empathize with him and let him be.
In all organizations, people essentially solve for their customers and in the process work towards making their organization/entity richer, more prosperous, known and respected and there if employees were to not care deeply about the thing/issue they are solving for or feel for it as much, the effort that they will put will always be inadequate and that will sadly reflect in the results visible to the customers/ clients/ employees/ stakeholders ….everyone. The surest way of delivering great results is building empathy with the problem and those affected by it. Superficialities do not count here. These are four important things to do.
Understanding: Not just the issue but also the plight of those who are impacted by it.
Passion: for solving it and solving it for real
Honesty: Being open and candid about stating facts and laying out plans.
Communication: Let people know about the cause, the effect and also the remedy.
Given the obvious benefits, it is wise to build an organization that believes in the need to be empathetic and practices it at all times. Remember empathy won’t insulate you from failures or losses or delays but if implemented well, it will surely reduce such possibilities greatly and should they still occur you’ll have a group of people who are committed to the cause greater than ever and from it will stem awesome things like collaboration, cooperation, accountability, and sensitivity . Treatment will not be merely symptomatic but one that eliminates the root cause. Whenever the undesirable happens you will have a whole organization ready to understand, care and solve for it with utmost honesty and commitment.
On that note, allow me to offer my best wishes to you on this friendship day.
See you in the next one.