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Should “kindness” become an organisational KPI? Asks Saïd Business School’s Gay Haskins

Have you ever thought that you should be emphasising kindness as a key feature of organisational success? Probably not! But those of us who live in English-speaking countries, will hear the word “kind” very often. It is one of the five hundred most frequently used words in the English language. Kind actions are remembered: they have a “boomerang” effect: kindness begets kindness. Such acts cost nothing but create significant value.

Good behaviours
In our conversations with 200 worldwide leaders, they emphasised that kindness in leadership has a universal appeal and is characterised by a variety of kindness-based behaviours. These include: accommodating personal issues; treating others with respect; caring and being responsive; communicating with a personal touch; sharing information transparently; explaining logically and listening intently; valuing the views of others; counselling and mentoring; and being inclusive as a leader.

The leaders also subscribed to philosophies about kindness as core to the values of their organisation. These included beliefs that: people are central to the success of any organisation; equity and fairness as important ideals in enhancing employee confidence and loyalty; and that respect and care stimulate ownership and commitment.

People first
Sally Waterston, founder of UK Business and IT Consultancy Waterstons, states her beliefs as follows: “We believe completely in people first – we don’t have fixed hours, we don’t have fixed holidays – we measure people on what they do and not when they do it…. I am absolutely passionate about kindness, but not from a paternalistic point of view. I think it should be within the company, it should be peer to peer, and we see examples of it every day in our business.”

Kathleen Kenehan Henson is CEO of Agency H5, a successful PR consultancy in Chicago. Since 2001, this boutique PR agency has grown to be a mid-sized company with a team of 50, committed to Kindness as a core value. As its website states: “Agency H5 has worked to create a unique culture, propelled by kindness, and we demonstrate that in the way we treat our clients, media contacts, industry colleagues and each other, which isn’t always a common business practice today.”

Kathleen’s story inspired us so much that we invited her to write a special epilogue for the book Kindness in Leadership. She writes: “I made a conscious choice to create a company on the foundation of most important value in life: kindness. I’m very proud to know that we are known for that value throughout the USA and beyond…. As a leader, I’ve found that when people are genuinely happy, they practice kindness to each other and that makes our clients happy and it’s an ongoing cycle of kindness.

UK success stories
There are a number of other organisations that have put kindness to the fore with a positive impact. Two well-known UK examples are retail giant John Lewis, established with a belief in fairness and kindness to employees and Nationwide building society, set up to “build for good” and still using advertising messages around the “currency of kindness.”

These examples show that kind leadership behaviours and beliefs in the value of kindness, can have a strong positive impact on organisational wellbeing and performance.

Wake up PR!
Perhaps then, it’s time for the PR community to think more about the value of kindness, to emphasise it in individual and organisational behaviour, and to put kindness to the fore in discussions with clients and, where appropriate, in messaging. For, as PR CEO Kathleen Kenehan Henson has stressed, “I’ve always focused on the principle of kindness and the business grew and profits followed.”

Written by Gay Haskins, associate fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-editor, along with professors Lalit Johri and Mike Thomas, of the book Kindness in Leadership

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