How brands are exhibiting kindness in leadership and organisational action

Following on from CMO's kindness in leadership feature, we explore the practicality of organisations and brands fostering kindness through action

It might sound altruistic, but demonstrating kindness through leadership and organisational action can have powerful employee impact.

Just take the findings of Hall & Partners’ second annual Kindness in Leadership report. Four in 10 of the 1500 employees surveyed agreed the kind actions of their companies during Covid-19 made them feel more motivated to work hard for their organisation. Three in five agreed kindness makes them want to stay at their company for longer than original planned. And 47 per cent were grateful to be working in organisations where people are kind to each other.

But how does kindness practically manifest in organisations today? And what’s the connection between employee management, brand purpose and ESG (environmental, social, governance) programs of work?

Following on from part 1 of CMO’s exploration of kindness in leadership, we look at ways kindness is being exhibited by organisations right now, and how the concept connects to brand actions marketing leaders are uniquely attuned to deliver.

Kindness in society

Blooms The Chemist chief operating officer, Pamela Bishop, has been leading development of the company’s ESG strategy to become a more socially responsible and environmentally friendly organisation. An emphasis on kindness lies at the core of that work.

“We completed our first modern slavery audit last year,” Bishop says. “We did it proactively – we are not legally obliged to – because it was the right thing to do. It is an absolute disgrace that slavery exists in this day and age, but it does. It’s very real. Forty million people are estimated to be trapped in slavery. Three-quarters are women and girls. Nobody should accept that, and companies are in a strong position to drive change and reduce the risks of modern slavery.

“That’s just one example of how we’re driving kindness and doing good things at Blooms The Chemist.”  

Another manifestation of kindness has been undertaking the first Blooms the Chemist employee wellbeing survey. This set out to understand physical and mental wellbeing; how inclusive employees felt their work environment is; what it means to staff to belong; whether they have a disability and how supported they feel; plus an invitation to share how their experiences working with the company can be enhanced.

The survey is one of the early actions that came out of Blooms The Chemist’s recently developed brand purpose, ‘Helping to build a future where everyone, everywhere has access to good health and wellbeing’ – starting with their own people. Blooms The Chemist will use the survey to look at how to improve access to good health and wellbeing for employees.

“When we actively foster kindness at work, the business benefits through engaged, happy teams and improved culture. That then flows onto results,” Bishop says. “But it’s also beyond human interaction with teams. Companies can be kind to our planet, to society, to customers, employees, and communities.”

Kindness in purpose

Carolyn Butler-Madden is the founder of consultancy, The Cause Effect, and authored the book, For Love and Money, focused on how to build a purpose-led business. She cites greater focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance), along with growing expectations for businesses to serve a social purpose, as driving an evolution of business to become more conscious of the negative impacts it can have on people, planet and society. This is also translating into calls for organisations to actively minimise or reverse these negative impacts.

And this is where kindness comes in. “Organisations that cultivate ‘kindness’ to their own people are most likely to expand that kindness to how they treat their other stakeholders – customers, suppliers, partners, the communities in which they operate and the planet,” Butler-Madden says.

“Perhaps you could argue that ‘kind’ leadership is the starting point to the development of more ethical businesses.”

An example of kindness manifesting in brand and business approach Butler-Madden points to is at Beaumont People, a recruitment agency operating in Sydney, the Northern Rivers and Gold Coast. The company’s tagline is ‘Placing People First’ and reflects the value it places on people, within its organisation as well as clients’ organisations. Beaumont People’s purpose centres around meaningful work: Connecting people to it and creating more opportunities for it.

According to Butler-Madden, kindness shines through Beaumont People’s approach to flexible working. This includes implementing a four-day work week, where full-time employees are paid for five days but work four. Flexible working, where employees are encouraged to work wherever they feel most productive, is another element. There’s also gender-neutral, industry-leading paid parental leave of up to 16 weeks with no repayment clauses. All benefits are available to primary and secondary careers equally.

“These initiatives demonstrate respect, care and compassion,” Butler-Madden says – three of her five core facets underpinning kindness in leadership. Her other two are curiosity and recognition.

“Particularly for employees juggling parenting responsibilities, Beaumont People recognises more flexible working arrangements can have huge impact reducing a person’s stress,” she continues. “The agency’s focus on flexibility is also an expression of its purpose. Meaningful work is not just about the types of work people do, but how they do their work in ways meaningful to them.”

Another global example of kindness in leadership aligned to brand purpose Butler-Madden highlights is from PayPal. The financial services company’s stated purpose is: ‘To democratise financial services to ensure that everyone, regardless of background or economic standing, has access to affordable, convenient and secure products and services so they can take control of their financial lives.’

In this vein, PayPal conducted financial wellness audits for its casual and call centre employees in 2019. This revealed nearly 60 per cent were struggling to make ends meet, with only 5 to 6 per cent net disposable income after covering essential expenses.

“The company has since set a minimum target of 20 per cent disposable income among its employees. To help achieve this, it lowered employee healthcare costs close to zero and reviewed and raised salaries where they were most needed,” Butler-Madden explains.

“It also works to support the financial security of its people in the years ahead, providing stock purchase plans, retirement savings and pension plans, stock awards, life insurance and disability benefits. Plus, it has provided free tools and resources to teach long-term financial planning.

“All of these initiatives demonstrate respect, curiosity, care and compassion for PayPal’s most vulnerable people. But more than that, they also ensure PayPal’s employees are invested in the organisation’s success.”

For Butler-Madden, Blooms the Chemist, Beaumont People and PayPal are three different approaches to demonstrating kindness.

“That they’re all aligned to the brand purpose of these businesses is no coincidence,” she says. “The purpose-led businesses we work with, as well as those I have researched for my books, all work proactively to build kind leadership and ethical businesses.

“However, while kindness is an active pursuit of social purpose-led businesses, it isn’t exclusive to them. By focusing on the core facets of respect, curiosity, care, compassion and recognition, kindness can be cultivated by any organisation.”

Kindness in the industry

Then there’s manifesting kindness for the wider industry, driven by the desire to provide positive, construction contribution. This is what FutureBrand CEO, Rich Curtis, did when Australia’s first Covid-19 lockdowns hit.

Having previously experienced a 3-hour commute to the office, Curtis decided to repurpose that time and offer three lots of 30-minute brand and marketing advise sessions to individuals who might want or need it via LinkedIn. And so the Thirty:3 initiative was born.

“It blew up - I had 75,000 reactions on the post and by the weekend it was out of control,” Curtis says. He developed an integrated Zoom, Calendly and Gmail approach so people could book his time and provide background information.

“For months, I’d start my day with three of these sessions. I’d start my day talking to strangers about brand and marketing strategies and challenges,” Curtis says. “Conversations were around everything from an end-of-life focused startup to election campaigning and agencies starting up in the US.

“I feel gratitude I had the skills and knowledge to help. And it was an enabling, powerful way to start my own day. Let alone helping another person and for that altruistic reason. I had zero expectations from this for our organisation. I got lots of positive feedback. And the payoff has longevity.”

Curtis sees this form of positive psychology and openness to collaborate playing a vital role at Futurebrand too. The agency has created ‘strengths’ to reflect its culture, has ‘healthies’ giving people regular time off, and personal learning budgets to learn something new.

“There is going to be, if there isn’t already, an escalation of caring for people, as we describe it. It’s not just about perks and benefits that essentially anaesthetise you from the realities of your job,” Curtis comments. “It’s being genuinely mindful of what it is people are looking for. We’re moving beyond the less aesthetic and cynical towards a genuine investment in our people.

“It is altruistic but it’s also commercial. The first thing when I think about growing the business is growing our people. There is a clear correlation between the two.”

Curtis sees openness as a key trait and attitude when exhibiting ‘kindness’ in organisational approach and leadership.

“As long as you’re open and coming from a good place, you can challenge and argue constructively,” he says. “That is certainly what helps in the workshops we facilitate. We won’t get everything right, I might misunderstand you or you misunderstand me, but as long as we are open, then I think that is a foundation for working collaboratively and productively.”

Psychological safety is instrumental in this context. “In a corporate setting, I feel confident I can speak my mind and provide honest advice because I think it genuinely comes from an open, honest and kind place as I’m trying to help the organisation - even if it’s something they don’t want to hear,” Curtis adds.

Bishop agrees ‘kindness’ is a great way of positioning companies that are a great place to work, look after their people and communities, do good, and have happy, fulfilled employees.

“Nobody wants to go to work in a toxic culture and feel disengaged and unfulfilled for the majority of their day,” she says. “What we want is to wake up and have a spring in our step, feeling excited to start our day because we love what we do and feel like we have meaning and add value.”

Bishop stresses kindness is business is not fluffy either. “There is lots of data showing businesses who do good, do well. Research shows that integrating an ESG strategy results in a positive impact to financial performance,” she points out. “It’s also fact that the majority of potential employees want to work for businesses who do good in the world, and customers want to shop with them.

“When you roll out your corporate kindness initiatives, build your business case – your initiatives need to be measurable and trackable. The results will speak for themselves.”

Kindness and CX

Growing emphasis on customer-led thinking is another macro trend putting organisations in a stronger position to be able to foster more kindness through their actions and approach.

“The fundamentals of CX in capability or as a discipline is that openness, empathy to understand somebody’s point of view and experience,” Curtis says. “In order to be kind, openness is a big thing, but empathy is too: You can’t be kind without that. If your kindness lacks empathy, you’re just making yourselves feel good.

“As we train ourselves to be better at CX, it’s naturally training us to be more empathetic towards one another. And as we have conversations around needing diverse perspectives and to think inclusively and understand how a customer is feeling, I don’t see how that can’t but influence other things happening in your business.

“Anyone talking about CX is thinking about it from someone else’s perspective and forcing us to stand in someone else’s shoes. I can’t help but think that leaks over to our people and wondering how they feel about a new job, performance review or meeting.”

Kindness led by marketing

Given kindness is exhibited through brand purpose, customer and employee empathy and social and environment contribution, marketers are uniquely placed to foster kindness inside the four walls of their organisation and beyond.

Founder and CEO of social enterprise consultancy, Bambuddha Group, Anna Sheppard, says kindness always starts with an empowered leader that has recognised they could make an impact if they could get everyone else on the journey.

“One of the most beautiful and powerful places to begin is brand and marketing. Because no one tells a story like brand and marketing – stories bring people on the journey,” she says. “Humans want to feel connected. We don’t do business like one-night stands anymore, it’s about long-term relationships and movements that we join and that align to our values and promote the world we want to live in.”

Bambuddha Group works with multiple businesses from a brand and marketing lens, including Carolyn Butler-Madden and her The Cause Effect, and has embedded her brand-led program into its corporate programs for those that want to focus more heavily on the brand piece and get that right.

“The power of an initial story, purpose and movement around that is really quite powerful,” Sheppard says. “You could start as a brand manager or CMO looking at how you get clearer on what your brand purpose is. Look at your organisation’s products and services and explore how to give back a little more by doing that. Or, it could be by having more customer transparency or ensuring the supply chain is cleaner.

“Then it’s about how you authentically take the action. That means what we’re saying we’re doing and stories we’re telling are authentic to the actions we’re taking to be kinder to all of those around this.”  

Marketers will typically collaborate and interact with various other departments, Bishop says, putting them in strong stead to lead kindness initiatives.

“Marketers have an opportunity to demonstrate positive behaviour and build a kindness culture,” she adds. “But it’s bigger than that. My view is today’s leaders need to challenge the status quo, be brave and dare to do something different. They can’t stay quiet on important issues. In fact, the public expects business leaders to speak up and act.”

Bishop notes a PwC study that found 90 per cent of people think businesses should sign up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nearly four in five (78 per cent) said they would be more likely to buy from a company aligned to these goals as a result.

 “Marketers have the skillset required to come up with strategic objectives that align to the SDGs and improve the performance of their business. Marketers have the skills and tools to test ideas with their customer bases and find out what really matters to them,” Bishop says.

“And marketers are in many ways the voice of companies, so they can contribute beyond their own four walls by using their voice and the brand voice to spread kindness and be part of the solution.”

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