How to Make Radical Kindness Your Competitive Advantage (Episode 26)

May 22, 2018

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx Solutions! In today’s podcast, we’ll talk about how you can leverage kindness to realize powerful results. Our guest today is Lara Heacock, a self-professed “kindness ambassador.” Lara is a certified personal and professional coach who focuses on kindness as a key to success. Before she went into coaching, Lara spent 13 years as a professional recruiter and leader. She holds a psychology degree as well as an MBA. She is the author of Practical Kindness: 52 Ways to Bring More Compassion, Courage, and Kindness into Your World. Welcome, Laura.

Lara Heacock: Thanks so much, Darcy, great to be here.

DG: So, Lara, as a writer, I have to tell you I love the name of your blog, “Kind Over Matter.” Can you tell us your story and how you went from being a recruiter to what I’d like to call a kindness coach?

LH: I sure can. So I use kindness in my work with my private clients and with companies to really overcome burnout. I think burnout is such an epidemic in the corporate world, and really that came from my own journey. So after about nine or ten years in recruiting, I just found myself really trying to find something else. And I didn’t know what it was. I was interviewing, meeting with different companies, looking to make a change, and everything just felt like the same job but a different surrounding. I graduated college in the ’90s, I looked into coaching then but it wasn’t really a big deal, I’m on the east coast and I started following some coaches. In that period in my recruiting career, I got an email from one of the coaches that I had followed, that she was launching a coaching training program, and it just hit me right in the gut that that was the thing that I was looking for. So I applied and I was accepted and I actually currently teach in the program, so it’s been a really fantastic journey, but you know, at that same time, I had started blogging on “Kind Over Matter.” I had taken it over. I had never blogged before in my life, and I just hit a point in that year when I was still working that high-pressure job and I was in coach training and I was a new blogger and I was trying to start a business that I — oh, and I was doing a kindness project. I totally hit burnout and I switched a piece of that kindness project to focus on self-kindness and that’s truly were my journey began.

DG: Wow. Great story. So what place does kindness have in business? You state that your aim is to create a culture where business is the true balance of head and heart, without sacrificing the bottom line. So could you give us some details about how you help, not just leadership, but teams as well?

LH: Yeah, absolutely. So one of my favorite things to do is work with leaders and their teams to create these cultures of kindness, and like anything that we do I think our work has to start with ourselves. So if I’m working with a leader, the first step is to look at how are they showing up, because you can’t lead a team that’s based in the kind of kindness culture that I teach without first practicing your own self-kindness. So it looks like: How are you taking care of yourself, how are you managing your own stress, how are you living your values? Are your company’s values just a nice sign on the wall or are they something that people are really connected to?

So we start by focusing on the leader. We have to get very real about how we’re showing up, you know. If you tell me that you’re waking up at 6:30 in the morning to get some work in before you go to work, that’s not really a leader who’s going to show up in a way that enables their employees to care for themselves and to nurture their creativity and to then be more successful. So we start with the leaders, we bring it out to the team, and we work on creating cultures that are engaged and that are healthy physically and emotionally and can actually contribute and work together for the success of the organization because we create that buy-in for the environment.

DG: Right. I’ve heard that kindness can increase productivity, but do you have any statistics that can back that up?

LH: Yeah. So one of my favorite articles is actually from a couple years ago is from Harvard Business Review. If you just Google “Harvard Business Review a positive work culture” you can find it, but it goes into there’s a particular study that was conducted on over 3,000 employees that shows a link between leadership behavior and heart disease. So bosses and leaders that are stress-producing are literally making their employees sick. And then one of the other statistics that we see in the workplace so much is disengagement, especially now, you know, unemployment is very low, which has an inverse reaction with turnover. So when unemployment is low, turnover becomes high, and disengaged employees are the ones who are the most likely to leave the company because they’re most likely to take a call from a recruiter who is calling to talk to them about something new. And if they have something to buy into and they’re engaged in their work they’re more likely to turn down that call.

DG: Right. And in the long-term care industry, turnover is extremely high, so this is all very useful information. Why, Laura, do companies need to create a culture of kindness? I mean I would think that it would be a given, but is this something that really must be learned?

LH: Yeah, I think it is. I think it is especially in the U.S., I’m in the U.S. where we have this culture that rewards busy-ness, I’m using my air quotes if you could see me, but “busy-ness.” It has become a status symbol. And we live these stressed-out, over-scheduled lives. We oftentimes are understaffed; a lot of times that’s due to turnover which goes back to the disengagement. So I do think it has to be learned, I don’t think our culture is yet set up to really foster this culture of kindness but I do think we’re making that shift. I always look at people like Ariana Huffington. You know, she left her name company to start Thrive Global because of her own burnout and her own breakdown and she is now really working with corporate cultures to help them thrive and to start shifting this culture of “busy-ness.”

DG: Yeah, that’s a great example. As you probably know, SmartLinx is a provider of workforce management technology, including solutions to help attract talent, give employees autonomy, and also to engage employees. You help organizations leverage technology so that it works on a human level. Could you talk a little bit about that?

LH: Yeah, you know I love technology and I think that technology has its place. And we need to use technology in a way that benefits us, not in a way that drags us down, and what I mean by that is, you know, we don’t want to check our phones first thing in the morning, but we can use our phones throughout the day to remind us to do things like get up every two hours and get a glass of water you know, take a five-minute walk around. You know, how can we use these programs and these technologies and software like the one that your company provides to foster that employee engagement and to actually improve our environment and to improve our employee engagement and not to have it be a detriment where we get into that cycle of busy-ness.

DG: Right, I agree. It’s funny because I use my phone just in the way that you say. I actually use my phone now instead of, I used to use Outlook, and just set it every hour to remind me to get up.

LH: Love it.

DG: Then I would ignore my messages and I accidentally missed a meeting once because I thought it was my own message and I ignored it. So you have to be careful how you use technology.

LH: Yeah exactly and that’s the great thing about technology, there’s so many different exciting ways that you can use it. And I do believe in having some boundaries around it, but when you’re actively engaged with it let’s use it in the ways that’s helpful and healthful.

DG: Right. You know, we talked about short staffing, which the long-term care industry suffers from. We talked about turnover, which is a major issue, and part of that is attributable to burnout. So what is this concept of self-kindness, and how can it prevent burnout and stress, which is so high in this industry? And also, Laura, could you give me a few examples of how this could be implemented in the senior care industry, where patient resident care is of the utmost importance?

LH: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m going to kind of address your questions in a reverse order starting with the patient care piece of it because I genuinely believe — and I’ve seen this be true in my own life and in my clients’ lives. If we are running ourselves to the point of burnout, and it is not just the fault of our jobs, it’s the fault of our over-scheduled life and our overcommitting. And, you know, particularly as women, I think we tend to caretake more and say yes to more things, and I know there is a high concentration of female employees in the long-term care industry.

So when we are burning ourselves out, we are not caring for our patients in the right way, we are not able to show up in a way that is going to be beneficial to them, you know, we’re going to be snippy or we’re going to be tired, we’re going to forget things, you know, all of the data shows that when you’re tired and you’re stressed you’re making more mistakes, and when someone’s health is in your hands, that becomes incredibly dangerous.

The way that I use kindness, I like to call it my brand of kindness, sometimes it does mean soft and fluffy things like, you know, taking a bath at night or some way of caring for yourself that really suits you. But my brand of kindness also means fostering a workplace that is based on open transparent communication, it means talking to people not about them. It means setting boundaries and knowing your limits and knowing when you can say no and then giving yourself that permission to say no which, again, I know for a lot of women it can be particularly hard.

So really kindness is based in the things that make you able to show up in that way that you’re at your best, and you’re able to then care for your patients in the best way. And sometimes that means a bubble bath and a manicure on Saturdays and sometimes that means saying no to staying an extra two hours because you’re at risk of making a mistake with a patient.

DG: Right. That bubble bath and manicure sounds really good, actually.

LH: I know! It’s starting small, you know, that’s one of my big tenets is we always have to start small because if we try and make change that’s too dramatic it’s just not going to be maintainable.

DG: Right. So, Laura, can you give me an example of how an organization successfully incorporated kindness into its culture and the positive outcomes it saw as a result?

LH: Yeah, absolutely. So one example I like to talk about, and it goes back to that communication that I was talking about, is a client that I had who is a leader in a small organization, a small private company, had recently grown and implemented for the first time a formalized review process, which is something that very small companies and even some mid-sized companies simply don’t do. You know, they grow, they focus on the work and the deliverables and the outcomes and they kind of skip that culture piece, that employee engagement piece.

So the result of not implementing a review process and a one-on-one process and having recurring meetings with her staff was that she actually had an employee come to her, had a competitive offer from another company in the same city, and was able to have the conversation with the employee about, you know what, we’re not going to be able to match the money that they’re offering you. What we can offer is this culture and its environment and the fact that your voice matters and that you’re more than just a number.

And she gave this employee the weekend to think about it and the employee actually came back and chose to stay. And they came up with a financial package that worked. You know, money is always going to be a part of it. But study after study is suggesting right now that money is not the main driver for people making changes, so when you really implement this kindness culture and you as a leader walk your talk, you can actually make that dramatic impact on your own turnover and the environment you’re in every day.

DG: Wow, that’s a powerful example. Well thank you, Laura, for sharing your vision with us today. And to all our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’d like to learn more about Lara and her consulting services, visit LaraHeacock.com and her blog at KindOverMatter.com. And if you’d like to learn more about SmartLinx and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, visit us online at SmartLinxSolutions.com.

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