Is Kindness In Business A Myth? (Spoiler Alert: No)
Updated: May 16
Sunshine People speaks to technologist and kindness ambassador Mari Heiser to find out how the world's biggest companies rely on kindness to succeed. Businesses don't tend to describe themselves as kind. Kindness isn't measurable in the same way as a profit margin, or a percentage of staff turnover. But that, explains Mari Heiser, Chief Technology Officer at IBM, is exactly what makes it so important.
“Kindness is crucial to success not only in day to day interactions, but business as well. A few simple examples; smile and say hello, ask 'how can I help', give a positive acknowledgement of a job accomplishment, or simply act rather than react. This helps to foster sharing, diversity and inclusion, team work, and can show up on the bottom line as increased attendance, higher productivity, and happier invested employees with good customer service attitudes.”
Mari Heiser, CTO at IBM Throughout her career as a technology leader in one of the world's most well known and successful companies, Mari has experienced many examples of kindness in business.
“I've been lucky enough for someone to see my potential not only in my chosen field but as a person. That translates into helping me navigate the ups and downs of being on a career path but maintaining a good balance for the 'me' after work. It means more than getting the job done,” she explains. “It's what I call being human, or kindness.”
Within business, a kind approach could include recognising when people need time away from work, when they aren't feeling up to a challenge, or when they should be given much-needed encouragement. This isn't kindness for kindness' sake, though – it's a way to stand out from competitors.
“The simple act of kindness provides a competitive edge - trust is fostered and increases employee commitment to the organisation. It helps to foster communication and eliminate barriers and strengthens relationships with business partners and customers. That leads to brand loyalty, inclusion and performance.”
Much like everyone else, Mari has come across those who are self-serving rather than kind, seeing others as a mechanism to increase their own standing. At the same time, she has also met people who are genuinely interested in others' skills and abilities. It's businesses who seek and develop this inherent human kindness that come out on top.
“Kindness should be a key element of your corporate or company values. A kinder business increases attendance, performance and investment in the business. If I believe in the business, find that I'm happy with what I do and the people I work with, I transmit that to the business's partners, customers, friends, and family. It also helps keep energy levels at work higher - I am engaged, committed and want to learn more as well as innovate.”
"Kindness should be a key element of your corporate or company values."
As well as IBM, Mari cites Salesforce, Google, SAS, Daimler Financial Services, and EY as bastions of kinder business.
“I have seen them actually 'practice what they preach'. That's amazing, when you think that these are Fortune 500 organisations - where people may not often rise above the bottom line. But in these companies, they do, and it shows with how they approach their business and their cultures.”
While kindness itself isn't currently thought of as a standard KPI for organisations, it is undeniably linked to business success. If profit and productivity, for example, can be improved by kindness, then shouldn't kindness be elevated to KPI status?
“If you'd asked me this five years ago, I would have said 'no',” says Mari. “But today, in the world we find ourselves dealing with - absolutely. Simple kindness is a huge motivating factor and a welcome respite from the negative influences that bombard us via various forms of media.”
It's in this social, economic and political climate that Mari identifies a growing appetite for kindness in all aspects of life – business included.
“I've watched not only non-profits, but startups and major corporations begin to look at opportunity employment, innovative products and services, and 'give back' that meet basic needs. It's much more widespread today as we begin to truly understand that it isn't 'some other's responsibility'.”
Ultimately, we all have to accept a level of responsibility – and that goes for traditionally cut-throat corporations as well as groups formed with the sole purpose of social interest.
“We're all on this round ball called Earth and we are all responsible for it,” says Mari. “In essence, treat the planet and your fellows as you yourself would wish to be treated. A simple lesson, but one that seems to have taken us a very long time to realise.”