The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis is causing unprecedented societal, economic, business and individual impact across the globe. Historic rise in mental health problems, business closures and unemployment are taking a toll on nations, organizations and people.
While there are multiple efforts to produce a vaccine to end the pandemic, the World Health Organization and national and business leaders have pronounced that we need to coexist with Covid-19. This is further putting much stress on people, draining them physically and mentally.
That is why empathy, the capability to understand and feel what others are experiencing, should be at the core of all human interactions, especially during these times. Businesses, being the major driver of economic activity, should be at the forefront of practicing and exhibiting empathy toward their employees, customers and other stakeholders.
Businesses can develop and practice empathy at two levels. One is individual empathy, where each organization member develops this capacity and practices it toward colleagues, customers and society as a whole. Another is organizational empathy, where the whole organization develops an empathic culture that manifests in how it treats its employees, suppliers and other stakeholders.
In my previous articles, I cited Satya Nadella, the charismatic Microsoft chief executive officer who, in his book Hit Refresh, wrote that, “at the core, Hit Refresh is about us humans and the unique quality we call empathy, which will become ever more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before.”
Nadella was credited for turning around the ailing Microsoft into the one of the largest market caps in corporate history. “At the heart of Microsoft’s transformation is rebuilding its culture — one that is hinged on empathy,” as I cited in my article.
Empathy has three components:
– Listening. “This is about taking the time to truly listen to each other. Business executives and employees will be more effective in their roles if they listen carefully to their customer and colleagues. Technological innovation will be much easier if we understand the true needs of our clients and customers, both external and internal.”
– Trusting. “This is showing a belief in a person’s honesty or sincerity, through open communication and feedback. Teamwork will be more effective if team members have a deep understanding of one another. This results in not having to worry about who gets credit or not, but rather the focus is on achieving a common purpose. Hence, the team shares a common accountability.”
– Understanding. “This is about opening the mind and perceiving the feelings and intentions of others’ actions. This can make the difference between a productive interaction and an unproductive one. It helps one to admit mistakes and move on instead of blaming oneself or others.”
Amid the disruption that the pandemic has caused, how can an organization develop empathy among its members and across the whole organization? I prescribed these steps in my earlier article:
“Create the Vision of what an empathic culture is — what are the problems of our customers that we can solve? What are the internal problems we need to address? What are the obstacles to our vision? How do we overcome them?
“Build a movement for cultural transformation — what is the baseline of empathy in our organization? What training and enablement can we have to develop empathy? Yes, empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed by organization members.
“Deliberately dialog about it — create discussion groups about it. Talk about it in townhall meetings, in company messages and taglines.
“Make it part of the organization’s DNA — integrate it in measurable KPIs [key performance indicators] of employees and customer satisfaction surveys.
“Modeling the way — leaders should create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow, as Stephen Covey put it.
“Practice, practice, practice — members of the organization should breath and live it by practicing day in and day out.”
Empathy should be at the core of all businesses and organizations to help everyone weather this storm. Collectively if we do this, not only can we co-exist with Covid-19, but we continue doing our normal lives until finally the pandemic ends.
The author is chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He is the country representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia and fellow at the United States-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.