By Jon Gordon, author of “The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All“
Does America care anymore? Our actions seem to say “no.” In fact, not caring seems to be an epidemic. Exhibit A: Seventy percent of Americans are disengaged from their jobs, which leads to the poor customer service we experience all too often. Exhibit B: Impersonal automated call technology increases the time we must wait to talk to a human (not to mention our frustration!). And Exhibit C: More than ever, our attention is on the touchscreens on the devices in our hands instead of the living, breathing humans around us.
Nowhere is our caring deficit more apparent than in the workplace and marketplace. And it has major consequences:
1. When people don’t care about their jobs, their performance, teamwork, and customer service suffer greatly.
2. Not caring hurts profitability and the bottom line. Customers have a deep craving to do business with companies that care (and they can tell when you don’t).
3. A lack of caring impacts the relationships and social connections that form the fabric of a thriving economy. When we don’t care, we will all experience the consequences.
Clearly, we must turn this trend around. And Gordon believes we’re not doomed to slide into total apathy. Caring can be resurrected, and your organization can lead the charge — but first let’s get clear on the reason why it’s in such short supply.
Most of us live very busy, very stressful lives, and under those conditions, our primal reptilian brains take over. In other words, the way we live keeps us in permanent physiological and psychological survival mode, where we are solely focused on looking out for number one.
This reality isn’t changing anytime soon, which means caring isn’t going to magically make a comeback. We can bring it back, but it has to be a choice. And companies that make the choice have a lot to gain.
Caring is one of the greatest success strategies of all time. It has been a key strategy for companies like Apple, Southwest Airlines, Defender Direct, Gallagher Bassett, Facebook, and more. The more you care, the more you stand out in a world where many don’t… and the more customer and employee loyalty you earn. Best of all, you make a positive contribution to the world.
Once you make caring a priority, you’ll find a million easy ways to connect meaningfully with others. Here are 11 strategies to help create a caring culture in your organization:
1. Start with a strong vision.
You may have heard about Facebook’s recent shift in culture. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants his maturing company to start focusing on “loving the people we serve.” Those are much more than admirable words; they represent a strong vision that has the power to guide and shape Facebook as it continues to grow.
In order to start infusing your company with caring, you need to take a page out of Mr. Zuckerberg’s book. Begin with the end in mind and work backward. Once you have a picture of what could be, you’ll be able to design, create, and launch strategies to make your vision a reality. To create your vision, ask yourself powerful questions like: What does this company look like when it’s at its strongest and best? Do I ignore the people on my team, or do I make time for and develop them? What priorities drive us? What do we want to accomplish? What do we want our partners and clients to say about us?
I suggest sharing these questions with everyone in your organization and inviting their thoughts and feedback. To have the biggest impact, caring needs to permeate all levels of your company. Getting your people on board at the very beginning will jump-start the culture change you want and create a sense of ownership.
2. Find and communicate your company’s purpose.
In the midst of the day-in, day-out workday grind, it can be easy for you and your employees to see your jobs as a series of boxes to be checked, or as a way to put money in the bank. But no matter what industry you’re in, your jobs, and your company as a whole, are so much more than that. In some ways, your work helps people, makes their lives easier, or makes the world a better place.
You need to figure out this higher purpose and make sure your employees understand it, too. For instance, maybe the body-conscious clothing you sell boosts customers’ self-confidence. Or the software systems you create enable healthcare organizations to boost the accuracy of patient records, and thus reduce treatment errors. These kinds of connections will inspire everyone in your company to care about the work you do and the people you serve. As the main character, Michael, observes in “The Carpenter“, ‘It’s easy to have a great mission statement, but it’s pointless unless your people are on a mission.’
3. Lead by example.
We all know that “do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work. That’s why, before you can expect to see an overall shift toward caring, you have to demonstrate that value yourself. Caring has to be acted out, not just verbalized, to have an impact. And your employees will be looking to you, their leader, to make the first move. The good news is, when one person (that’s you!) cares, they inspire people around them to care, too.
Most leaders try to accumulate power by protecting and serving themselves. Great leaders become powerful by serving others. For example, Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach, visits his players in the treatment room when they are injured instead of ignoring them. And Clint Hurdle, the 2013 manager of the year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is well known for the love he has for his players. In the business world, caring for your people might look like mentoring them, providing training for them, developing them with an eye to advancement, asking for their input on decisions that affect them, and getting to know them on a personal level.
4. Hire people who care.
In large part, your company’s culture depends on the people who comprise it. So from now on, place “capacity for caring” on the list of non-negotiable qualifications for all new hires — right up there with experience and technical competency. If you’re skeptical about just how important it is to hire “care-ers,” keep in mind that caring isn’t something that can be convincingly faked, and that it can make all the difference in client and coworker relationships.
As I’ve pointed out, caring rubs off on others. Hiring a few caring employees can have an amazing ripple effect! Southwest Airlines understands this and hires many former cheerleaders who care about the people they serve. Publix Supermarkets hires people who take a lot of pride in their work and customer service. Gallagher Bassett looks to hire people who care about and empathize with those who are dealing with adversity. In your own organization, I suggest that you ask questions during the interview process that can reveal a person’s caring attitude and actions.
5. Teach employees how to care.
When you announce that you’d like to differentiate your company through caring, that notion will sound good to most employees. Generally, people want to care. But wanting to care and actually doing it are two different things. It can be challenging and intimidating to switch up “the way we’ve always done things,” and employees might not be sure how and where to start. Help them take the first steps in caring about each other and customers by sharing specific, actionable caring strategies.
6. Ask yourself, Do our processes work for customers — or only for us?
Growing a business is hard work. It’s only natural that over time you’ll have tailored and tweaked your internal processes to save you and your team time, effort, and stress. But do those processes work as well for your customer as they do for you? Not always. Automated call services is an example of a time- and cost-saver your customers may not love. In fact, according to Oren Harari of The Tom Peters Group, one study found that “of the 8-15 percent of a company’s customer base that is lost each year, 68 percent is due to indifferent or negative phone treatment.”
Automated call services shorten the amount of time your employees spend on the phone with each customer, thus allowing them to take more calls or complete other tasks — both of which seem like plusses. But pretend you’re a customer and think through this set-up. You have to navigate an automated menu by selecting numbers — annoying. Then, you’re placed on hold until a customer service rep becomes available. How long do you wait? And what do you hear — silence, music, or information about the company?
Statistics show most customers hang up at just under two minutes’ hold time, and a third of those won’t call back. Maybe some hold time is inevitable. But keep that time as short as possible and give the customer something to listen to: Research shows that music makes the wait feel much shorter, and that both music and product information will keep the customer on the line longer. The larger point, though, is to do everything you can to show the customer you value his or her time — in other words, that you care.
7. Apply the One Percent Rule.
In your personal life, how do you show others you care? Often, it’s something “small”: a smile, a pat on the back, a compliment, or an encouraging email. Yet these simple actions can make a huge impact on others. The same principle applies to caring in business — a small amount of effort can go a long way toward showing that you care. In fact, that’s the essence of the One Percent Rule: “If you put in a little more time with a little more energy with a little more effort with a little more focus, you’ll get big results.
Caring doesn’t have to involve big, grand, expensive gestures like taking your best clients out to a three-course meal or sending your high-achieving salespeople on tropical vacations. Much more often, it involves giving only one percent more: staying at work for an extra 10 minutes to update a client on your progress or stopping by an employee’s desk to compliment her on her work. The fact is, the most successful strategies are extremely simple. Simple is powerful. Just remember that simple does not mean easy or effortless. You still have to take action!
8. Help employees learn to manage stress.
Stress ignites our primal, selfish survival instincts, and leaves us no mental or emotional bandwidth with which to care about others. So if you want to foster a caring culture, you’ll need to cut down on the amount of stress your employees feel. While you might not be able to reduce workloads or adjust looming deadlines, you can give your people tools to manage the pressure they’re feeling.
Teaching employees to manage stress in the face of their fast-paced lives is a great way to take caring beyond lip service, and into the realm of real tactics that actually make a difference. For instance: Encourage your people to take short breaks throughout the day so that they can recharge and refocus. Ask them regularly what they need from you to streamline their work. Schedule a lunch-and-learn on deep breathing and meditation. Offer them a discounted — or even free — gym membership. Be generous with time off whenever possible.
I would especially like to underscore gratitude as a stress-management tool. It’s physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time. When you are grateful, your body and brain are flooded with endorphins that uplift and energize you, rather than the stress hormones that drain you. You can spread an attitude of gratitude throughout your company by challenging yourself to be thankful for each client, growth opportunity, and employee. Then, verbalize your gratitude as often and as publicly as possible.
9. Identify your “caring trademark.”
In the book, the carpenter tells Michael, “Over the years I’ve discovered that the most successful people, companies, and organizations stand out by finding unique ways to show they care and they make it a habit. For me, it’s about the work I do; for another business, it might be that they are available and responsive to their customers’ needs 24/7. Some may even show they care by returning voicemails faster than their competition. The key is to find the unique way that fits you and your work.
Once you figure out what this differentiator is, think of it as your ‘caring trademark’ and make it an integral part of your company’s processes. For instance, in my book I write about a suit salesman who puts an encouraging note in the pocket of each suit he sells. If you’re a realtor, you could photograph each buyer placing a ‘sold’ sign in front of their new home and give it to them in a nice frame at closing. Or if you’re an accountant, you could offer 15 minutes of on-the-house financial counseling after each tax preparation appointment. Publix Supermarkets walks customers to the correct shelf when they can’t find a product they are looking for, and Les Schwab Tires trains employees to run outside and greet customers when they get out of their cars. Just think about how you can go the extra mile for your customers — and use your imagination!
10. Keep caring in front of you.
While speaking to the Pittsburgh Pirates during their 2014 training camp, Gordon recalls seeing The Pirates Creed posted throughout their facilities. The Creed conveys the franchise’s characteristics, beliefs, values, and cultural expectations, and outlines how each person in the Pirates organization should think, act, and approach their work. According to Kyle Stark, the team’s assistant GM, the Pirates’ overarching purpose as an organization is to change the world of baseball by developing players into professionals on and off the field. They emphasize purpose, process, and teamwork — not home runs, wins, or losses.
I’m convinced that the Pirates’ emphasis on culture is a big reason why the team won 94 games and made it to the post-season in 2013, after not having a winning record since 1992. It’s possible for your company to experience the same type of transformation. That’s why I recommend reminding your employees of your company’s vision and goals every day. Hang posters that remind your people of the power of caring. Email them inspiring quotes and stories. Consistently talk about how caring has impacted your own life and ask them for their own stories.
11. Be generous.
While caring can and should manifest in the way you interact with clients, coworkers, and other business partners, you should also consider caring for your community and the wider world. In the book I wrote that “You aren’t a true success unless you are helping others be successful. Success is meant to be shared.” And that’s just as true for companies as it is for individuals. Being generous is another wonderful way to show that your organization is committed to taking caring beyond lip service.
Keep in mind that generosity doesn’t just apply to resources, but also to time. I’m not saying a local charity wouldn’t appreciate a company check — it would! — but you may find that your time and brainpower help that company make even more progress. You might set aside an afternoon every month for your employees to volunteer with a local charity, or to participate as a team in a fundraiser for a good cause. Your employees — and the community as a whole — will appreciate that you’re willing to sacrifice company time to make the world a better place.
Caring isn’t another burdensome task that will make your employees’ to-do lists even longer. Caring doesn’t drain you; it energizes you and others. That’s why it’s such a fantastic success strategy: Caring breeds more caring — and more caring helps you to do better work, attract more customers, and create a meaningful legacy.
Jon Gordon is the author of “The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All“. His best-selling books and talks have inspired readers and audiences around the world. His principles have been put to the test by numerous NFL, NBA, and college coaches and teams, Fortune 500 companies, school districts, hospitals, and non-profits. He is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Energy Bus“, “Soup“, “The No Complaining Rule“, “Training Camp“, and “The Shark and the Goldfish“, “The Seed“, and “The Positive Dog”.