Corporate culture

Creating a system of kindness can increase your company’s profitability. Kindness is not a personal quality – it is an active choice of behaviour between colleagues. It is not about weakness, permissiveness or fear of conflict. Kindness is about wishing others well.

Here at Westander, we have worked systematically since 2011 to build an effective and profitable culture of kindness in our workplace. Over the course of the following five years, our revenues have increased by 50 percent, we have set new profitability records and we have achieved all-time high scores in both employee and customer surveys.

7 tips for building a profitable culture of kindness

When employees feel a sense of trust and help each other, they cooperate more effectively, creativity is enhanced and quality improves. Businesses with a culture of kindness can charge more for their services, recruit the right individuals more easily and retain employees for longer.

Here are Westander’s seven tips on how the management of a knowledge-based company can build a profitable culture of kindness in the workplace.

1. Create clarity

Build a firm foundation with well thought-out organisation and clear information. First of all, ensure that you establish crystal clear responsibilities with clear targets and continuous target monitoring. When management ensures that everyone is aware of what applies, better conditions are created for employees to trust each other.

Example: As a consultant with client responsibility at Westander, you alone are responsible for every decision concerning the client relationship. The CEO and Head of Unit never step in and control a consultant’s client responsibility in detail.

2. Give feedback systematically

Establish routines and methods for sharing continuous feedback – both praise and constructive criticism – between colleagues. In a well-functioning workplace, employees should hear at least five times as many positive comments as critical comments. Emphasise the importance of all employees contributing to their colleagues’ skills development and the company’s competitiveness.

Example: At Westander, we encourage our colleagues to ask for feedback from each other after every customer meeting: What did I do well this time? What can I do even better next time?

3. Recruit good self-esteem

Recruit individuals who feel secure in themselves, with all their human faults and shortcomings. Do not be misled by the fact that jobseekers with performance-based self-esteem can often demonstrate great drive and commitment during the recruitment process. People with good self-esteem generally find it easier to deal with feedback, to be helpful and to collaborate in a down-to-earth manner.

Example: As part of Westander’s recruitment process, we encourage the ‘right’ people to apply rather than the ‘best’ people. We want to weed out prima donnas and people with sharp elbows.

4. Cultivate a culture of change

Create a sharper focus on change, creativity and collaboration through high ambitions, clear quality procedures and regular customer surveys. Follow up on the results in a way that strengthens pride and combats complacency among employees. Ensure that working methods, processes and routines are subject to constant pressure for change from employees with a desire for renewal and improvement.

Example: During the past ten years, Westander has won more customer surveys than any other Swedish PR agency. We systematically use annual customer surveys as an important instrument of change.

5. Encourage collaboration

Establish clear quality procedures based on collaboration, cultivate a climate of open discussion, and ensure a clear distribution of roles in all collaboration. Reward collaboration and helping colleagues via salary criteria and bonus systems. It is only when employees collaborate that a business can become stronger than the sum of the individuals who work there.

Example: Westander’s bonus programme means that 40 percent of our operating profit is used for profit sharing – on equal terms for all employees. The aim is to encourage performance-oriented collaboration.

6. Use values

Use values as a management instrument to build a culture of kindness. Formulate values that emphasise the importance of both responsibility and collaboration. Involve employees in specifying what these values mean in practice. Base processes such as recruitment and appraisals on these values.

Example: New colleagues are specifically encouraged to suggest improvements for the annual update of Westander’s recruitment brochure, hence our values can become even more clear in relation to our day-to-day work.

7. Measure trust

Carry out an annual measurement of trust between colleagues and use the results to highlight the value of internal trust. Having a greater trust in deeper collaboration means that we dare to tell others about any failures and expose our vulnerabilities. This is a self-reinforcing process whereby greater trust leads to improved collaboration and even more unselfish actions.

Example: When Westander carried out its 10th annual employee survey, the question on “Collaboration with other colleagues” received a record average of 9.34 out of 10.

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