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Kindness is Your Competitive Advantage

An expert interview with Lara Heacock. Sara Martin Rauch, WELCOA’s Director of Strategy & Planning, visits with Lara Heacock, Leadership Coach & Editor in Chief of Kind Over Matter, who helps leaders and corporations leverage kindness to gain powerful results. Learn how adding kindness to your business culture creates a competitive advantage that significantly improves performance, creativity and profitability.

Intro:

Sara Martin Rauch, WELCOA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, visits with Lara Heacock, Leadership Coach & Editor in Chief of Kind Over Matter, who helps leaders and corporations leverage kindness to gain powerful results. Learn how adding kindness to your business culture creates a competitive advantage that significantly improves performance, creativity and profitability. Kindness has a structure and a process, and involves integrity, insight and courage but has the power to transform the way we relate to problems and each other.

Kindness is Your Competitive Advantage
An Expert Interview with Lara Heacock

Sara Martin Rauch Hi Lara. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Lara Heacock Hey, Sara. Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.

SMR This is a really, really important topic for WELCOA. Talking about kindness, workplace stability, and strategies for stress management. I’m excited to talk to you about how all those things connect. Also, I know you have some tactical ideas for organizations who want to incorporate kindness into their wellness program. I think our members and listeners are going to be really excited about what you have to say. So thank you for joining me.

So I’d love to just start by understanding what your main motivation was for your blog, kindovermatter.com.

LH Yes! Kind Over Matter has been around since 2009, which in internet terms kind of makes us old! We’ve been around for a long, long time. I actually took it over at the end of 2013. I really started my work in coaching with a platform of self-kindness. I think in our society we’re told to be kind to others and be generous and give back. All of those things are wonderful concepts that we fully embrace, but there is a step that has to come before.

We have to be kind to ourselves to be able to show up as our best selves and to be able to have the capacity to do all the work that we want to do in the world.

SMR Absolutely. So you came in after it was already founded. What excited you most? What were you doing before that?

LH Before that, I was in corporate America for 20 years. I was a recruiter for a dozen or so of those years. At the point where I took it over, I was really at a turning point in my own life. I had been going to job interviews and for about a year or so, nothing really felt right. I had gone to some graduate school open houses thinking maybe I’ll get another graduate degree, but nothing really felt like it fit. In the same time period, I had been reading the work of a lot of coaches, and one of the coaches that I really felt an alignment towards started offering a training program and I signed up for it.

I spent a year training and right around the same time I was accepted into that program, a mutual connection reached out to me and said, “The woman who’s running Kind Over Matter is looking to transition and I just felt like I had to tell you.” So really, all of these things came together at the exact moment in my life where I didn’t know what I was looking for and things fell into place in a really beautiful way. Now as I look back with five years of hindsight, I can see so clearly. I was super burned-out. I was working at a commission job and I was in a 24/7 environment. I closed three deals on my honeymoon. I was super, super burned-out of what I had been doing because I didn’t have that self-kindness piece to my life.

SMR Wow. That’s a really interesting perspective going from being a recruiter listening to other people’s story, seeing other people’s journeys with employment and then thinking about coaching within the business space right? The very type of coaching that you were looking into.

LH Yeah. It’s what I knew. It is the population of people that I worked best with. I spent five years working with people one-on-one. When I look back at the common thread, their stories were very similar to mine. They were mid-career professionals, they were in some leadership capacity and they had lost that zest for life. Their stress was too high. They were teetering on burnout or they were well past burnout. I realized that I was able to get people past that hump and onto the other side of burnout and feeling healthier and surviving again.

I made it my mission to really get into the companies and think about how I can change this culture that I think glorifies burnout.

Listen to a conversation – parents on the soccer field that haven’t seen each other for a few months. “How are you doing? Oh, great. So busy. I’m busy. The kids are busy. My partner’s busy.” It’s become this status symbol and it’s really a deeply entrenched part of our culture and I think it’s making us sick.

SMR You talk about this dichotomy of work performance being summed up with busyness. One of the things that we talk about at WELCOA is this culture of work as suffering. You draw that distinction between that type of work performance and then a performance system that’s grounded in kindness. I’d love for you to talk a little more about that. What does kindness have to do with performance and leadership in the workplace?

LH I think for me one of the biggest components of it is values.

  • What kind of organization do we want to be?
  • What kind of leader do we want to be?

I was at a workshop recently and one of the things that stuck with me was somebody had said, “You can plan for anything. You just have to decide what to plan for.” So you can plan to be an organization that’s going to phase out healthcare to save cost or you can plan to be an organization that has a beautiful wellness program that includes mindfulness. That is a different kind of value system. But you have to live it and you have to make that choice.

When I think about changing the culture of busyness, I think about the first step as defining who do we want to be as an organization or as a team or even as an individual contributor. Do we value what I call the butts in seats mentality, which is really old school leadership? Are we going to evaluate you based on how long you are physically sitting in the seat versus on your contribution, and your output, and your client satisfaction, or your product maintenance scores?

I think we need to really look at our values as a leader or as an organization and flip it. Joe Brown is our top performer because he’s here from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. But really, Suzy Smith is a higher performer because her client satisfaction goals are higher even though she comes in at 9:00 a.m. and leaves at 5:00 p.m.

Let’s look at what we’re measuring and start to make that shift away from the value of busyness to a value of contribution.

SMR What I love about you said initially was this idea of you can plan for anything. Because I think many organizations pay a lot of lip service to that kind of language saying; we want you to be your best self; we want you to be well; we want you to take care of yourself and do the things you love and be there for your family.

LH The first questions I ask are:

  • Are your values more than just a page on your website?
  • How does this show up?
  • How do you as a leader exemplify this?
  • How do you walk the talk that you’re putting out there?

Because that’s going to impact the culture that you’re creating.

SMR At WELCOA, we help our members create multiple different strategies for creating healthier workplaces through our Well Workplace Process™. One of the main outcomes that we’re looking for when following that process is workplaces that are more human; more well. So I’m curious of your perspective on what you think the role is of kindness in creating more human, well workplaces.

LH I love that. So first and foremost, to me people think kind and nice are synonyms and I actually think that they’re very different. To me kindness is active. Kindness is all about taking steps, walking our talk, and shifting what we’re measuring and evaluating.

Kindness in the workplace starts with the individual leaders. Because if we’re going to have our values be more than a page on our website, it’s up to our individual leaders to deliver that.

There’s a really famous quote by Richard Branson. He says, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” I think there’s a step that comes before any of this.

As individual leaders, we need to take care of ourselves and practice our own self-kindness so that we are not becoming micromanagers because we’re so stressed out. At that point, we are micromanaging our team, which builds mistrust and that makes stressed out employees, which breeds that butts in seats mentality. We have to start with ourselves and we have to start with our own accountability. Then once we are doing that, we increase our capacity and we are able to be stronger leaders who deliver wellness plans to our teams because we are mitigating our own burnout.

SMR So if you take care of yourself as the leader, then your employees will learn how to take care of themselves. It starts with self-leadership.

LH I think so many leaders think that they can be the exception to the rule. Maybe they want to create a kind workplace with a wellness focus for their employees, but they’re going to be the person that is on email two hours before they go to work and on email two hours after the kids go to bed and there’s no balance there. That’s not sustainable. I always say, no matter how well you think you’re masking it, trust me your team knows. They know and they can sense it. The stressed out leader breeds a stressed out, unhealthy team.

SMR That reminds me. I was speaking at a safety council event in South Dakota. We were talking about some of these concepts and it really hit home with one of the VPs. After my talk, he raised his hand and addressed a couple hundred of his employees. He held his phone up and he said, “I have been emailing and calling you guys after business hours for a decade and today it ends. I’m so sorry.”

That blew me away. He was contributing positively to the wellness of his employees. As a leader, we can decide whether to be a part of contributing to that or really trying to show through our actions.

LH I would like to high five that leader. One of the most famous case studies that I always love to reference is Arianna Huffington. She literally hit her face on the corner of a desk and woke up in a puddle of her own blood because she was so burned out. Her platform and her passion is really about sleep. I tend to be more holistic. Trust me, I’m a big believer in sleep and I think everybody needs to make it a priority but I think there’s a lot of other things. But really, do we all need to wake up in a pool of our own blood before we start changing the way that we do business? I hope not.

SMR Right. What a wake-up call.

LH And we can do better.

SMR Reading LaraHeacock.com, the mission of your work is to end burnout. This work, as well with the kindness in business process that you’ve developed; will help leaders and business owners bring more kindness into their businesses. What do you see as the link between burnout and kindness? Do we know that lack of kindness of work leads to burnout?

LH I think that practicing kindness in business and self-kindness as a starting point is the antidote to burnout.

When I work one-on-one with a leader, all roads point to burnout. They’ve lost their spark, are not excited about their job anymore, and notice they’re becoming more of a micromanager. The way that you overcome and get past that is by starting to integrate self-kindness practices and you start small. Take two, 20-minute walks during the week, take five minutes to be mindful, or make sure you plan one activity that brings you joy per week.

You will start to overcome burnout and build sustainable habits. I do not believe in quick change. That’s a recipe for failure. To create sustainable lifelong habits, patterns and change that we can commit to, we have to take very small steps that build on the next one. Then to translate that into a corporation is how we use my KIND kindness in business process.

First, we’re going to have a very real conversation about what things look like. If I am going to get fluff from a client, they’re not going to get the results that they want.

  • Why am I here?
  • What does burnout look like in your organization?
  • What are you seeing in your team? Then what are you doing for yourself?
  • How are you modeling burnout, or kindness or wellness?
  • How are you showing up as a leader?

We always keep it real. We have to figure out what’s really going on so that we can get to that true root. Otherwise, we’re just treating the symptoms around it.

SMR I want to talk more about the kindness in business process that you developed, a process that businesses tackle this for their employees. Stress is a huge problem in business and it’s a huge driver of cost that can impact our ability to be creative, innovative and even retain talent. What are the goals for creating more kindness in business and what kinds of outcomes are you looking for when you go into an organization?

LH My goals are always to see a shift in the workforce and culture. I’m a very visual person, so if I go into a business I see things. I might think that it’s kind of grey or flat and I don’t see a lot of zest for the work in the organization or I might go into an organization that feels brightly colored and exciting and there’s a different energy. Those things are not quantifiable, but that’s really what I’m looking for.

If you want to quantify, we should see a reduction in sick time and an uptick in customer satisfaction. We should see things like deadlines aren’t being missed as frequently, savings in our wellness cost. Because when people are less stressed, they’re less sick. The most recent thing that I read that horrified me was, 80% to 90% of primary care visits are for stress-related challenges. Work-related stress is at least in the top two of things that are contributing to people feeling burnout and stress.

As we start to shift the culture and implement some kindness in business practices, we should start to see people taking less sick time, delivering quality; feeling valued, less micromanaged, like they have an equal seat at the table; seeing transparency and an increase in trust. If we want to measure that, there are tools. Engagement surveys are a great tool. 360s can be a great tool. Things that are measured in more traditional wellness spaces are also impacted in this kind of softer or new phase of the wellness space as well.

SMR What is the research, in general, around the impact that lack of kindness has in the workplace on health, stress, etc.? Is there a body of research that talks about that or instability or that sort of thing?

LH There’s a bit of research and it’s actually on the front page of my corporate website laraheacock.com. I’ve never put a research hat on, and probably never will, but there is definitely research that supports the things that we should see. If I put my recruiter hat back on and think about the job market right now, we are at historic low unemployment. We are in a hiring environment where you have to have something more than money to offer.

The younger generation, the millennials and the folks that are coming up after them, want more out of their workforce than a paycheck. They want an environment that cares about health. They want something that aligns with their values.

They don’t believe in the old mentality of, “if I take care of the company, the company will take care of me.” Maybe you have a yoga teacher come in once a week to offer classes during lunch. Maybe you have work from home flexibility. When you have a culture that really values kindness in business and workplace health, these things can be possible. It actually has documented results in reducing turnover, increasing tenure and taking down workplace stress. Which is going to be a major impact to cost.

SMR To get people to look at how they could incorporate this into their wellness program or organizational strategy, you created an acronym with the word KIND that helps us think about our approach and really operationalize kindness. Can you describe the kindness in business process and what KIND stands for within that model?

LH Yeah, absolutely.

K: The first step is K, Keeping it real. That’s where we get really nitty gritty and figure out what is happening.

  • What is our key challenge?
  • Is it that we have a lot of sick time or that we have high turnover

But we’re going to really get real. What’s the heart of the problem? What is the X that we’re trying to solve for?

I: Then we move to I and each person that’s involved. I is, me, myself and I. What is my role in it as an individual? Whether I am an HR generalist, leader, customer service professional or a C-level executive—what is my role in this X that we’ve identified in the first step and how am I going to contribute?

N: N stands for: what is Next? That’s where we talk about where we want to land? If we think about six months from now, what do you want this organization to look like? Where do you think that we can get? N is really where we’re going to identify our goal, what we’re aiming for and how we’re going to build our process together.

D: D is Delivery. D is where we get back to those baby steps. We’re going to start figuring out the small steps we’re going to implement to get us to that end result. Keeping it real and the X that we identified for is largely going to stay the same. The next steps, the deliverables, become iterative. Through the process of change, we identify some other things along the way and our goals shift slightly. Those things are going to be the bulk of working together to make the change.

It starts with getting real and ends with delivering a process of small baby steps together.

SMR What does engagement with an organization look like using this model?

LH It can be with HR or with small to mid-sized business owners. The consultative side looks at the type of culture you want to create. Maybe you started out when you were small, really focused on wellness and kindness in business, but you lost your way in the type of organization you wanted to create. How can we right the ship?

The coaching side is with individual leaders. Leadership or executive coaching capacities that might be at burnout themselves and need to come out on the other side of it. Maybe they’ve been identified as a valuable contributor, but they have something going on. I will work with them individually through the process. We know as a leader your team is impacted by how you’re feeling. We provide a consultative approach with administration or HR or a private one-on-one coaching approach with leaders that need to get themselves past burnout so they don’t derail their team.

SMR Let’s say you’ve identified the X and you helped them start thinking through how each business unit or individual can be tactically involved. What do those next steps often look like? How does it become part of who they are? How do they change and how do they operate to solve the problem; to solve for X?

LH Policy change and delivery. It has to be a consistent part of the business process. All the research on habit formation points back to consistency. We have to make the commitment to make a consistent change in our organization. Often times something like an employee evaluation process will change based on doing this work. Maybe managing your team, doing one-on-ones and having real vulnerable conversations with your team has kind of fallen by the wayside and that’s a big part of employees feeling valued, cared for and healthy in the organizations.

As we’re going through these steps and making changes, they have to be reflected in your policies and your actions.

Stakeholders play a big part. If we think about project management, each project has key stakeholders who are responsible for deliverables. Who’s going to make sure that we maintain this deliverable of culture? We don’t want go back to the time when your leaders would give us the side eye if you took five minutes to go into the game room. How are we going to make sure that we are monitoring it consistently?

SMR We recently evolved our Well Workplace Process™ and Seven Benchmarks™ — a change management process for creating a results-oriented strategic workplace wellness initiative. Our existing first Benchmark was all about getting the CEO to be supportive with what you’re trying to achieve. One of the ways that we evolved this benchmark was recognizing that what really changes an employee’s day and their experience at work is that interaction with the direct manager.

This is the value that investing in these kinds of resources had for Well Workplaces based on our unique X, to use your term, in which we identified as the importance of middle managers. With your approach, these solutions roll out at the management level, so no matter where an employee is in the organization, it’s going to be a consistent, scalable tactical way to start changing the culture.

LH I think you can have top-down change or bottom-up change. If you get very lucky, you can have a combination of the two. I love working with managers and directors who have teams of individual contributors or teams of managers that have individual contributors. That is where you have the most power in an organization to start making shifts.

The business world is changing from a top-down change more to a bottom-up referencing back to the current labor market and challenges that companies are having with retention. How do you combine not only caring for your employees, because that’s who you want to be, but also retaining folks? Because you have work to do and a company to run. All of these things go together. That bottom-up philosophy I have found to be so incredibly powerful.

SMR So as you’re rolling through these steps and the kindness in business process, what are the success that you’ve seen? How do we know we’ve hit the target?

LH The mindset shift is one of the biggest things I see. When you ask most people, “how do you get the most things done?” they say, I should calendar block and have my time planned down to the minute. We have this idea that we constantly have to be going, going, going. That busyness mentality in order to be productive and to get everything done. The biggest shift that I see is that people start realizing that the opposite is true.

I’m not saying that we’re all going to be laying on a beach 24/7 and collecting a paycheck; that’s not realistic. What is realistic is that, when we start taking care of ourselves, we start practicing self-kindness. We start focusing on our health and our capacity to get things done increases.

As a leader, we are increasing our capacity and we are able to get more done. The biggest thing that I see is, things that haven’t even come in as a goal that we’ve identified during our work together, start getting done. For example, a leader suddenly decides to revamp the entire employee evaluation system because she has created enough capacity in her life to be able to step back and look at that bigger picture.

So if you have a manager that’s really stuck in the weeds or that is starting to micromanage, a lot of times bringing in the kindness in business practice can help them step into that leadership place and start to see the bigger picture. We increase our own capacity when we start prioritizing things like health and sleep.

  • When was the last time you used the restroom?
  • Have you had any water today?
  • Did you eat lunch? It’s already 3:30pm.

We start very, very small, so seeing that increase in capacity is the number one thing that I see and the output starts to change.

You start to see an individual leader use delegation that is more appropriate. As opposed to the leader hoarding everything and doing everything for himself or herself. You start to see more engaged employees because they feel trusted. You see that trust in their leadership begin to improve. You start to see people who are taking less sick time and getting to work. Not in the butts in seats mentality, but feeling engaged and digging right in and getting value out of their work. The capacity increase is always, always, always the first thing that I see and then it tends to flow toward into more engaged employees.

SMR We have to accept, as a wellness industry specifically, that people want to be well. However, as long as employers are assuming that employees don’t care about health and are crafting a wellness program that incentivizes them to change, it ignores the facts that they probably already do want to change. The concern that we have at WELCOA with that model is they have many barriers. One of which came up through what you were saying as one of the things that you look for first. Are people beginning to shift?

LH I always tell my leaders, your team isn’t going to care what you’re doing, they’re going to care about the results. They’re not going to care that you’re suddenly talking to me every other week, they just care that you’re changing. As an employee, when you start seeing your leader do things like they’re going out to lunch, leaving at a normal time and not glaring at you when you leave at a normal time, if gives you the permission to think, “Oh, maybe I can go to lunch too.” You start to see the culture shift and start to get that sense of permission to start doing it for ourselves. Then all of those things start to follow suit. Our engagement increases, our stress decreases and our job satisfaction increases. All of those things lead to positive outcomes.

SMR I love that this approach is one tactical step that people can take to start removing barriers for their employees to be well. No matter what their individual health goals are, they have the capacity to engage in behaviors that will get them to those goals.

LH Capacity and permission. People don’t want to feel burnt or stressed out. They don’t want to feel sick or unwell. We have to create that safety in our workplaces to let our people know that they have permission to take these steps. When you see a leader going out to lunch and eating healthy food, then maybe someone else starts bringing in a fruit salad instead of a box of donuts for the Thursday morning team meeting.

Yes, hiring a chef is great. Bringing in a yoga teacher is great. However, maybe it means you keep a bottle of water available or you swap out the donuts for a fruit salad. Instead of ordering pizza, you get vegetarian catering or something. There’s a lot of little things that we can do to start to give people permission, which results in their increased capacity.

SMR I love those ideas. I think people think that it needs to be a robust, expensive solution because these small changes don’t feel as easy to understand or like they can be as impactful. However, they are creative solutions based on the unique culture and goals of an organization. I wanted to ask you if there was a specific story that you wanted to tell about an organization.

LH One of the most stressful things a workplace can go through is a layoff. I was working with a client and during the time we were working together, they had to do a small layoff in the organization. We really strategized and wondered how could we do this in a way that didn’t increase the stress of the employees that were remaining? How could we do it so we practiced, what I call, appropriate transparency?

This doesn’t mean as a leader you go into the meeting and say, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve been stressing about this for 14 weeks and my blood pressure is up and I didn’t know what to do. Here let me show you the numbers.”

Appropriate transparency is saying, “You’re all our core team of employees. Last year we had an uptick in business and increased our head count. We have recognized that, that was a temporary uptick not a permanent one. What we’ve learned, is that you are our core group of employees and if we have an uptick in the future, we’re going to go the contractor route.” This message reduced stress, increased trust and gained buy in to help their employees stay more engaged.

That gives them permission, as an employee, to talk to their leader about happenings behind the scenes. It gives them permission to say things like, “Hey, thank you for being transparent about this. My stress has gone down and I feel more committed to this organization than ever.” That is one of my favorite examples, something that doesn’t necessarily seem to be related to wellness. However, when you think about one of the most stressful workplace challenges to go through as a leader or as an employee, it’s the layoff scenario.

SMR Absolutely. Being able to manage through something like that and manage stress well and maintain civility from that is a huge win. If someone wanted to take a small step even for creating more kindness in their business today, what advice would you give them? Is there a resource you point them to, to start?

LH My advice is always look in the mirror. What are you doing that is increasing your own stress and therefore translating to your team, your peers and even your leaders? Are you the leader that glares at somebody when they’re not in their desk at 8:00 am? Or are you the leader that glorifies the fact that you’re too busy to eat lunch for three days in a row? Look at what you are thinking, what you are saying and what you are doing. If you start really taking a closer look, you may find one behavior that might be stressing people out a little bit.

Just start there.

So maybe it’s — I’m going to stop rolling my eyes when people are five minutes late in the morning. Or maybe you’ve decided that you’re going to start making sure that you do take a lunch every day. Look at yourself. Find one behavior that you feel might actually be causing some people extra stress and start to shift it. When you start to make those shifts, don’t expect anyone else to do anything. Just notice the results of it.

Notice how people start engaging with you differently and notice if they are starting to seem less stressed out to you. I think every relationship is like a dance. When you change up your dance steps, the people you are dancing with are going to change theirs as well. Start to notice what happens when you make these small tiny tweaks to reduce your own stress and reduce the stress that you are bringing to the organization.

SMR I love the simplicity and the power of that. Simply ask; what am I thinking, what am I saying, and what am I doing?

LH We can’t change it if we don’t identify it. We have to get really small. Really granular. We’ve got to identify a working hypothesis. Maybe your first working hypothesis is, I’m going to start taking lunch every day and see how my team responds. Then, notice what happens and check for something else. Maybe I’m carrying this belief that everybody needs to be here until at least 5:00 p.m. or I’m going to have a certain feeling about that. I wonder what would happen if I change my story and looked at how I measure people. Just get curious and start asking yourself these questions repeatedly and you will notice the results.

SMR We’ve covered a lot of ground, but I’m curious if there’s something that we missed that you think is really going to be important for our audience to hear or if there’s anything in parting that you would like to relay?

LH I’m sure a lot of the people are charged with making impacts in the workplace for the larger organization which is an incredibly important role to have and I’d encourage you to see what you can do for yourself. It’s an incredibly wonderful thing to be a giving person, who’s in charge of making change a positive impact for others. How can you give that to yourself? What’s one small act of self-kindness that will help you reduce your stress so that you can show up in a different way than ever could have imagined.

Lara Heacock

Lara Heacock is a Leadership Coach who brings over 20 years’ experience in corporate America. She runs the popular, personal development blog, KindOverMatter.com, and works with professionals and companies to help them use kindness to end the epidemic of burnout in America. In over a decade of leadership, she has managed geographically dispersed teams, and mentored and coached associates around the world. Lara is a certified coach, award-winning writer, speaker, author of the book Practical Kindness, and co-host of the podcast Doing (good) Business. Lara is obsessed with how we change the culture of corporate America from promoting busyness and burnout as status symbols to cultures rooted in kindness. Using her KIND method, Lara works with leaders to avoid their own burnout, so they can create teams that thrive. Download the KIND methodology at LaraHeacock.com and get daily doses of kindness at KindOverMatter.com.

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