What is a culture of caring? What does it look like? Why does having a culture of caring matter?
The idea of a culture of caring encompasses many things: leaders caring about employees, employees caring for each other and for customers, and everyone in the company caring about the company's purpose.
Why does having a culture of caring matter? Because it impacts your bottom line: culture impacts employee engagement, which in turn affects absenteeism, retention and productivity. Culture also impacts the customer experience: happy cultures produce happy employees and therefore happy customers. Employees who are are focused on the customer experience and see themselves as an empowered and important member of the team are more likely to provide a positive customer experience.
But a culture of caring isn't just about caring for your employees and having them care for customers. It's about caring why you do what you do in the first place. It's about answering question like, "why you do what you do? What do you believe? How can you be most impactful?"
Companies that can answer these questions have a culture of caring that sets them apart. So how do you build this kind of culture? Here are five ways.
1) Clarify and communicate your purpose. Part of building a community of caring is aligning what you believe as a company with what you do and how you do it. Employees must understand your business' purpose in order to help achieve it. Customers must believe in that purpose in order to engage with your brand. This is about understanding not just what the product is that your company or brand makes or delivers, but caring about why it matters.
I recently talked to Eric Reynolds, Chief Marketing Officer of The Clorox Company, a consumer packaged goods manufacturer that makes cleaning products that are found in more than 75% of American homes. According to Reynolds, Clorox's purpose isn't making bleach, or making cleaning products. Clorox's "why" - the belief system that drives the company - is that clean matters. Clorox's purpose is helping build a cleaner world.
"Our purpose was forged before we were conscious of purpose," said Reynolds. "In WWII when materials were scarce, Clorox was so committed to clean that the company refused to change its ingredients because of fears the products would lose their disinfectant properties. Our name is so connected to clean that our products were used on the Apollo space capsule. And we're still committed to helping to build a cleaner world, whether it's in people's homes, cleaning up after floods and natural disasters, or maintaining a healthy environment in healthcare facilities and schools. That purpose has connected culturally with customers, consumers and our employees for more than 100 years."
2) Empower and Engage - So how do you get employees, customers and the world to engage with what you believe? You can't force a belief down people's throats, and you can't force employees and customers to care about your purpose.
According to Reynolds, creating a culture of caring is about empowering and engaging your community - whether its employees, customers or the world. It means providing the tools to be successful and an environment where employees feel empowered to take action that helps the company, community or world.
Reynolds said, "For us, the question is how do you keep 3,000 people immersed in a point of view? We try to provide tools that help employees understand the meta-narrative, what is the story we're telling about Clorox. When it doesn't happen, it's usually because we lost focus on those stories. So we return to those tools and foundational documents about our culture that are an integral part of bringing on new employees or starting new work."
3) Go Off Script. Of course, empowerment isn't just about providing manuals and scripts. Sometimes empowerment is about providing people permission to go off script.
Maryam Banikarim, Chief Marketing Officer of Hyatt recently talked to me about the difference between the idea of customer service, and caring. Hyatt is on a purpose-driven journey with care at its core. The company has reexamined all aspects of its business through the lens of its purpose, "to care for people so they can be their best."
"Service is transactional," added Banikarim. "But caring is more than that. It isn't a reward mechanism. We say that empathy + action = care. Caring is about giving people permission to be human."
She continued, "Policies and procedures allow you to be consistent, so that you deliver the same type of service experience across many regions. But if you're going for care, what people want is authenticity more than perfection. There isn't a manual for that. So we've moved to an idea where people can be unscripted, be human and respond in the moment."
4) Focus on Personal Relationships - As companies grow it becomes more difficult to establish personal relationships with every customer and every employee, but developing deeper relationships with employees, customers and others should still be a goal. At an operational level, this can mean things like spending more frequent "face-time" with teams, or having a meeting instead of communicating by emails.
But cultures of caring aren't just about your internal team spending more time together. It's about how you treat everyone in your company's ecosystem. And that can include employees, customers - everyone that touches or is touched by your brand.
According to Banikarim, "Caring can't just be about guests or customers. Policies can't be more important than people. As an organization, you have to walk the walk. You can't just say things, you have to listen, really hear people and then take action. People take their cues from you. You have to live your purpose."
5) Listen, Connect and Share Your Stories - Executives at organizations like Clorox and Hyatt understand the value of storytelling in developing culture. Banikarim said, "You activate on your purpose through storytelling. Sharing stories is powerful."
Sharing stories is something that you can do internally or externally, but the most effective way to share stories if you want to build a culture of caring is to engage customers, employees and others that are part of your community or tribe. Some companies do this with communities like media hubs and websites, others work to build more personal connections.
At Clorox, key moments in the company's 100-plus year history line the walls, to remind employees and team members of its role in history, from wartime, to natural disasters and the Apollo space program. According to Reynolds, "We have a strong sense of history. The stories are on our website. They're on our walls. We want people to know our commitment to clean has been unerring. Succeeding for more than 100 years isn't about any one team or managers, it's about your values. That's what carries you through time."
Hyatt has taken a somewhat different approach, talking directly to staff and guests around the globe to find out what makes them loyal to the company. According to Banikarim, "What we're really focused on is rewarding community. So when we looked at creating our new loyalty program, World of Hyatt, we were very focused on creating a world that revolves around 'you' and not around 'us'."
Banikarim continued, "As part of that, we did a lot of interviews to see what really matters to our guests. We found many stories of how we've cared for people, from colleagues to partners to owners to guests. What we've found is the reason people are "irrationally loyal" to Hyatt is - the common theme - is because of a generosity of spirit that they don't find anywhere else. I think the more disconnected we are as consumers with things like the Internet, the more there is a need to be connected. The notion of being recognized like part of the family, brought into the fold, goes a long way. It's just a very personal, human experience and people value that."
In the end, building a culture of caring isn't just about delivering customer service or making a great product. Caring is about building connections and bringing people together around a common purpose or goal. It's about putting people before policies and procedures. Caring comes in many forms, but ultimately as Banikarim told me, "It's about humanity."