If you are one of those people who really believe no good deed goes unpunished, then you might find very little value in kindness. I, however, believe most people see kindness as a pretty good thing.
But is it essential to the success of your business? Is it more than just a morally good best-practice? Does it have, you know ... monetary value?
Kindness, you might recall, is part of the love-at-work formula I shared in a previous column: Kindness plus high standards equal love at work. And Jill Lublin, author of the new book The Profit of Kindness, claims that "kindness is the new currency" of the marketplace.
Lublin believes you can literally turn corporate kindness into cash -- and other things of value. The cash might directly take the form of revenues and profits. But kindness also generates more customers, greater connectivity, new prospects, forgiveness for your mistakes, and higher employee and customer loyalty ... all things that lead to increases in revenues and profits.
It's the law of reciprocity: When you are kind to somebody, it's more likely that they'll be kind in return. In other words, most good deeds are rewarded.
Lublin researched this for her book, but she's also experienced it first-hand as a corporate speaker and trainer on public relations and marketing topics.She knows that when an organization cultivates a reputation for kindness, it reaps rewards of "more visibility, more publicity, and more business."
So here are four of the ways she told me a leader can invest in the currency of kindness:
1. Follow the Right Path
In her book, Lublin takes a deep look at seven "pathways to profit": compassion, flexibility, patience, positivity, generosity, gratitude, and connection. These lead to a Return on Kindness (ROK) that your business actually can measure.
You can measure kindness informally -- by taking note of it as you see it happen -- and formally (with metric-driven surveys). These can be tied to how people feel, but also to things like their loyalty to the organization, their energy for projects, their involvement, or their satisfaction. The metrics will be different for every organization, but they will be just as important, if not more, than a standard P&L.
2. Work Inside Out
If you want your organization to be known for its kindness, then the people in your organization need to demonstrate kindness. Even the most instinctively kind-hearted people, however, will struggle to do this if they aren't first treated with kindness by their co-workers and supervisors. It starts with you.
"When employees are treated with kindness, that kindness flows out to the customers," Lublin says. "When employees are not treated well, you will see it and feel it in the customer service."
3. Audit Your "Life Happens" Policies
As a leader, kindness can look like saying nice things to people, handing out complements when appropriate, or sending hand-written notes of encouragement to employees or customers. But a big part of an organization's cultural kindness is reflected in the policies that apply when the inevitable not-so-good things happen in life.
The first place to start, as Lublin points out, is by examining your basic policies -- things like your attendance policy, your leave policy, or your flexibility policies.If your policies reflect kindness, as well as high standards, then you can show flexibility when dealing with the realities of life. You will know when to stick to the rule of the policy and when an exception, based in compassion, is in order.
4. Give Away The Power
It's one thing to tell the people who work for you to "be kind," but it's another to allow them to do kind things when it costs something. Remember, love requires service and services always involves sacrifice. Kindness can cost you in time, money, or both.
Organizations that trade in kindness allow their employees to give that currency away. If you're a waitress, can you give someone a free piece of pie because the kid at the next table spilled milk on their foot? If you're a clerk in a hotel, do you have the authority to give someone a discounted rate because you can tell they've had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?
Lublin says she experienced this type of kindness at a Marriott Renaissance in Las Vegas, and she points out that Ritz Carlton is a hotel chain with a reputation for allowing employees to act with kindness.
"They've got policies and procedures that they have to follow," she says, "but they're smart enough to give their people some decision-making abilities and possibilities."
If your employees know their limits and know that they work in a culture that allows them to show acts of kindness within those limits, they will value the currency of kindness and trade it with the respect it deserve. And you, your organization, and your customers will all reap the rewards.