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Employee Engagement Empathy: More Powerful than You Think

By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Posted May 29, 2015

Image of Word "Empathy"While often thought of from a personal perspective, empathy is a key component of emotional competency, and critical to superior listening skills, issue resolution, hiring and training, among other essential leadership skill sets.

The US Air Force used the "EQ-I" (Emotional Quotient Inventory) to select recruiters. They learned the most successful recruiters also scored significantly higher on competencies such as assertiveness, empathy, happiness and emotional self-awareness.

Empathy is one of business' "soft skills" or "people skills" recently recognized as important in some cases more important than the "hard skills" companies have long considered crucial when hiring and promoting.

Empathy can serve as an effective bridge; a bridge where showing genuine caring builds connections among people at different levels, with different skill sets, objectives and experiences. As such, empathy is a strong tool in creating employee engagement. The ability to genuinely experience and understand other people's emotions often leads to additional positive benefits from interactions.

From an employee engagement perspective, both individuals gain from empathy shown. When company leadership is able to demonstrate empathy for employees' situations and circumstances, a stronger bond is built, contributing to a stronger culture overall.

Empathy has, at least in some respects, gotten "lost in the shuffle" as people race through each day, focused solely on tasks and objectives, to the detriment of people skills such as intuition, insight and thoughtfulness. In some cases, it may be necessary to literally plan a time for slowing down and giving greater consideration to the people behind the accomplishment of tasks and objectives.

Fortunately, use of empathy as an employee engagement tool also contributes to profitability. Consider:

  • Staying in touch with colleagues and customers gives each of us a better sense of what is going on around us. This heightened awareness helps to identify new opportunities and solve problems.
  • Timely and relevant data is very helpful in the workplace. However, when it replaces rather than supplements face-to-face contact, decisions lack meaningful "people" elements.

Leo Buscaglia Quote

Several well-known companies have created cultures where empathy and employee engagement are part of their norm. Examples:

  • Harley Davidson Offices display Harley photos and other Harley memorabilia from rallies and other events. Customers and employees ride together. People in business segments such as accounting, engineering and administration acquire empathy for the customers that purchase Harley products.
  • Nike's culture celebrates the potential for "athletic greatness" in each individual. Headquarters physically resembles an athletic center. Employees run, play basketball or soccer on breaks. People who create running shoes are usually runners themselves. This deep immersion can't be replaced by reports or data.
  • Microsoft succeeded with Xbox because they used developers who are also gamers to design it.

The reverse is also true. Consider Blockbuster. When Netflix arrived on scene Blockbuster executives used standard analytical methods to reach the conclusion that Netflix was not a threat. They viewed the situation from THEIR perspective one of high margins, thousands of employees and a thriving national retail chain. They failed to consider their customers' frustration with late fees and relative to Netflix a very limited range of movies (nearly all were recent releases).

Empathy helps people stay grounded, and provides context for research, reports and various data used in decision making. Businesses are started by people, owned by people, and people are an organization's greatest asset. Nothing happens if not initiated by people. Individuals, with balanced "hard" and "soft" skills, are the core of successful corporate culture, and are key contributors to both short-term profitability and long-term organizational viability.

Fresh Perspective
Fresh Perspective helps business leaders make key strategic decisions. We adeptly research, analyze and synthesize results to deliver only ‘need to know’ insight to leaders so they make the right decision the first time. Lisa Hays, founder and CEO, gained considerable experience from widely varied roles in large corporations. She combines her 30+ years’ experience, expertise and objective viewpoint to directly help business leaders.

Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective, Inc.
Twitter: @Periwinkle4Lisa



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