Archetype’s Advisor Thoughts
from Hazel Wheldon, CEO of Multi-Health Systems, Inc. (MHS)
In the last few weeks, we have seen much about the way we live and work change. Our relationships, business practices, and social interactions have been fundamentally tested. CEOs and organizational leaders are faced with difficult decisions between taking care of people and ensuring business viability in the long term. It is at times like this that an organization’s values can serve as a beacon to navigate this landscape.
People before profit is not just a fun hashtag. It is a recipe for success now and in the future. If your first goal as a leader during the COVID-19 pandemic is to make money, you’re focused on the wrong thing. If you can retain people, find meaningful things for them to do, and breakeven, your business will come through this with all of the energy, momentum, investment, commitment, productivity, and loyalty needed to thrive and take-off.
How you treat your people is indicative of how your company will do.
The world of work will continue to change, but the future of work for organizations that “Design with Empathy” includes much higher rates of success and return.
How Values Create Opportunity for Empathy
There are very few absolute truths in this world, particularly when it comes to business and leadership. One thing that holds true no matter what is that strong, healthy, adaptable organizations don’t just happen, they are built and designed that way. The foundation of this design is always the same: a core set of values that are shared and honored throughout the organization.
This crisis has forced deep introspection on an individual level, causing many to check-in with their personal values. Particularly with what they feel are justified or acceptable actions from their employers. Those organizations that openly and honestly show that they are leaning into or re-evaluating their values to adjust to these unique times will reflect thoughtfulness and consideration. MHS and Archetype are two organizations that are built on their values. For MHS, these core values have not changed in over 35 years and are institutionalized in our strategy, our planning, and our execution. Archetype Solutions Group is a much younger organization and while some younger companies see values as a luxury, Archetype has recognized that they are fundamental to their success. They have created their own set of values reflective of their unique vision and commitment to their clients. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits reaped by organizations leaning into their values to support their employees, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships with their clients.
One of Archetype’s unique values is “Design with empathy,” a concept MHS is intimately familiar with through our research on factors that drive leadership and organizational success.
Archetype’s Design with Empathy Value Definition
We seek to deeply understand our partners, customers, and each other, in order to understand unmet needs, both known and unknown. We address these needs with care. We design things to be used in real life, not in a vacuum.
By building empathy into your values in some way, you can clearly make the statement that you are in it for more than just your bottom line. You can also show your employees that you care about their thoughts, creating better avenues for feedback, and forming stronger internal teams.
MHS & Empathy
MHS has a long history of understanding the role that empathy plays in effective leadership and organizational performance. Our understanding of the importance of empathy originated from research on the Israeli military. We then took that work and connected it to organizational leadership. When we released the original Emotional Intelligence assessment EQ-i in 1997, empathy was a key component because it requires individuals to get outside their “bubble,” see from someone else’s perspective, and truly understand where others are coming from.
However, Emotional Intelligence was both treated with suspicion and regarded as a fad. In fact, despite having comprehensive rigorous data collection and analysis, groups like the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology refused to accept any papers or submissions to their annual conference on this topic. More than 20 years later Emotional Intelligence is recognized as the single most important leadership trait for the 21st Century and mentioned in almost every leadership article and publication.
The Emergence of Empathy as a Company Value
For much of the 20th Century, empathy was misunderstood and maligned in business. It was not consistent with the highly competitive, winner-take-all approach to business that dominated the ‘70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Over the last 20 years, leadership has fundamentally changed, and there is a growing recognition that effective leaders can no longer lead through a command and control strategy. Instead, they must lead through inspiration and empathy.
How has this change come about? Part of it is generational and part of it is due to the shifting nature of work. The Baby Boomer generation embraced a parenting style very different from their parents, one that included children in household decisions and conversations. Now that their Millennial and Generation X children are adults in the workforce, they expect that same treatment and voice in how the organization is running. Since this shift, the normalcy of employees being “seen and not heard” changed dramatically over the last few decades. Employees want to be part of the solution.
Work has also shifted in North America in many ways. Employees know their value and they want to immediately be included in the conversation.
They want to be respected for their intellectual capacity and have the power to solve problems and be a part of the solution. Leaders need to be able to coach and empower their employees to do so, especially in the case of roles that are highly intellectual and that require solving of complex problems. You can’t do that if you are a highly competitive leader that is commanding and controlling. Leadership styles have had to shift to be able to accommodate people in these positions.
Can You Find Empathy in Your Company’s Values Today?
Taking empathy into account in organizational design is a unique and truly remarkable approach to business. It puts people first, both employees and customers, and ensures that the organizations, products, and services are built because they create value and not simply because they create revenue. In today’s world, organizations from nimble start-ups to behemoth tech companies are beginning to see how designing with empathy can bring so many benefits.
Our belief at MHS is that embracing empathy is simply the right thing to do. It leads to employee engagement, higher productivity, and helps you retain employees. We developed our founding principles on the basis of empathy, to treat our employees with respect and transparency throughout the organization. Transparency throughout all aspects of the business, from financial information to customers, is imperative because, without it, your employees can’t buy in and get personally invested in your mission.
This transparency has truly helped us through these last few months, tackling an experience that no organization was really prepared for. What we are learning is that even though empathy is the foundation of our principles, we have had to consistently re-engage and communicate that in different ways to our customers and workforce. Through our words and action, I’m confident when I say that it’s never a bad time to start employing empathy in your organization. It is a renewable resource. If it is not already part of your values, don’t wait to re-examine and see how you could be utilizing it to benefit your organization. Before you know it, it will no longer be unique, but the standard and you will miss out on the opportunities to come in the future of work.