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The digital age has altered the ways in which business is done. With customers at the centre of the value chain, organizational structures, policies and processes have morphed to ensure stellar and personalized experiences for the customer. The ability to cater to and provide superior experiences for the diverse needs and desires of customers necessitates organizations to think in ways they previously haven’t. As a result, we see a dramatic change in the way teams are formed as well:
- Teams of individuals from various teams come together for a project, with every individual being a part of a different reporting structure
- These new, likely temporary teams may collaborate physically or through a virtual network
- Project teams can comprise individuals from different teams, business units, organizations, industries, or even a collaboration with the consumer network
- Every individual in a project team comes from a different team culture, resulting in the formation of a new team culture within the project team
- Ultimately, this team disbands once the project is complete
In short, the digital age is one of project-based sharing economy. This new structure of teams coupled with the need to fail fast and rise above the ashes of past challenges has complicated the concept and process of collaboration – varying experiences, mindsets, ages, genders, generations, geographies, goals, desires, and points of view are only some of the obstacles in the way of collaboration, agility, and accelerated output. As a result, HR teams and business alike focus significantly on arriving at the right formula for successful and seamless collaboration.
It is agreed among HR practitioners and business leaders today that at the core of successful collaboration and business value sits Empathy, the ability to understand another’s point of view, thoughts and emotions. This has been validated by Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, in his book ‘Hit Refresh’. According to Nadella ‘”When I think about our business, at the core of it we have to drive innovation that meets the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. That’s it. If you want to be able to achieve business success you’ve got to get that right.” It is important to remember, however that while empathy cannot be measured by data, it stays at the core of understanding people and their needs. This is a core attribute for leaders to succeed in the digital age – the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes then helps you understand and realise their needs. Only then can one cater to the needs of others and create stellar experiences. Organizations and leaders that fail to see value in empathy will find it that much harder to thrive in the digital age.
We have been seeing the impact of empathy even before we realised its need and importance. Michele Whyle, the former Director of Global Sustainability at 3M, in an interview with Forbes, narrated an instance from a 3M business unit that sold cleaning products to hospitals. In one particular incident, the design crew of 3M spent many nights cleaning in hospitals to learn and understand the challenges of the hospital cleaning staff. They would constantly lift heavy buckets of dirty water while cleaning the floors much like the cleaning staff would. The experience of 3M’s crew of putting themselves in the shoes of the cleaning staff at the hospital led to an invention of a self-cleansing floor mop filled with an industrial cleaning liquid in the stick. The use of the improvised mop eliminated the use of buckets, resolved shoulder issues that many of the cleaning staff suffered from and reduced up to 80% of water consumption. This is a classic example of the impact that building empathy into the organizational culture and effective collaboration has in creating innovative solutions catering to customer needs.
‘Hit Refresh’ has the world talking about the importance of empathy in business, to even the need for developing one’s Empathy Quotient. What does it mean, however, to be an empathetic person? An empathetic individual, team, leader or organization can be identified by these key traits:
- High sense of self- awareness
Empathetic leaders are aware of their strengths and weakness. This is an important attribute for empathy because it provides us a frame of reference against which we understand the strengths of weaknesses of those around us. As a result, we are able to better collaborate and cooperate with others, complement their style of work and lend expertise leading to strategic partnerships.
- Highly intuitive
Though we live in an increasingly data driven world, the intuitive abilities of an empathetic person are a boon in situations where numerical evidence is baffling. Highly empathic people understand that data is not all knowing. Many times, intuition plays a key role in realising the causes behind pitfalls. For example, numbers and data tells us that a person is not performing as expected. Data dictates that this person be replaced. Intuition, on the other hand, might tell us that the reason a person isn’t performing as expected is because they are not in the right role, or they are preoccupied with some other challenge or obstacle keeping them from doing their best.
- Natural Nurturers
Empathetic people are natural nurturers. People and projects alike thrive in their care, as they can deeply sense, experience and understand the pros and cons of certain behaviours or tasks and the ultimate consequences of each. This trait draws others to them like a moth to fire.
Their sense of humility is what attracts and contributes to the retention of people and partnerships. Empathic people accept that they do not know everything and are open to hear new ideas, learn from the experiences of others and give others the opportunity to explore new opportunities. Their ability to accept both good and bad feedback with equal grace makes empathic people a natural choice for individuals, teams and organizations to collaborate with for long-term plans and partnerships. Their grounded nature makes for a happy, productive environment, resulting in proactive problem solving and innovation
While these are certain defining traits of empathetic individuals, it is not necessarily something that one is born with. It is the wisdom from past experiences and an active drive to enhance oneself that leads to achieving the zen-like state of the empathic person. As professionals and individuals, the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes to feel, experience and understand his/her challenges is ultimately what leads to creation of stellar customer experiences, and it takes small steps of conscious practice to give a person the ability of empathy
What is your take on empathy in the workplace? Is it important? Do you possess the abilities of a highly empathic person? Do you know someone who exemplifies these traits? We’d love to know your thoughts.
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