In Kindness Communication’s latest Kind Business, Kind Results discussion, I spoke with Jennifer Hooten, Founder & Principal at (Re) Engage Consulting. I have the great privilege of working with Jennifer on a team of instructors offering online courses with the support of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. I was struck by her vision for helping organizations and wanted to discuss it with her more.
Here is a transcript of the discussion:
What is your overall vision for (Re) Engage Consulting?
(Re) Engage Consulting exists to unlock the power of people.
Our work begins with a single premise: People are the single most powerful lever for organizational change. Human potential is a critical but often neglected component of an organizational strategy. The desire to make meaningful contribution exists in everyone, but if employees aren’t plugged into their work – if they don’t think and feel that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves – then organizations aren’t getting the best from them and employees themselves feel unsatisfied.
(Re) engage means “to establish or re-establish a meaningful connection with; to take part in or participate again.” Helping organizations participate again in a meaningful connection with their people is the most effective way to achieve lasting transformation. This is the (Re) Engage vision and is our specialty.
When companies face big change or difficult decisions, how does kindness play a role in enabling change and moving forward?
Bringing kindness and compassion into the workplace is a critical factor in an organization’s ability to navigate change constructively – for both the individual and the company.
But before we can give any attention or energy to pursuits beyond basic survival mode (physical needs like food, water, air, etc.), we must first feel safe.
Jim Haudan says it well in his book, The Art of Engagement:
“Ranking just above [physical] needs is the most basic psychological need: the need to feel safe…When we’re afraid, we’re guarded, cautious, and restrained, and we do everything we can do regain a feeling of security.”
Most jobs today require some degree of creativity, problem-solving, awareness of self and others, openness to collaboration, etc. Yet many workplaces are driven by manipulation, greed, and unethical decisions, which keeps people operating in survival mode and unable to make the contributions they most desire and that companies most need. Capacity for collaboration, creativity, innovation, and curiosity diminishes when one’s professional, psychological and/or emotional safety is in question.
Leaders who allow their people to spend an extended period in this survival mode can cause significant damage to themselves and those around them. This is where compassion comes in. Genuine compassion relaxes fear, increasing access to the workers’ ability to make unique and meaningful contributions.
Can you describe the before and after of a business situation where more kindness led to better outcomes?
I was hired by a real estate entity to assist them with a major restructuring. They had recently reduced their holdings by 40 percent as well as their staff, creating an immediate need for strategic change management as well as an opportunity to re-assess the functional effectiveness of the existing organizational structure. Our goal was to address both the short and longer term needs with special emphasis on building capacity through staff development.
Those who survived the lay-offs were understandably paralyzed by fear. They were balancing a mountain of new work and the constant weight of anxiety about their job security. People began to protect departmental “turf,” trying to remain relevant and necessary. Skepticism became the norm; the large rift between those at the top and those at the bottom had grown wider. With such low morale, how could they move forward to determine just how the work was going to get done?
We began with human needs first. I conducted confidential, one-on-one sessions with everyone who was laid off and everyone remaining in the organization. I listened. I empathized. I extended kindness and goodwill to people in the throes of threatening change. There were tears, hugs, and many awkward silences, and no easy answers.
Once we created a sense of safety, the fears subsided just enough for deeper concerns and desires to emerge. Interview questions adapted from Dr. Frank Rogers’s Compassion Practice helped people identify and better understand reactivity around a particular situation.
These questions form a handy acronym (FLAG) that created a different conversation than would have been possible with fear in the driver’s seat. It also provided a common language for this organization to use in the future as they communicate with one another.
From session responses, the freshly tilled soil of common ground emerged. I reflected back to the group the general themes that were shared, and the collective release was visible in the room. People nodded in solidarity when I voiced the prevailing fears. They noticed each other’s sighs when hearing about each others’ burdens. Compassion flowed…and it created the foundation for a new way forward.
After paying attention to each individual experience, creating a new workflow became more a matter of details than navigating personal angst. Because we began with a compassionate response to the human experience of change, the company attained organizational results that were more comprehensive, sustainable, and humane than moving into problem-solving mode first.
Jennifer will be offering her Charter for Compassion Education Institute course, entitled “Compassion @ Work,” later in 2016. I look forward to seeing more of her approach in action and to learning more about how it activates workplace kindness.