‘Tis the Season
We’re headed into the season of gratitude and giving. The time of year we all work to be a little kinder, a little warmer. We put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to figure out what they really need/want, and then we rush out to get it and wrap it up in a pretty bow.
So, yeah, this seems like the perfect time to gift you with a 3-part series on empathy in business. This first installment covers the basics: What is empathy in the workplace? Why do we need it? How does Mind Over Machines practice empathy? Part 2 is the How To, practical tips for using empathy to grow your business. And the final chapter is a hands-on exercise to strengthen your empathy muscle. I’ll have you pumping empathy iron by 2023.
“If you’re devaluing empathy, effective communication, and relationship building, you are absolutely setting your project up for failure.”
Empathy: Defined for Business
In the London School of Economics Business Review, a Catalyst study “defines empathy as being able to connect with others to identify and understand their thoughts, perspectives, and emotions and being able to demonstrate that understanding with intention, care and concern.”
Both parts of that definition are equally important. We need to make people feel seen and understood, and we need to actually see and understand them. Faking either component results in an empathy fail. People can see right through false empathy.
Who are these people who need empathy? In business, there are two target empathy populations: your employees and your customers. Our CEO Tom Loveland has a framework that explains why you have to start with your employees. Humans need to feel understood and supported before they have the confidence to grow and improve. If you are tasking your employees with understanding and supporting your customers, you better make sure they feel supported and secure. Workers can’t give what they don’t have.
Why Does MOM Practice Empathy?
Empathy is having a moment right now. It’s like the business world just discovered it. The World Economic Forum may be right about that being due mostly to “cultural constraints.” The core of empathy is connecting with others, and that runs counter to the rugged individualism long celebrated in the workplace. Businesses have used something akin to empathy, but they disguise it in corporate verbiage like, “understanding stakeholder requirements.” Avoiding touchy-feely language has allowed companies to devalue “soft skills.”
In my humble opinion, the term “soft skills” is dangerous because it relegates skills critical for project development and solution adoption to less than, a nice-to-have afterthought. If you’re devaluing empathy, effective communication, and relationship building, you are absolutely setting your project up for failure.
Mind Over Machines has been practicing empathy for over 30 years now. It’s right in our name. Human minds are more important than machines, and when we put our minds together, we find ways to make technology work better for us. That’s why we always ask to hear the story behind the request: “You want X new technology. Why? What are your pain points? What does work look like right now? How does that make you feel, and what do you wish were different?”
Empathy starts with observing and asking questions, but it hinges on how you listen to the answers. Target Executive VP Laysha Ward explains the importance of listening to learn and understand, rather than listening to win or fix. We could all use more practice listening to learn. It’s a “hard skill” to master (See what I did there?), but well worth the time and effort. When you become an expert in listening to learn and understand, you are able to “lead by listening,” as Ward says. You work with your employees and clients to co-create solid solutions that work for real people, improving their lives in meaningful ways.
How Does MOM Practice Empathy?
Over our 30-plus years, we’ve employed lots of different empathy techniques. Now, as we lead clients into the future of work, we have a new WAE to empathize. WAE stands for Workforce Ascension℠ & Enhancement. It is our framework for lifting the global workforce to fulfill its potential by leveraging human-centric automation. Automating repetitive, low-value tasks frees people to reskill, upskill and innovate. It buys the time individuals and companies need to figure out how to flourish in the AI economy.
Throughout each of its 4 phases, WAE uses empathy to empower workers. We begin with empathetic exploration, observing and interviewing employees to examine their business processes. We use empathy maps to visualize users’ attitudes and behaviors, recording what they say, do, think and feel. Feeling heard and understood empowers employees. They work with us to find and grow the human value in each task and delegate the nonhuman stuff to the bots. As we move through the scope and execution phases together, we build trust. Clients at all levels of the company understand we are moving toward a common goal: redesigning business processes so human workers can do more of what they like and are good at, and less of the mindless, time-consuming tasks.
By the time we get to the final verification phase, people can see the metrics, the time and money saved, the progress made. But they also just feel better because their situation has improved. Every automation project should end with technology empowering employees to work and be more human. Similarly, every project or product designed with empathy should empower the people it was created to serve. WAE empowers because it empathizes.
Are You Ready to Empathize?
When people feel heard and understood, they are better employees, clients and customers. They are happier, have better outcomes, and stick around longer. The Catalyst study I mentioned above surveyed 900 American workers across industries and found significant gains in both creativity and engagement when people worked for empathic leaders:
If you’re ready to get more intentional about leading and serving with empathy, the next installment of this series is for you. I’ll present concrete strategies and easily implemented tips for putting empathy to work in your business. See you soon!
Tally Aumiller is Baltimore born and raised. Her dad was a logical lawyer; her mom a hypercreative teacher. She and her two sisters merged those personality types for the best of both worlds. Tally channels her analytical thinking and creative problem-solving into the many and varied communities she serves.
“Growth mindset” isn’t buzzy jargon for Tally; it’s a way of life. She loves to learn and even created her own major, Social Marketing & Design, at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Since then, Tally has managed wealth and assets, tech implementations, and now, innovation. She brings ideas, people and processes together to make meaning and create solutions.
She’s currently putting her collaborative empath powers to work in Denver, where the influx of sun and nature have spiked her creativity levels. Tally is surrounded by young, remote-working transplants who are hungry for in-person socialization and networking opportunities. She’s feeling compelled to meet that need by creating a new affinity group. If you’re in the same Denver-based boat and have ideas, reach out and connect.