Seven ways to create a kind company culture
Kindness can boost your bottom line. Kelly Allison knows this better than most. As a CEO, she saw first hand how a client’s unkind behaviour affected her people and so she decided to walk away from that profitable customer. Here she explains her decision and offers seven tips to create a kind and positive culture
Kindness is rarely seen as a great business virtue.
When you think about today’s well-known business icons like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos you might think of words like visionary, passionate, focused or even ruthless. Being kind or nice isn’t typically something you’d think of as important or even relevant.
This is what I experienced at my first job at a large corporate. I was told I would never be successful because I was too kind and concerned about how other people felt.
A survey about business kindness showed that nearly 90% of respondents felt that a company was more successful when it treated employees and customers with kindness, and I know firsthand how kindness isn’t a weakness in business, it’s strength.
Business benefits of kindness
Kindness in business creates a positive environment that employees want to get out of bed for. Research studies have shown that kindness improves productivity and lowers employee recruitment and training costs.
Having a company culture driven by kindness means putting people before profit, caring about your team and wanting to help them achieve their full potential.
If you can achieve this, you’ll give employees a sense of purpose, pride, self-esteem and value, which reduces staff turnover and enables productivity to soar. Your company will be driven forward by a sense of shared purpose above and beyond sales targets and short-term new business wins.
My story: How putting people first saved my company
A few years ago I had to make a stark choice between people vs profit.
We had a client with very different values from ours, who at the time was one of our biggest accounts. Essentially, it was an unhealthy relationship in the way #TeamKVA were treated and I watched the culture we’d spent years building erode before my eyes. It was a terrible time as the account was worth over £1m and was financially important to the company.
But I could see stress being caused, people were in tears, and I decided the best thing to do would be to walk away.
I then brought the team together to openly communicate what we had done and why I’d made the decision. I remember saying we wouldn’t make redundancies, that we’d get through it, find new business and be stronger for it.
I was open about the challenges ahead and how, as a team, we would work together. We brainstormed potential ideas and everyone went off in the same direction  with new business goals. Twelve months later we found ourselves in an even better position, both financially and from an employee perspective.
Some business owners may say it was a reckless move, but if I’d stuck with the account and followed the money, I’m not confident we’d be where we are today. Today our business is very much driven by a culture of trust, support and rewards. 
Seven ways to create a kind and positive company culture
- Trust your team
The “trust should be earned” philosophy doesn’t work when creating a positive company culture. You need to trust team members from the outset, empower them and give them the freedom they need to do their job. PwC’s CEO survey showed that kindness fosters commitment from an employee. Let your employees know you trust them, because a simple thing like taking someone to one side and saying “you’ve got this” can often inspire so much self-confidence and a great sense of achievement too when they succeed.
- Bring people into the inner circle
Take trust to the next level by ditching hierarchy and engaging with your teams. Make sure everyone in your teams is part of your inner circle - so they understand your vision for the company. A finding by Gallup shows that there’s a 21% increase in productivity from employees who are highly engaged. Often the vision and purpose of a company is stuck in the heads of the leadership team. If all employees understand what you are trying to achieve, they can help you get there.
- Remove the fear factor
MDs and CEOs should be more approachable. At my first job after university, I worked as a junior designer. I was passionate about an idea of mine and when I put this forward to the creative director, he said the CEO wouldn’t go for it. I felt so sure about its success that I decided to take it to the CEO anyway. The idea was well received and I was promoted. What I remember most was walking back into an open plan office with 100 people staring at me in disbelief that I just knocked on his door. And why not?
A company with rigid hierarchies is shooting itself in the foot: we need to challenge the corporate culture of Us vs Them.
- Take the time to really understand your employees and help them fly
It is worth taking time to know your team members and to discover their passions and ambitions beyond their job description. You’ll find incredible talent this way, and if you help employees reach their full potential not only will they be more productive, they become incredible brand ambassadors for you.
At KVA we’ve scrapped conventional training – we don’t force people to do training that they may not be engaged with. Instead we take the approach that if someone would like to learn something they’ll go to their mentor – if the company can find a way to support that training we will.
- Destroy blame culture
It’s important to foster an environment of accountability not blame. Being kind in the face of failure helps employees create new ideas. A research paper into psychological safety at work proved that empathy and kindness are crucial in learning from failure and fostering innovation.
We all know it’s difficult when something goes wrong. The instinct is to find a scapegoat before rectifying the problem. But if you can find a way of assigning accountability and making it a positive learning experience, you’ll tend to find people come out of this a lot more positive. People will make mistakes but you have to see it as part of a learning process that will make your company as a whole stronger.
- Reward your team – money can’t buy you love
There are so many ways you can reward your team beyond money and bonuses – people don’t tend to remember pay increases anyway, but they do remember experiences. A couple of simple ideas could be days off for birthdays, product discounts, team lunches, Friday beers, spa days etc.
I once took the whole company on holiday to St Lucia for a week to reward them for being such a valuable team. A lot of people have questioned why I did that – but if you look at what it costs per person to take someone on holiday, it’s about the same as a £1k pay rise – but a lot more rewarding and memorable.
- Be kind to yourself
Encouraging kindness starts by being kind to yourself. If you are not feeling great you won’t be able to inspire anyone. Sometimes you need to slow down and take a second to think about things before moving forward.
Kelly Allison, pictured below, is CEO of digital and brand experience agency KVA and is also the founder of #CorporateKindness – a global initiative to encourage companies to lead with kindness