Caring shouldn’t be contrived!

Being a caring organization doesn’t mean you forget about the bottom line, it just means you think about the impact your actions will have on others.

The phone in my office rang. It was Frank Clegg, President of Microsoft Canada. Frank had just heard that my brother was very ill, and he wanted me to know that my place was to be with my family. His message was clear: go home. Microsoft will survive. My obligations would all be covered. In bold words, he told me that Microsoft cared. I was on a flight to see my brother that night. He passed away that same week. Now it’s ten years later and I still remember Frank’s voice — and I know he meant every word. The company cared.

Each year, we set aside a day — Valentine’s Day — to say we care. It’s kind of funny isn’t it?  Is a “caring” day really necessary, and is it effective? Do you feel more “cared” for when you receive a dozen roses at three times the price?  Do you feel any more appreciated waiting in line at your favourite restaurant all because other people are out caring too?  Stop the insanity! You can’t schedule caring, it just won’t work. You either care, or you don’t.

Now I realize I run the risk of being considered flaky when I bring up the notion of being a caring organization. After all, business is all about the profit and loss, right? It’s about creating shareholder value. Well, I don’t have to tell you that it’s the employees who are our real corporate value. I’ve read it, you’ve read it, and we all know it. So why is it that the number one reason employees leave is because they think we’ve stopped caring? They think they’re no longer valued or that their contributions are just not appreciated. Why is it you think you cared but your employees didn’t get it? What can you do about it? And do you even bother? This is the essence of my message this month.
I will be honest: caring is painful. It means making sacrifices, committing time you don’t have and putting the needs of your employees well in front of your own. Why are some companies so bent on caring? I think there are two main reasons. First, the law of reciprocity teaches us that people give back in kind what is given to them. You go the extra mile and they will be there for you. I may be an optimist, but I believe it’s true that employees want to be cared for and that they’ll give it back to you in spades. They will give many hours to your company, and they’ll go beyond their employee commitment if you go beyond yours. Caring organizations create employees who want to raise the bar.

I should warn you, though, that you can’t force reciprocity. It has to be natural, it has to be intentional, and it has to come from the heart. If people feel your caring is focused on personal gain, it won’t work. Sales professionals are notorious for calling up and inviting managers for lunch when there is a new sales opportunity on the rise. They don’t show up at any other time, but when there is an opportunity to be had, they’re right there. The best time to buy someone lunch is when they least expect it. That’s when you really show you care. Many managers are just as guilty; they give employees lots of attention when they think the employee is a flight risk or they need the employee to take on more responsibility. That’s not reciprocity, that’s manipulation and you will get caught. Caring organizations do thoughtful things without condition. They do things because it’s the right thing to do.

The second reason organizations choose to become caring organizations is because it is extremely expensive to replace great talent. The Workforce Consulting Group states that the cost of replacing an employee ranges from 42 percent to 244 percent of base salary, and this does not include the lost intellect that just left your building.

So what can you do? First, put yourself in your employee’s shoes. If you were in their position, what might you want? A few years ago I was president of a struggling business. While cash flow was an immense struggle, we needed the undying commitment of our employees to survive. Here are some of the things we did:

  • We created a relationship with a local counsellor for any employee who needed help.
  • We provided babysitting assistance for the spouse of any employee who was required to be out of town more than a week.
  • When needed, we reimbursed expenses immediately to ensure that no employee was ever inconvenienced.

Being a caring organization doesn’t mean you forget about the bottom line, it just means you think about the impact your actions will have on others. Since I was president, it was my role to make tough decisions about layoffs. I made those decisions, but I did it with dignity. We extended benefits, we provided career counselling and we looked closely at each person’s situation to ensure we always did the right thing.

When Valentines comes around, I will no doubt have flowers and chocolates for my wife because I really do care, but it’s when I show up that one day in June and I hand her a single rose then she (and I) will know how much I really do care. Now, what are you going to do?

Curt Skene