20 Things I've Learned...    #3 Genuinely Care

Pippa Adams, CEO
Pippa Adams, CEO
29 / 05 / 2018 | Prodo Insights

adam-jang-260876-unsplashThe subject of Blog #3 in the 20 Things I’ve Learned series, celebrating Prodo’s 20th birthday, might have you scratching your head. After all, ‘caring’ isn’t a word you’d typically associate with business – it tends to be something we confine to people-centric professions, mostly in the public sector. But caring matters – and these are my guiding principles. Bear with me; I’ll explain...

1. Be kind; we’re here for a short time!
2. Genuinely caring is its own reward – it’s how you earn commitment from employees and create real advocates of clients.
3. Not caring is a sign that something’s not right – if you see a lack of care, don’t ignore it, address it.
4. Don’t be surprised that caring doesn’t come naturally to everyone in a work context: it involves engaging your emotions, which can take real effort. We’re all different, help people to work on their emotional intelligence and up their EQ.
5. Don’t confuse caring with weakness: it’s a vital soft skill in the best sense.

Here’s why caring matters. When it comes to serving your clients, delivering a great service can only be done with a team that cares – about each other, the impact their work has on the client and the quality of the work they produce. Your team needs to have empathy with your clients and understand the pressures they’re under. Employees who care will be motivated by the fact that their efforts are helping to solve a pain point for the client, and they’ll want to work together as a unit to overcome it. They’ll know that what your business does can make a big difference by solving the problems that clients come to you for help with.

Modelling caring as a business owner, you always hope the ethic will spread by osmosis to your teams, and that they’ll carry a real sense of pride in a job well done. More often than not, reality will bite and put them to the test – every project brings its own challenges, so you need your people to care enough to rise to the occasion.

For me, stepping back to let employees feel that they have ownership has sometimes felt a little scary. But, as you scale a business, it’s essential to demonstrate you trust that they also care – all the while keeping a watchful eye on issues that might require your experience.

Caring travels inside out. No matter what the nature of a business, it can’t function without the people who work there. And those people – and what they can deliver – depend on having strong connections around them to enable them to perform in a positive environment. Genuinely caring is what helps to form those connections and build a robust, resilient and flexible organisation.

Saying you care is one thing, showing it is quite another when you’re trying to create an authentically caring culture. Of course, the tangible benefits of being flexible, understanding about outside family commitments, supportive regarding healthcare options, and so on, are all important and will be appreciated, but they don’t do the legwork of building good relationships for you.

One of the challenges as a business owner is that, no matter how good your intentions, getting them across can be a challenge. In an ideal world, many of us would choose not to work at all, so the boss automatically becomes ‘the man’ (even me!). And nobody trusts ‘the man’! That doesn’t just apply to the owner, but managers, too. How do you get around that and establish healthy relationships?

Between colleagues, caring is a relatively simple matter – people are usually able to make a quick judgement on which of their peers they can rely on in work matters (bear in mind that individual levels of ‘interpersonal caring’ may vary, for that exact reason!). For the senior team, it can be trickier: frequent, engaging communications are the best route, which requires commitment and focus, as well as planning. In a small agency, it’s natural to treat comms informally – when Prodo was a team of less than 10 people back in the early days, everyone could see exactly what was happening and we were small enough to shout across the room, so there was plenty of visibility!

Once numbers tip into double figures, though, it gets a little more complicated. And by the time you hit 50+ staff, it becomes clear that, without more structured communications, a lot of information will make its way around on the grapevine; if it doesn’t come out deliberately in a timely and controlled manner it can give the impression that you aren’t caring. Balance that with the fact that some information is too commercially sensitive for general consumption once you reach a certain critical mass, and you can see why comms is both deceptively easy and something that can fall down if you take your eye off the ball.

On a one-to-one basis, making it clear that you value each individual and want to help them develop is a juggling act that takes time to get good at. It’s a seesaw of ‘challenge’ and ‘support’ – and treating everyone with humanity, regardless of position, personality or performance, needs to be embedded as a value across the team. There’s no point in putting a lot of effort into taking a caring approach yourself if the same message isn’t delivered consistently.

At the same time, genuinely caring isn’t just about being ‘nice’ – although that would be simpler in many ways! It involves setting clear expectations and making everyone accountable so that they know exactly what they’re shooting for. That means having those tricky conversations when they’re needed, and resetting the course every so often when relationships go off track.

So, yes – be true to yourself and always Genuinely Care. Here are my five tips again for working towards a genuinely caring culture and workplace.

1. Be kind; we’re here for a short time!
2. Genuinely caring is its own reward – it’s how you earn commitment from employees and create real advocates of clients.
3. Not caring is a sign that something’s not right – if you see a lack of care, don’t ignore it, address it.
4. Don’t be surprised that caring doesn’t come naturally to everyone in a work context: it involves engaging your emotions, which can take real effort. We’re all different, help people to work on their emotional intelligence and up their EQ.
5. Don’t confuse caring with weakness: it’s a vital soft skill in the best sense.

If you've enjoyed this blog post, why not read 20 Things I've Learned... #1 Have Fun, Do Good and #2 Stay Curious