Building Resilient Businesses Through Empathy

Building Resilient Businesses Through Empathy

Mar 14, 2024

Highlights from a KOAN Conversation on Leadership in Disruptive Times

In an era when technology, societal events, and other factors are changing rapidly and disrupting workplace norms, many leaders struggle to build connections to best support their team members. The lack of cohesion harms economic outcomes, limits innovation, and leaves many workers feeling undervalued.

During a recent KOAN Conversation on “How to Lead When Everything Is Broken,” Integrated Work CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson and workplace innovator Sophie Wade explored how a human-centered approach based in empathy can guide leaders as they build more resilient businesses. The conversation is the latest in a series of articles and webinars that highlight concepts in Jen’s book, the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World. Both Jen and Sophie have authored books to help leaders navigate change through a human-centered approach. 

“The future of work has arrived, and it has created a very different environment,” Sophie said. “We’re working in different ways, and we need to be more focused on how to understand each other. When we’re dealing with incredibly different and often challenging and unpredictable circumstances, that human connection and understanding become that much more important.”

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted many workplaces. Millions of people suddenly were working from home, amid their families and a global pandemic, and the demarcation between personal and professional life became fuzzy. While some workers have since returned to the office or adopted hybrid schedules, many of us still feel unsettled and uncertain. 

“We’re back to business as usual, but it’s not,” Sophie said. “We can’t get back into a normal rhythm or something we’re comfortable with because of ongoing change. … This overall situation, where we don’t have these trust-based, empathetic relationships, is not helping us get to a better place again and really put all of that trauma behind us.”

Creating a Trust-Based Workplace That Fosters Connections and Understanding

All leaders must navigate uncertainty at some point, Jen said, but recent years have been especially tumultuous. The concepts she outlines in the KOAN method encourage leaders to ask different kinds of questions and create containers of care to shape conversations centered in empathy.

Before an important meeting or conversation, Jen said she uses an empathy audit that helps her see the concerns and cares of the individuals involved — “the things their hopes and dreams rely on.” That helps her be mindful of others’ actions and perspectives and often leads to more productive and creative conversations. “If I’ve taken the time to get connected to their world in that way, I can engage with them,” Jen said.

By prioritizing empathy, leaders can create a trust-based workplace that fosters connections and understanding among team members, she said. “It’s not about taking on everything everyone on your team is feeling, but starting from an awareness that everyone has feelings,” she said. “Connecting to you as a human and being in relationship with you … gives us a better chance of solving those sticky issues.”

Making Space for More Voices and Perspectives in Organizational Decisions

Valuing team members as individuals can also help leaders connect with workers of varied ages, which Sophie said often influences their workplace approach. “Digital natives, like Gen Z, have a different relationship — a familiarity, comfort — with exploring what they can do with technology,” she said. “Technology changes people’s approaches to how we’re working and where we’re working.” 

As leaders and teams navigate this transformative period with emerging technologies, it’s important that colleagues of all ages are involved in company decisions. When leaders create atmospheres where team members feel welcome to share their experiences and knowledge, they also are more likely to be open to different ideas and perspectives. “It’s critical to lean into these human connections,” Sophie said. “Corporate culture needs to be helping enable people to feel safe, to feel a sense of belonging so that they can speak up.”

Sign up for the next KOAN conversation! Register free here.

Watch the full conversation with Sophie and Jennifer: