the KOAN method

Reading List

058 – Jamil Zaki. Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture

Zaki, Jamil. (2019). “Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture.” Harvard
Business Review, May 30, 2019.

Research shows that empathic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult moments such as layoffs. Still, many leaders struggle to make caring part of their organizational culture. Relying on the right social norms can help. The first step towards building empathy is acknowledging that it’s not an inherent trait but something that can be built. When people believe that empathy is something you either have or don’t have, it may seem out of reach. After all, if you can’t learn something, why bother trying? Also, watch out for “phantom norms”— behaviors that seem to be dominant just because a few prominent or loud individuals display them. At any moment, some individuals in an organization are acting kindly while others are not (and they may be the loudest). Empathy often belongs to a quiet majority. Foregrounding it — for instance through incentives and recognition — can allow employees to see its prevalence, turning up the volume on a positive norm. Finally, identify connectors — the people who encourage team cohesion even though it’s not part of their formal role — and recruit them to champion the cause for empathy. This not only increases the likelihood that new ideals will “take;” it also allows employees to be recognized for connecting with others — highlighting another positive social norm at the same time.