Four key ways HR can use respect and empathy to drive performance and create a positive work environment.
In a global and fast-changing world, the pressure is on for organisations to keep pace and evolve with the times. Leveraging the full potential of people through seamless collaboration is essential for any organisation looking to compete with the best in their industry. Delivering an outstanding customer experience, offering tailored solutions, driving operating efficiency and profitability all demand teamwork.
Any organisation’s ability to thrive depends greatly on people being willing and able to work well together. How well your team share ideas, engage in robust debates and make decisions influences the extent to which full potential is realised. Whether people learn and move forward together is fundamental to your organisations ability to survive, let alone thrive.
An inability to effectively work through conflicts is a common reason teams struggle to collaborate. And at the heart of the ability to resolve conflict and build unity are sensitivity and tolerance.
Beyond issues of potential and performance, the mental health and wellbeing of your workforce depends on a respectful culture. The first, and arguably most important step, is to ensure the experiences people have at work are positive.
Workplace cultures in which people behave with respect and sensitivity are those most likely to have a positive influence not only mental health, but also the strength of your team’s spirit, engagement and performance.
Among the four most important ways HR can influence sensitivity and tolerance include:
Lead by example
Reflect for a moment on how often you have heard someone complain about the lack of empathy they received from HR. Unfortunately, HR as a profession has some way to go to earn the depth of trust and respect needed to do our jobs optimally. While many HR people are trusted entirely to be tolerant and behave with sensitivity, that’s not always the case.
Never lose sight of how the decisions you make or those you support have on the people in your organisation. While of course it’s necessary to take reasonable steps to protect the business, the sensitivity with which you communicate and implement those tough decisions is critical.
It’s also important to reflect on the ways in which you influence tolerance. Do you bring an open and fair minded approach to your role? Do you influence the way leaders in your organisation view diversity and the power of difference? Do you demonstrate patience when dealing with emotional issues?
Takes steps to educate people about the link between respectful conduct and the ability to leverage a diverse team through collaboration. Begin by helping people appreciate the power of diversity, and teach them why tolerance and sensitivity matter to building great relationships with anyone, but especially those who are different to them.
Help people understand that, frequently, with difference come challenge. An inability for people to appreciate and work constructively with those who are different to them is a common roadblock to team success. A lack of understanding often leads to a lack of tolerance and in turn insensitivity.
Despite these challenges, ensure people leaders know the limitations of building teams of people who think, feel and behave alike. A lack of healthy and robust debate is only likely to undermine the quality of decisions made and the results achieved.
Work closely with people leaders to develop their ability to deliver truthful feedback with sensitivity. While the truth is undeniably a gift of opportunity we give someone to understand their reality, the sensitivity with which we deliver the information is essential to the recipient’s ability to hear, let alone accept, our feedback.
Set clear expectations
Define what it means in your organisation to behave with respect and sensitivity. Work with leaders and members of your team to clearly articulate what successful behaviours look like, as well as those considered damaging and undesirable. Take the time to ensure every member of your team understands what is expected, and that managers know how to reinforce expectations.
Among the most common reasons organisations struggle to shift culture is they fail to hold people accountable for their behaviour. So you have to avoid the all too common pitfall of allowing so called “high performing individuals” to get away with insensitive or intolerant behaviour. Everyone should be held equally accountable for their actions, irrespective of his or her seniority or individual performance.
Karen Gately, is a founder of HR Consultancy Ryan Gately.