The business case for compassion: Nando's, Cisco and Innocent Drinks

Consciously, systematically humane cultures reap enormous benefits, argues academic Amy Bradley.

by Amy Bradley
Last Updated: 10 Jan 2020
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Food for thought

We live in an age where many people spend more time at work than they do with family members and yet work feels increasingly transactional and dehumanised. We have become so reliant on technology as a means of communication, the human moment at work is becoming lost. No wonder so many people feel disengaged and isolated and have no one to talk to about the things that worry them.

That said, when companies are consciously compassionate, placing their people firmly at their heart, they report superior financial performance, higher staff engagement, increased innovation and higher levels of customer advocacy. It is forward-thinking workplaces, such as Innocent Drinks, Cisco Systems and Nando’s who have had the foresight and courage to embed compassion who are now reaping its benefits.

In consciously compassionate companies, it is hardwired into corporate values and behaviours; there are systems and practices in place to ensure it is rooted within the culture; and approaches to recruitment, development and reward reflect genuine care for people. Take the example of Innocent Drinks, the smoothie and fruit drinks company. Their aptly named Fruit Towers headquarters building in London is designed around communal spaces, which helps to foster a strong sense of community. At its centre is a shared kitchen, which employees use daily to meet and eat together, so relationships across the business are nurtured. 

It is the strength of support between colleagues that is a key to compassion. With its 74,000 employees, one might expect social networks at Cisco Systems, the US security and software conglomerate, to be weaker than those in a small company. However, in this organisation, news of employee suffering travels fast. In a 2018 media interview, an employee reported how a leader, who worked in a completely different part of the business, had heard about his daughter’s life-limiting genetic condition and had rallied around her team to raise money for medical treatment, which Cisco then matched. Cisco has become known for its systemic compassion, which is part of what it calls its ‘conscious culture’.

Companies can have the most compelling visions and the clearest strategies, but it is the policies and procedures that enshrine a compassionate culture. Work practices based on trust and respect, such as transparent communication, participative decision-making and favourable HR policies, help compassion to flourish.

For example, the UK-based fast food chain Nando’s  rewards its employees via a sabbatical scheme. After five years of service, staff are offered a month of additional paid leave. At Shake Shack, the US fast food chain, they are now trialling a four-day working week. In a bid to address low retention levels in the sector, the chain is also using the four-day-week initiative as part of its recruitment drive. As we move into an AI-driven world, we need more than ever to realise the power of human-to-human connections. Compassion is fast becoming a business imperative as the hidden key to business performance.

Dr Amy Bradley is a member of faculty at Hult International Business School. Her new book The Human Moment  sets out the business case for compassion and shows how compassion is the foundation for a healthier, happier, more engaged and higher-performing workplaces 

Image credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

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