Design performance management processes for whole humans using kindness

August 8, 2015 - 5 minute read - Posted by

The past two days have been busy here in Vancouver thanks to The Republic of Quality hosting the Design and Content Conference. Day one kicked off on a powerful, emotional note, reminding me how powerful words can be, especially in creating whole organizations.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher editor-in-chief at A List Apart brought emotions to life in her talk, Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness. Her talk questioned how design sometimes places optimization of seamless interaction over users’ vulnerabilities. I couldn’t help but reflect on how her words apply to all elements of organizational design, not just products.

Instead of a focus on seamlessness, what if organizations placed kindness at the centre of everything they do?

As a team, everyone needs to be a bit more careful when using words. We have to be careful our words don’t just speak to humans, but whole humans. So what can organizations do to support kindness?


Kindness isn’t just a concept, but a value

Organizations often focus on what they’re doing for their users to drive value, but forget the bits that make teams, teams. In my last blog post on the power of trust in organization performance, I noted “The people that make up a team are the most important component of building a strong company culture and highly engaged team.” What trust is built on is kindness. Over 100,000 hours in a person’s life is spent dedicating their heartbeats to business success. That’s a lot of hours. With this statistic in mind, how can organizations be sure that people in their teams spend their heartbeats wisely? Through recognizing leadership isn’t about ranks and feedback is about being intentional.

Leadership is a choice, it’s not a rank

The only variable an organization can truly count on making an impact on teams is the conditions being set inside the organization. This is where kindness matters most. 

Trust, cooperation, and kindness are feelings, but often interpreted as actions. You’ve probably heard someone ask you recently, “just trust me.What is often misunderstood is that trust, similar to kindness, is not an instruction, but a feeling. You can’t ask two people to trust each other and be kind and they will be. There has to be the emotional willingness to act. This starts when individuals can be viewed as leaders, not hierarchies. Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. Leadership leads to organic kindness.

Kindness also means being intentional

“You’re why we’re here!” A true, but often unsaid and forgotten truth when businesses become successful and grow in size. This is also true on a smaller scale, within performance management feedback processes. The power of kindness reminds us that what needs to be at the forefront of any feedback action is coming to terms that words create reactions.

Feedback is often a pain point in any performance management process. It comes with the unsaid intentions of telling people, “You need to change.

Improvement discussions often create fractures and stress, not actual improvement. Feedback becomes how the business needs someone to improve, not the emotional reaction of stress. Confidence buzzkill.

If kindness was a driving element of any feedback process, often associated feelings of stress would disappear. Feedback would be about making people matter, ideas count, and reminding employees “you’re the reason why we are here! Everything we ask, words used, they all carry weight. So are you asking the right questions or providing the most relevant information when giving feedback to someone for them to be successful?

When providing feedback, it’s important to question what assumptions your building into your feedback templates. Be intentional. Intentional feedback embraces being honest about imperfections in a manner that adjusts to what the person receiving the feedback needs, not asking them to fit your own definition of improvement. Everything is a trigger for someone, so it’s about being intentional with your words in the kindest way possible to find a solution collaboratively. This says that the other person’s opinions also matter.

Being kind starts with the words you use to describe the assumptions you make. As Benjamin Franklin once noted, “A man wrapped up in himself is a very small bundle.

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