How to build a culture that delivers empathy and compassion

Building your organization’s culture needs to be an intentional effort that ties into all of your operations. This is especially true in a service-oriented business where the product is the experience.

“We help people through the health care journey, and in order to do that we have to build an environment where we’re providing empathy and compassion for our own employees,” says Shannon Skaggs, COO at Quantum Health. “If you don’t have an environment that’s wired to be empathic and compassionate, you’re never going to be able to transfer that same empathy and compassion to your end consumer.”

Each organization has to understand what its consumers need — staying laser focused on that while building a culture around those values.

Smart Business spoke with Skaggs about his lessons in what it takes to build a strong company culture.

What are the tangible results of a strong culture?

Some people think of culture as something to use as a recruiting tool, where they’ll get pingpong tables and have free food. That’s a mistake. If the culture truly drives the business’ operations, it will show up with strong net promoter scores, more internal promotions and lower turnover rates. People will want to stay and grow with your company, which means better returns for your clients. Even if you have great systems and processes, the best results come from a culture where the workforce is comfortable with making mistakes and trying new ideas.

In order to facilitate a change in culture, where do you recommend executives start?

Staying focused is crucial, so spend time determining exactly what your customers need from your business. Once you’ve come up with a mission and driving principles around that, everything in the business needs to reflect those pillars, whether you’re hiring, training or even just naming rooms in your building. It’s not about marketing. It’s about finding out exactly what your consumer needs or wants from you in your space, and then molding the environment around those things.

Transparency is important. If the workload is going to increase or something is going to change, call that out early and ask for concerns. Otherwise, you’re just letting it happen and trying to triage afterwards.

It’s also a good idea to tie the work back to the social mission of your organization. That kind of rally cry that everyone can get behind — like helping people — is critical when challenges or tough problems come up during busy days.

What obstacles can derail this change? What signs will point to a turnaround?

If you don’t have a strong management team and communication structure, you could perceive it to be a great culture at a certain level, but it may fall apart underneath. A pipeline of management with strong communication ensures the culture is cross-pollinated and there’s feedback from the frontlines.

It can be a challenge for C-level executives to meet regularly with employees face-to-face and let them drive the agenda of meetings, but that’s where you’ll get the best ideas. There will be uncomfortable conversations occasionally, but the way you handle those sets the tone for the culture and your authenticity.

If your employees feel empowered to solve problems, making appropriate decisions without getting approval first, that’s a sign your culture is getting stronger. When decision-making is pushed to the level it should be, there are fewer escalations to the executive team. You’ll also see indicators like higher morale and lower turnover.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

You don’t have to go from zero to a completely culture-optimized environment. You can start with small things. For example, give employees who interact with customers as much control of their environment as you can, like moveable desks. Allowing them to stand half the day and sit the rest may sound trivial, but it’s important in a job where they don’t have control over what they’ll deal with from hour to hour.

Start with simple moves and then measure and get feedback from your frontline employees. Is it working or not? Don’t be afraid to fail; you’ll try things that won’t work. What your employees will react to is how you respond in those moments.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Quantum Health