Corporate Culture: When kindness is a bad idea!

Corporate Culture: When kindness is a bad idea!.jpg

Guest article by Nick Haines, Kindness Ambassador, founder of the Five Institute and creator of The Vitality Test.

As serial and lifelong entrepreneur I’ve reached nearly 60 years of age and never worked for anyone else in my life, apart from a brief stint as a petrol pump attendant in 1977 and because of that, I know my boss very well. I know my leadership style, what I’m good at and where my strengths lie, and also where I’m weak or what happens when I get under stress, deeply obsessed by a new project or when I’ve done too many hours and I’m tired. I know the good, the bad and the ugly part of myself rather well. 

Knowing who you are as an entrepreneur - is in my mind - an essential component to creating a business that suits you and is successful on the long term, and allows you to have time to do what matters to you, such as spending time with the people you love. 

Most entrepreneurs know that’s the game and the aim, even if they don’t always achieve that state of entrepreneurial bliss. 

Last year I was approached by a successful entrepreneur who wanted to create a culture change within his business. His wife had been to an event where I’d talked about creating a culture of kindness within a large hospital in the UK, and she’d inspired him to contact me about doing the same in his business. 

Like most coaches, consultants or business that support entrepreneurs I like to have a “is this going to work”conversation before we come to some sort of agreement. I also as them to take The Vitality Test, which is a personality profiling tool I created to help people understand their challenges and strengths and who they are as a person. 

Within five minutes of starting the conversation this man, who I’ll call Jack, was clearly really really annoyed with me. To be fair to him, I’d set out to make him annoyed by turning up on the call a few minutes late, and then been really slow in getting to the point. There’s only been a couple of times over the last 35 years where I’d decided to play a game like that and I have to say it wasn’t a comfortable place to be, and I probably won’t ever do it again. Saying that it did work as a strategy.

When I’d looked at Jack’s Vitality Test profile I could see why he’d been inspired by his wife to want to bring a culture of kindness into his already successful business, and why for him, that would be the worst thing he could do. 

Jack’s Vitality Test profile told me he was full of ideas, fast, rebellious, stubborn,  disruptive and at the same time had an amazing attention to detail and got things finished, which is a rare combination.  I could see his genius and why he was so successful, and also why he wanted to act so fast on this idea or creating a culture change in his business. And why, I needed to do something - like be really annoying-  in order to stop him. 

When Jack calmed down and I had apologized for what I’d done, I chatted through how I saw things and what I’d suggest as a better solution than kindness as a central philosophy in his business. 

I explained that the challenge of creating a particular culture in a small entrepreneurial business like his was that it probably had to be driven by him, or that he would be seen as a representative of that culture. So, you have to make sure that the culture you want to adopt matches the person at the top. There has to be a natural fit and an alignment or you’re going to create stress in the individual and stress within the business. 

Creating a specific culture like kindness in a large organization like a hospital is on some level easier, as no individual represents that culture, it’s a collective way of being. Whereas in a small entrepreneurial business it has to match and be highly aligned with one or two people at the top, and if it’s not you’ve got trouble, which is often when I’m brought in. 

With Jack, I help him identify the style and type of culture that suited him and most importantly he’d be able to maintain in an effortless and easy way. What we decided on was a fast and rebellious culture that did things well, which fitted Jack and his personality like a glove. 

I said,  “There’s no point in saying you’re all about kindness when in reality you’re instantly annoyed by a slow and disrespectful numpty that turns up to a meeting 3 mins late!”  He laughed. 

As a Kindness AmbassadorI don’t see my role as always spreading kindness per say, often it’s helping to create cultures and business that allow people to be their best, and at the same time allow other people to shine and be their best too. For me that’s kindness. 


Nick Haines is a Kindness Ambassador, founder of the Five Institute and creator of The Vitality Test. Find Nick on Nick works with a diverse range of companies, individuals as well as large organisations such as the NHS, educational centres, governments and most recently the United Nations.