Earlier this month several sources including Tom Peters and The NY Times publicized “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.“ This was author, George Saunders‘ key point in his graduation remarks to students at Syracuse University. There is some validity to Huffington Post Mitch Joel’s remark, “We go to work and turn from kind loving family members, friends and community citizens into military generals who use warring terms to get through the work day (“let’s crush the competition!”).
There has been a lively discussion on the Association for Strategic Planning’s-ASP-LinkedIn Group around the conflict between the profit motivation in business and kindness based on Mitch’s article, “In Business, You Can Still Be Kind.”
Kindness comes in many flavors. I feel Jim Sinegal, former CEO and Founder of Costco, was a kind leader with a longer term outlook for financial profitability, growth and relationships. He put into place kind practices to employees and customers, which over time have benefited stockholders. Costco takes good care of its employees financially and has more of a big brother culture. They pay employees well above the minimum wage that the competition pays, and provide decent health benefits. Recent customer surveys place Costco among the top companies in America.
No, I don’t think there needs to be a conflict between kindness and good financial results. That more gruff, “I gotta win at your expense mentality,” does proliferate many business deals and corporate cultures, but it doesn’t need to.
That’s how I came up with the idea of cooperative intelligence almost 10 years ago. I heard colleagues in the competitive intelligence world complain that senior managers would not listen to what they shared. They ignored their good advice around the competition, the competitive landscape, disruptive technologies—all the good stuff they collected.
Cooperative Intelligence: Leadership
Many had not figured out how to give executives the information and tools they needed to make the decisions at hand or perhaps in a format that executives could devour. It’s back to having an attitude of kindness. Rather than pushing out what you think is “good stuff”, have conversations with executives to find out what they need, when they need it and why they need it. Sounds simple, but it’s not especially in large companies, since everyone else is vying for senior management’s attention.
So you need to be patient, and serve those people in your organization who more readily appreciate and understand competitive intelligence. Don’t worry, over time, the executives will find out about your good work.
Cooperative intelligence is kindness: you give without an expectation of something in return. People realize that you genuinely want to help them in their work. After all, competitive intelligence is a support function. You need to keep giving, and eventually those you support will provide you with great tidbits on the competitive environment since your giving is infectious, and they just can’t help themselves. This has been my experience in setting up competitive intelligence programs since 1985. People are attracted to you by your good example of producing the goods they need and your giving attitude.
Cooperative Intelligence: Connection
Part of cooperative intelligence is realizing than anyone you meet can be a valuable contact, and you make each person feel that way. You make them feel like they’re the only person in the room that matters as you listen to them intently and ask good reflective questions so they know you’ve heard. This is a great way to build your network, and it works well provided you have the discipline to stay in closer touch with those who are immediately relevant to your work.
Cooperative Intelligence: Communication
Cooperative intelligence also includes good communication skills. The most important communication skill is the ability to listen with an open heart without judgment and to be entirely present. In conversation, many of us interrupt others as they are speaking, and can’t wait to make our point. The other person is painfully aware from seeing or feeling our impatience as we eagerly await our turn to speak.
If we listen fully to what others say, we often notice things they haven’t shared in words, and their body expression tells us more. Good listeners wait patiently for the other person to finish what they are saying. They trust and truly receive the words of others, and realize that sometimes people don’t require a reply, they just need to be heard. They listen intuitively and kindly.
A second cooperative communication skill is to share what you learn with those in your company in the format and frequency they are comfortable with. This encourages them to open up and respond to your emails or whatever form of communication you agree on. You also need the judgment to realize when something is so important that you need to break the rules and get it to the person as expeditiously as possible.
While competitive intelligence is not a kind business function, it is a forward looking and necessary discipline, and we can be kind people when we bring cooperative intelligence practices into our work.