Hiring with Empathy and Why It Matters to Companies?
EMPATHY is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without getting emotionally involved.
In Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Atticus Finch famously said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of that person’s skin and walk around in their shoes.”
Empathy is one of the hottest topics year on year. Especially after a bitter fought U.S elections, where empathy existed only for supporters and antipathy for others. Businesses have understood the importance of empathy at the workplace for a long time now. Yet an understanding alone is not enough. We must understand where empathy comes from. Well, it comes through your door. With your employees who walk into work every single day. Can we manage empathy? In a way, yes. By choosing who to hire, and how to hire.
Indian companies are the least empathetic as per Lady Geek, a consultancy in London, which releases an annual report called ‘The Global Empathy Index’. The Index uses publicly available metrics from S&P Capital IQ, Glassdoor, Young Global Leaders, Tweets from Twitter. Metrics such as company ethics, leadership, internal culture, brand perception, CEO approval ratings amongst staff, ratio of women on boards, carbon metrics are some of the criteria.
Facebook Alphabet and LinkedIn were the top 3 empathetic companies. Interestingly the top 10 companies increased its value twice that of the bottom most companies. Revenue per employee was 50% more than the least ranked companies. Shockingly, this proves that there is a direct link between empathy and commercial success.
So, what is the connection between empathy and performance? Zappos was founded in 1999 as an online shoe and clothing store. Ten years later they sold to Amazon for 1.2 billion dollars. Zappos is a business case on empathy. The company believes that emotional connections determine the length of a customer relationship. Customer service is key and empowered employees create positive emotional connections. Zappos attributes its commercial success to empathy. This shows that empathy can be taught. It is the leader’s responsibility to nurture empathy as an important part of the corporate culture.
In a recent interview, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google was asked by interviewer Walt Mossberg of Recode what he thinks about Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. The question was about how Google viewed these companies and drawing an analogy to Westeros in Game of Thrones. Instead of falling for the analogy, Sundar Pichai brilliantly handled the question by saying that those are some amazing companies. He had a lot of respect for what they do and together they were trying to achieve something meaningful. To me, it reminds the fact that empathy begins with Leadership.
A Company is as good as the people it hires. Recruitment is an important function, therefore hiring is an important process. Hiring process with empathy makes the new hires feel at home.
Hiring does not begin with a job advertisement, it begins with the candidate. Therefore, we should not only think about creating job advertisements but also about who is applying, the candidate. Empathy must be an important goal while recruiting employees. The hiring manager who renders empathy into job ads will be able to attract candidates. Advertisements do not mean large scale campaigns. Even without visual ads, you would be able to attract candidates effectively.
Last summer, I have interviewed a couple of candidates for an intern position. Around the same time, I was revamping the company’s website. So out of curiosity, I asked them about my company website and what made them apply. Interestingly they replied that Glassdoor helped them in their decision-making process. Candidates today are in a more privileged position than ever before. They decide whether to attend an interview process or not by the information they gather. With sites, such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Google Reviews companies are being scrutinized than ever before.
Hiring managers are in a privileged position when it comes to making hiring decisions. Questions that hiring managers ask during an interview can help match an individual’s emotional intelligence to the company’s values and culture. However, when it comes to creating job descriptions most recruiters merely copy-paste ads from another company’s posting. This is a grave mistake. All you are doing is copying keywords and some sentences. You are not capturing the brand of your company or the untold experience the role offers. When business teams inform recruiters that they are looking for certain skills, they miss out on character traits, personal skills and learning abilities that the role demands.
A great tool to effective hiring is Empathy Maps. It is an effective visual tool for discovering insights about candidates. It is great for understanding job requirements, current employees and prospective employees. Self-awareness is a key trait towards nurturing empathy.
An empathy map has four quadrants – “Thinking”, “Seeing”, “Doing” and “Feeling”. Building an empathy map is a team activity. Involve all your stakeholders including business leaders, hiring managers, current employees, and prospective employees as well at various occasions
Encourage them to answer questions such as
- What does a typical day at work look like?
- What do you hear or feel when talking about your company, online or offline?
- What are the pain points about your workplace?
- What do you see when you are at work? What is the environment like?
- What are your biggest fears?
- What are your biggest hopes?
This above is a sample set of questions that we typically offer to our empathy map group. As the group jots down their points, insights emerge. These insights find uses in many ways. One area my company has effectively used these insights is in Employer Branding.
A subset use-case is in creating effective Job Descriptions that attract even passive candidates. Some of our best job descriptions are created by prospective employees who are the ideal target.
A sample illustration of what goes on in the four quadrants for a candidate are;
In one of my previous articles, I spoke about the need for HR teams at Startups. In the effort to conserve cash, minimize spend, and tread the path of extreme frugality, startups miss out on a dedicated HR support. The message is simple. Effective hiring happens when you empathize with all the stakeholders and try to solve their issues in the best way possible.
In a later article, I will talk about the opportunity cost of retaining an employee against the cost of hiring a replacement. But if the current employee is a poor performer then, what do we do? This is where empathy plays a major role. One, you could have made a better hiring decision in the first place. Two, now that you are faced with this issue, the best possible decision is to empathize with such employees. Recognize where they stand and focus on improving their skills so as to retain the existing talent.
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