Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki has researched what he calls “positive conformity.” In his research, he notes, “participants who believed others were more generous became more generous themselves.” This suggests, “kindness is contagious, and that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” (Tweet it!)
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company, says, “Zaki’s insight is vital for improving society, but it applies to companies too.” However, instead of treating kindness as a “directive,” he suggests treating it like a contagion and creating “the conditions under which everybody catches it.”
Taylor cites a case study detailing customer service transformation at Mercedes Benz USA. When Stephen Cannon became president and CEO, he understood that almost every customer transaction “came down to a personal encounter with a human being in a dealership who could either act in ways that were memorable or could act the rote way most people in most dealerships act.” He set about creating a grassroots movement to encourage and empower customer-facing employees to rise to any occasion.
“There was one dealer who’d closed a sale and noticed from the documents that it was the customer’s birthday. So he ordered a cake, and when the customer came in to pick up the car, had a celebration. Then there was the customer who got a flat tire on the way to her son’s graduation. She pulled into a Mercedes dealership in a panic and explained the problem. Unfortunately, there were no replacement tires in stock for her model. The service manager ran to the showroom, jacked up a new car, removed one of its tires, and sent the mother on her way.”
Taylor believes that this bottom-up, peer-to-peer commitment to customers at Mercedes-Benz USA is “a reminder for leaders in all sorts of fields: You can’t order people to be kind, but you can spark a kindness contagion.”
Can you share an instance of kindness in your organization that sparked others to act similarly? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
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