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Advancing Compassion in Business and the Economy

By Jennifer Dobner December 03, 2014 Posted in: Power Of Compassion , Article

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - There are three things Google's Chade-Meng Tan wants business leaders to know about compassion: It's fun, it's profitable and it's highly trainable.

Compassion is fun because it's tied to happiness and health, says Tan, an engineer who helped build Google's first mobile search service. And it can be easily taught through small acts of kindness, an awareness of joy, and the practice of calming.

"It's also a competitive advantage in business. It shows leadership," said Tan, who is currently Google's Jolly Good Fellow and has a job description that reads: Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.

In the workplace, compassion also contributes to employee well being and an highly productive environment that companies can use to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, Tan said during the November Science and Compassion Conference in San Francisco.

Underwritten in part by Dignity Health, the weeklong series of workshops and seminars was focused on the scientific and academic study and discovery related to compassion and well being.

There's plenty of real data to support Tan's claims.

A study of companies that went from "good to great" found that when compassion was present productivity rose.

Those companies have better customer service and well-treated customers return with more businesses, Tan says. Products improve because the focus stays on ways to better the user experience or customer needs, which again drives more business.

"And you create inspired employees ... who are there to serve the greater good," he says.

That may sound funny, but it's also very real, says Daniel Martin, PhD, an associate professor of management at California State University, East Bay.

Data over the past 20 years has shown the American workforce is so stressed and dissatisfied that about 6,000 workers annually are actually bitten by their colleagues, Martin said.

The jarring statistic shows just how much workers are suffering, said Martin, who studies corporate responsibility and the impact of ideology on compassion and well being.

The cure could surely come through an injection of compassion and kindness in the workplace, he added, but research shows making those kind of changes are often difficult.

Capitalist culture isn't really designed to embrace the concept of compassion in the workplace, Martin says. Corporate culture also often clings to a structure that ascribes workers to higher and lower social rankings and discourages acts or expressions of compassion, he said.

Among those who climb to the top rungs of the corporate ladder, the desire to maintain the status and social order appears to runs deep, Martin said. The higher one climbs, the less they seem to care about philanthropy or any general obligation to the public, the data finds.

At the same time, those people start becoming more materialistic and greedy.

"So those that make it to the top would have the ability to impact these things by may not have the inclination to do anything about it," Martin says.

However, research from Tan's "good to great" companies point to leaders with a very different set of skills. Those individuals were equally ambitious, but also remained humble and stayed focus on the greater good of their organization, not on their own stature or advancement. And those are the leaders who can build an environment of trust that helps a company thrive, Tan said.

That's exactly what Scott Kriens wants to do. For a dozen years, Kriens was CEO of Juniper Networks. He helped start the business and grew it into a $3 billion worldwide enterprise.

But after his father died about 10 years ago, Kriens said he began to wonder about the purpose of his work.

"I had to stop and ask, what is this all for? To what end?" Kriens says.

The questioning led Kriens to conclude that investing in leadership development – growing people – would be more productive and satisfying than simply growing the business. The latter, he believed would follow if employees themselves prospered.

Sifting through ideas for creating a leadership formula, Kriens hit on the concept that has become his driving purpose: Authenticity (born from self-awareness) that breeds trust and positive, generative energy.

"If a leader can be authentic and has an audience that is willing to lean into that person, then what they earn is the opportunity to create trust," says Kriens. "And I think that trust is the central ingredient to the creation of value and that there is economic value in trust."

In 2012, Kriens and his wife, Joanie, founded the 1440 Foundation, which supports programs and best practices that cultivate authentic relationship skills in education, wellness and the workplace.

Like Tan, Kriens believes earned trust creates an environment in which people feel safe and which fosters a more rapid iteration of ideas and discovery.

Among companies that compete, Kriens says the organization with an established environment of trust will undoubtedly have teams of workers who "share more freely, learn more quickly and iterate more successfully."

"So the notion that trust has economic value is not ethereal," he says. "It's a practical, tangible dynamic condition that can be accomplished within a team, as long as conscious intention to serve that process is brought to that exercise."

Another key piece of Kriens' development formula is inspiration.

"When you go to work on something that you are really energized by or you get around a group of people that are energizing, it's possible to work all day and night and wake up in the morning with more energy to go to do it again," Kriens says. "And to the degree that we are tired, when we get back into that dynamic, back around that group again, the energy comes back."

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