My company’s core business involves a deeply human and stressful moment: the job interview. Because of this, we end up talking a lot about empathy at Karat. Those conversations have historically focused on how we can train our interview engineers and customer support teams to demonstrate empathy and get the best performance out of candidates. Over the past few months, however, it’s become a daily theme that has spread across all facets of business and life.
It started with a simple “how are you?” question at the start of every meeting. That was nice. But it got old when vendors all started using that as their email intros.
So the question I’ve been kicking around is how can we display more empathy in our day-to-day work without coming across as being opportunistic or inauthentic? I spent some time reflecting on this in recent weeks and was able to identify three concrete areas where we’ve turned our collective empathy up to 11 and done so in a real way.
Leading With Empathy: Prioritize Remote Onboarding
Last month, my company hired a new VP of marketing, Bill Kramer. Now, I realize “marketing” isn’t always the first thought people have when they think of “empathy,” but bear with me.
Bill started his first week with an expectedly heavy slate of Zoom meetings. The difference was that, rather than ramping him up as quickly as possible on the business, we focused on creating touchpoints to build rapport across the team. There were a lot of 1:1s, group meetings, and casual stand-ups for him to join, each with a different purpose.
Since he was one of the pilot cases for our remote onboarding, we asked Bill about his experience directly. “We’re all dropping that dividing line between the work persona and home persona,” Bill said. “It allows people to present their whole self and show the humanity behind the normal work facade. I think I’ve actually bonded with people more quickly. In some ways, that’s easier to do when my four-year-old crashes a Zoom meeting than it is in a work lunch or even a team happy hour. That’s ultimately going to make the company stronger by building trust and empathy that will help us work more effectively together, and will deepen personal relationships with co-workers more than we otherwise might.”
This was all very intentional, and it made a huge difference for Bill in his first week with the company.
If anyone is interested in our remote onboarding tips, one of my colleagues pulled together a great remote onboarding resource on the subject. The three biggest keys are:
- Be explicit in setting expectations.
- Create a sense of belonging.
- Provide regular guidance and feedback.
Managing With Empathy: Stay Connected
Our co-founder, Jeff Spector, shared some management and leadership thoughts with Built In Seattle earlier this spring. Even back in March, it was easy to see that there was no playbook for what’s going on right now. He noted that staying in regular communication with other tech leaders will help us all get through these times and keep our sanity, but he also emphasized the importance of creating a psychological safety net for our team.
To paraphrase what Jeff shared in March, we now have a weekly meeting where all employees can discuss what challenges they are facing related to COVID-19 and how they’re dealing with them. Everyone has a chance to share issues that are bubbling up — health concerns, challenges of working from home, childcare issues, general anxieties, and more — and we can respond as those issues, concerns, and challenges change.
In recent weeks, our managers have also started being more intentional about carving out time in these meetings for some lighter water cooler talk. A recent meeting started with an open question about everyone’s first (or favorite, we’re not all that strict about it) concert-going experience. It was great. We laughed, we shared, and, afterward, I thought about music on and off all day. That’s the kind of cathartic release that having empathy for the people we’re managing can create.
Selling With Empathy: Be Helpful
When this all started getting crazy, one of the first directives from our senior leadership was: “Now is not the time for a heavy-handed sales approach.”
Taking a step back and thinking about what customers or business prospects need and how Karat could help them was a liberating experience for me. Instead of gearing up for demo after demo, I was given the freedom to pursue new ways of communicating. Like writing! This gives me the opportunity to get out of my solutions engineering box and provide (hopefully) helpful tips and resources based on what’s working for us.
Long-term, it will be fun to see how the approach is going to strengthen our brand. But what I’m most excited about is the opportunity to connect with people outside of a sales and solution cycle.