The Business of Creating a Caring Culture

Peter Drucker, the management guru is famously to have said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and yet the elusive matter of culture is so intangible it can be hard to describe, create and measure. If you’ve been house hunting you may have chosen your home based on a feeling. Culture within organisations is often very like this; a feeling.

Tony Humphreys in his book ‘Work and Worth’ says work culture is made up of ‘symbols, language, assumptions, traditions and behaviours’. He further adds that when such work cultures are not caring in nature ‘they can have profound affects on well-being’. I often quote Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology who suggests well-being should be our only goal.

While chatting with a neighbour this weekend who has two young children and returned back to work last October after maternity leave. I asked her if her organisation had made any amendments to her work schedule to allow her to care for her children while schools and childcare are shut. Her answer was no, in fact her workload has increased since the beginning of the month. Only 4 of her 20 person team have children and it’s not spoken about. Humphreys says there are very few examples of person-centred workplaces and the emphasis still seems to be on productivity.

Human Centered Approach

A tweet went viral last week which went something like this. A woman approached her boss and asked for her work hours to be reduced to 80%. Her boss refused. That was the headline that caused the tweet to go viral, but when you read on, the poster explained that he refused to reduce his employees pay to 80% but told her take the time she needs to support her family and to do her best in her job. By the way, this could also have been a man making this request but the reality is women take on most of the caring responsibilities in most families. This boss reflects a human centred approach to work.

When we focus entirely on productivity, we treat people like robots. Life is messy, it doesn’t go according to plan and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic. There will be ebbs and flows. There are hours, days, weeks and months over the course of my career when I am really productive and there are times when I am less so and that is life.

Humphreys suggests that many managers would consider the above approach as ‘soft’ and not befitting of leadership. Yet, research shows that happier workers are ‘not only more creative and productive but are supportive of each other and of management, and this especially shows itself in crisis’. This book was written well before the onset of Covid19 but how relevant it is.

I recently learned about Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former CEO of Costco the large warehouse style retailer in the US. His management style was described as benevolent. He would travel each year to every location to inspect them personally. He believed by treating your employees well, they in turn will serve customers well. For example, over 90% of Costco employees qualify for medical benefits as against the US average of 60%. This results in a very low level of turnover.

Characteristics of a Caring Culture

Humphreys identifies some characteristics of a caring culture:

  • Views all employees as unique with rights and needs
  • Listens and responds to these rights and needs
  • Values and affirms workers which takes precedence over productivity
  • Recognises the influence that self-esteem has on creativity, productivity and management
  • Provides special attention to those that feel bad about themselves or lack confidence
  • Affirms the vast intellectual capacity of each of its workers
  • Embraces failure and success as equal stepping stones
  • Praises work efforts and love of work
  • Makes work and management enhancing of an employee’s welfare
  • Stresses caring relationships
  • Creates an environment where people learn to take self-responsibility.

Create a Caring Culture

Creating a caring culture begins with you. You know the metaphor of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. When you are kind to yourself you are in a better place to be kind to others. A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing acts of kindness every day for seven days. Probably not surprising, but it boosted happiness levels by increasing serotonin and oxytocin levels. We all have a choice on how we react to ourselves and to others. If you need convincing on this you might like to read The Choice by Edith Eger or books by many of the other incredible people who have survived harrowing circumstances.

If you currently work in an organisation which doesn’t reflect a caring culture this might sound like an unachievable goal or perhaps even fluff and not real leadership but the evidence suggests otherwise. A caring culture can be the critical ingredient for organisational success. It is important that caring is not just a value on the wall but a part of your strategy and visible at various touchpoints. In fact, research suggests that emphasising caring approaches can improve critical thinking.

Caring approaches can be taught, but people need to understand the why of taking a caring approach. To serve comes naturally to some but not everyone. Learning compassionate approaches can lead to lasting changes in how people think and act. How can you help to create a culture of care where you work? We need it now, more than ever.

If you would like support in creating a more caring culture in your organisation reach out to me for a complimentary consultation.

Creating the Work Experience your Life Deserves.

Flexibility at work has always been important to me. In 1992, as a 16 year old my Dad suggested that I apply for the Morrisson visa. At the time, this was the visa that offered Irish nationals the opportunity to get a green card and live in the US. I grew up on Dallas and Knots Landing so heading to the US was definitely attractive to me. I can still remember walking into Presentation ‘Pres’ Secondary School in Cork on a cold and dark Winters evening where we took our seats and listened to a presentation on the programme. I was young and innocent but my Dad suggested it would ensure I had opportunities in case I had to leave Ireland. We were just coming out of the mass emigration of the 1980’s. At barely 18 I found myself up in the US Embassy raising my right hand, taking an oath and signing paperwork that would change the course of my future. That Summer, I took my first ever plane ride to begin my relationship with America which would result in over 10 years living there full time, and a further 15 commuting back and forth, and as my husband likes to remind me I wouldn’t have met him had I not taken that route.

Yesterday, in an event dedicated to discussing remote work with Irish Network USA, Tracy Keogh of Grow Remote included in her presentation the phrase that those of us who grew up in the emigration era of the 1980’s and 1990’s remember well, ‘There are no jobs here’. In every small town and even big cities this is what young people faced. I was one of the luckier one’s, by the time I graduated college in 1998 the tide had turned in economic development in Ireland and my siblings a few years younger than me, did not share this same experience of lack of opportunity. That phrase sparked the memories of my emigration journey.

Just recently, I came across a piece of paper from 1999 where I had laid out my 10 vacation days and personal days for that year that I received in my job in the US. I was trying to stretch them over a 12 month period to attend my friends’ wedding in Sydney to be her bridesmaid, a trip to see family in Ireland and a short vacation. These were the days before video calls, phone calls were expensive and not everyone had e-mail. The one visit home a year was it and a once a week phone call which was usually abruptly ended by my mother exclaiming how expensive the call must be. We ended up flying to Sydney for only 6 days. Had remote work been the norm back then imagine the privilege of being able to spend a few weeks in Ireland with my family while working. I’m glad my children will never have to make these hard choices.

Remote work will help ensure that no young person in Ireland will ever have to leave our shores if they do not want to. It will open up global opportunities without ever leaving home. It offers parents who want to balance work and childcare increased possibilities of doing that. In 2008, my husband and I decided we would like to raise our boys in both countries and we chose to move back to Ireland to enrol them in school here and divide our time between both countries. I should add this has not been as logistically easy as I imagined back then but we have managed to do this in some shape or form for the past 12 years. Even with the restrictions of Covid, we have just returned from over two months in the US. None of our family situation would have been possible if Steve and I could not work remotely and our boys can currently remote learn.

Whatever hybrid model is developed going forward remote work can be life changing for people. The future of work is now and we have been afforded an incredible opportunity to finally reimagine work. Disruption often does this but we must seize the moment and create the work experience that our lives deserve.

                          ‘You only live once but if you do it right once is enough’. Mae West

Growing my Networking Skin

Did you know snakes shed their skin when it doesn’t fit anymore or because it is old or worn out? Imagine if we could do this. Unhappy with our persona and wanting to project a new one we shed that skin. In fact, we do this as we grow and learn but it’s a far more gradual and less obvious process.

Shedding my discomfort with networking and sales is not easy for me but I know in order to build a business it is a necessary part of my journey. For the clients and contacts who message me to thank me for continuing my work it is because of you that I continue. It is because of you I can see the value in what I do and as a purposeful driven Introvert that is really important.

I learned in Matthew Pollards first book in The Introverts Edge Series that I needed a system for sales and in his follow up book The Introverts Edge to Networking he continues that message. As Introverts we need a focused, strategic and smart approach to networking in order to manage our energy. By the way networking is really important for everyone not just business owners. You never know when you will need to find your next role.

Networking, he says got a bad rap from the ‘churn and burn’ mentality of the traveling American salesperson. He says his system will allow us to ‘walk out of every room feeling like we’ve made powerful connections, portrayed the best version of ourselves, and remained authentically ‘us’ the whole time’.

He describes three types of networkers, the transactional networkers focused on the sale, the aimless networker who builds some connections but it really goes nowhere or the strategic networker connecting with people who value your work and can help you reach your goals. I have certainly been the aimless networker.

In the strategic networking approach 90% of the work will be done outside of the room, music to my introvert ears. I just need to develop my process. It’s about owning my ‘uniqueness, passion and stories’. And I begin the process with planning, preparation and process.

Uncover your passion

I begin my shedding process by focusing in on my passion. Doing this means connecting with the reasons why I was drawn to coaching and training introverts. For me, that comes down to feelings. Feeling like I have said the wrong thing and overanalysing, feeling like I was being judged for not speaking up, feeling left out of groups, feeling like there was something wrong with me. This is ultimately what I want to do, help other introverts to not feel like this. I want other introverts to not hold back from pursuing opportunities. I see so many people with gifts who don’t pursue them because they feel they’re not good enough. I want other introverts to celebrate who they are. Matthew asks what work is important enough for us to make the sacrifices we make. We all have a finite amount of time and to make our work matter we must understand it’s worth. Why do you do what you do?


He sets a few myths straight about niching. First, it’s absolutely necessary but it doesn’t mean you can’t work with clients outside of this niche or focus on this niche forever but in line with our introvert personality it means we strategically focus our efforts. I am an Introvert Coach and so I have niched but to niche even further Matthew suggests looking to see where my current clients are coming from. Although I am a new business with a small client base, I noticed that 100% of my personal and corporate clients were from the tech or creative sectors. This is not overly surprising as many introverts are drawn to these industries but I had not noticed. This now gives me a focus to cater my message to these sectors.

Next, I have to identify my secret sauce. This reminded of what has been called the best pitch ever on Dragons Den. Levi Roots pitched his sauce to the judges and he made it stand out so much he got the investment. Best way to do this? Ask your clients. Find out what makes you stand out when you do what you do. Disclosure: I have yet to do this.


Stories are powerful, they target the limbic or emotional part of our brain and can bypass the cognitive where we logically assess what someone is saying. Physicist Stephen Hawkins said ‘quiet people have the loudest minds’. Matthew shared a story of a presentation he did where he created the most informative and detailed presentation he could. He found out afterwards the audience felt it was like a ‘fire hose of information’. This resonated with me because it is exactly what I have done and after a year of many presentations, podcasts and webinars that haven’t yielded much results I now realise I need to master the art of storytelling. Stories are also helpful when we are asked a question, responding with ‘let me tell you about….’ And even better is when we have carefully constructed and practiced these so they roll off the tongue. This is useful in any people interactions not just networking. As Maya Angelou said ‘people won’t remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel’.

Your job when networking is not to download a lifetime of experience, but instead, tell a powerful story that educates and inspires’.

The next piece in the puzzle is to create our unified message. This should be catchy and create interest. If I introduce myself as an introvert coach and trainer people can put me in the ‘yet another coach’ box and it can stop the conversation, but a phrase that captures what I do but differentiates me creates interest and can open up questioning which is what we want.

Stay tuned as I am currently working on this and taking his advice of using a thesaurus to play around with different words. Matthew recognises it takes courage to take this step and stand out but really that’s what we are all meant to do because we’re all unique. I love Professor Brian Littles quote of ‘we’re like all of the people, some of the people and none of the people’.

The final piece is around our current network. He divides our network into champions, those contacts who are the ‘movers and shakers’ and momentum partners who would willingly help you to connect with others. We all have the potential to help each other out and at the end of the day that’s what networking is all about. It’s about building those relationships, offering reciprocity and supporting each other to reach our goals.

When you hit that networking room virtual or otherwise you will know exactly who you want to meet, your unified message to peak their interest and the stories that capture what you do so no need to have any anxiety about getting tongue tied or not knowing what to say and of course don’t forget the follow up to stay in that persons mind.

Keep taking small steps to build your network and I hope like me you are slowly shedding some of that old skin.