Hiring for Kindness

Over the long weekend I caught an episode of the podcast Without Fail hosted by Alex Blumberg. His guest was Ron Johnson. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog then Ron Johnson might be a familiar name to you. He was the brains behind the iconic Apple Stores and their Genius Bars. He also had a notable public failure at JC Penney’s. I wrote about that in early 2012 and included the story in my book: Will J.C. Penney’s New Business Strategy Positively Influence Sales?

I didn’t know much about Johnson but found myself liking him as he talked about his experiences at Apple and Penney’s. I liked him even more when he spoke about his latest venture, Enjoy, a company that’s committed to reinventing the shopping experience. What I appreciated was that he said one of the cultural pillars of Enjoy is kindness. He told listeners Enjoy hires for kindness and trains the technical aspects of the job.

What is Kindness and Can You Measure It?

I love the premise but wondered how you would hire for kindness? Your definition of kind could be very different than mine or someone else’s. Many years ago, I learned the importance of defining words, especially within an organization’s culture. It’s critical that everyone understands what’s meant when someone talks about going on a sales call, providing great customer experience or treating people with kindness. Only once you’ve defined something can you train people and hold them accountable.

When it comes to how I treat other people I hold this thought in my mind: How would I want someone to treat my mother or father, brother or sister, spouse, son or daughter?

For most of us that encompasses the closest relationships we have. However you’d want someone to treat those you love the most – service, kindness, respect, gratitude, etc. – that’s probably how you should treat others. I would venture to say, if we all adopted that frame of mind we’d treat each other better and the world would be a better place.

When it comes to kindness I can offer two things to focus on to ensure people are doing a better job in this area: liking and reciprocity.

Like the People You Serve

The principle of liking tells us it’s easier the say yes to people we know and like. Most of the time we focus on liking to make it easier for someone to do what we want. But, engaging this principle to like the person you’re interacting with will help you be kinder. After all, I’m willing to bet it’s easier for you to naturally be nice to people you know and like.

If you’re a leader you probably want tangible ways to measure this. Simply ask your people what they’re doing to connect on what they have in common with customers. Teach them questions they can ask to make this happen naturally and quickly.

Another focus would be compliments. Make it a priority for your folks to look for the good in people and catch them doing good. Once they’ve noticed something good, have them pay genuine compliments. This too makes it easier for people to be kind.

Be a Giver

The other principle to engage is reciprocity. Go out of your way to do something kind to help people. They’ll feel good about you and be more likely to do whatever you need in return.

But, something else is taking place when you do good for another person. That rationalization machine we call a brain will generate reasons why your actions were right and that the other person deserved to be treated well. The more you believe someone, customers and coworkers, deserves to be treated well, the more likely you are to treat them well.


Culture isn’t just a bunch of words a company puts on a poster board. Ultimately culture is the experience customers and employees have with your organization. That experience comes primarily from the interactions with your employees. That means how employees behave matters a lot!

Liking and reciprocity, when engaged correctly with the right mindset, become self-reinforcing when it comes to kindness.

Liking and reciprocity can be measured by the actions they promote. Train people to those appropriate behaviors and kindness can become a cultural pillar for your organization.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

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