Level Up: Encoding Empathy in the Post Covid Era 

May 13, 2021

Digital workspaces, cloud-based solutions, designing modern work environments, cybersecurity. The list goes on and on about the increasingly sophisticated efforts the technology industry continues to pioneer which, in turn, continues to reshape companies across all sectors with the hopes that they can weather the continued disruptions of the digital age.  

According to the latest Gartner report, Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021, organizations have had to “pivot and strategize, adapt and change in new ways”and may I humbly add: empathize. 

I first heard of the notion of “leading with empathy” about seven years ago. Long before it was aactual thing businesses would openly talk about. And long before it was recognized as something beyond an inherited or nurtured personality trait.  

When Satya Nadella, current CEO of Microsoft Corporation, entered the scene as head of the company, he vulnerably confessed his personal story about not being an empath, and how this lack of growth mindset impacted him in all the wrong ways early in his career—to the point of once being rejected for an internal role 

He also shared how this life lesson prompted him to embark on a personal growth journey to become an empath… and well, the results are in. 

Shortly after this revelation, I became immediately curious about this idea of empathy as a business forward strategy. The reason? I’m not an empath either! Well, I wasn’t. I’d like to say that I have become one in the last few years, even though my family and friends may beg to differ. 

In my line of work as storyteller, I began to explore and understand empathy beyond a skill set or personality trait and soon realized that in this age of automation, robots, machine learning and autonomous things, empathy has become a magic algorithm that can essentially solve the quintessential business problem: truly understanding the customer’s wants and needs. 

You see, we continue to create innovative modern worker solutions, but have we paused to genuinely understand the modern worker themselvesTheir personal challenges? Their motivations and ambitions? 

Our proposed technologies can only work if we get to know and understand the “digital dust” of people’s lives and how the Internet of Behaviors (IB) well, behaves. Empathy is as simple as pausing before designing a product or service or writing code to reflect for a moment on how these outputs can effectively land “from one human to the other. 

We have all recently gone through an extraordinary set of human race tragedies encompassing the severe breakdown of everything from physical death to racism and hatred, and as terrible as these are, it would be even more terrible to waste these challenging times by not capitalizing on the opportunities to do better, to be better and to bring about innovation at the human, not just the technology level. 

As a brand consultant, I began to observe the behavior of companies big and small from all industries and sectors when the global pandemic hit. I was curious to understand what “pivoting” would look like from each of their perspectives and was pleased to find that it meant admitting that no one was truly figuring it out.   

Because that also means that we get to start figuring it out today. We get to step back for a moment and assess the critical crossroads between intelligent computing and intelligent empathy. The kind of empathy that learns to adapt and scale to drive an inclusive and human-connected experience at every touchpoint of the customer journey in the post-Covid era. 

Here are 3 ways you can begin to lead with empathy today: 

  1. Invite your customer to ideate. There is nothing more inclusive and empathetic than engineers, developers and data scientists relying not only on code, data and machines, but also real time human insights to co-create the next set of solutions. Build a special team of “insiders”, customers that inclusively represent your customer base and extend a special invitation for them to give you insights and ideas along the design journey. Agility is about being able to iterate in real time and against immediate changes. If you build the habit of integrating the customer into your service or product ideation activities, you will not only build equity and trust for the long run but deliver an empathetic output. Today’s customer is often looking to build a long-lasting relationship with the brand. What better way to drive this initiative than to give them a seat at the innovation table?
  2. Consider the intelligent “working” spaces. And I don’t mean the physical smart buildings because you probably already do that 😊. It is a very human thing to tend to work in “tunnel vision” mode without considering the impact our individual or immediate team’s work has on the entire ecosystem. A way to encode empathy into deliverables is to practice “zooming out” and taking assessment of the overall impact your output has on the business and how the customer is consistently moving through and between the company’s verticals expecting a seamless experience. If a UX designer, for example, were to consider how the sales or marketing team will have to pitch their newly created feature or solution at launch phase, and if marketing were to consider how operational or support teams will be impacted after a product has been campaigned, the breakdown of traditional siloes would be enabled because even if though often systems don’t talk to each other, people do. I invite you to bring other business functions to your operational or design meetings once in a while, learn their perspectives and the impact your work has on theirs.
  3. Tell stories. As a storyteller, I can’t help but sell you the power of stories. In this context, stories are not only powerful, but essential to not only driving empathy, but creating a bilateral flow of human understanding between you and your stakeholders and at every level of the organization and beyond. Remember Nadella’s empathy story? It is because of it, that I embarked on my own becoming an empath journey and got to write my own book about it. You see, I empathized with Nadella, because I too wasn’t an empath! Stories lead to more stories. Because they connect human to human experiences and provoke us to reflect, consider, learn, ideate…you know, all the things I previously mentioned. Empathy is a two-way street. When you bring your humanity to the table, others around you, including your customers, are able to empathize with you as you do with them, and now you are going beyond the Internet of Behaviors to gather data, you are gathering human insights as well. 

    If have learned anything from this series of unprecedented misfortunes is that we are resilient. And that’s a good thing…but only if we can approach resiliency with empathy.  

    Collaboration means two-way communication!

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    It’s Monday, the start of the week @ 16:30 CET. The engineer rubbed his head “Now to my 11th meeting for the day”. One of those was with Barry (his boss) where he complained, “I have too many meetings” with an ironic smile. What company is this? One of the many hundreds where this happens day in and day out during lockdown.

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