Introducing Empathy to the Enterprise

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Does "Empathy" have a place in the enterprise?

"Empathy" seems to be a misplaced word in most large enterprises.  But imagine if it were a tool that was used to align fiefdoms, partnerships, mis-aligned objectives, or even interpersonal working relationships.  If the Organism (aka the Organization) and its parts, actually "felt" something for each other, for a goal...for a cause, then would it be able to cure itself of common ailments like dysfunction, "rut-syndrome", or fear (of failure or success)?  More over, could it be transformed into a high performance team tuned to accelerate growth through disruption?

Startups are typically ultra-focused on customer / user problems AND what the user is feeling.  Empathy not only plays a huge part of the design, development and delivery of the solution, but many of the successful startups are highly tuned to the challenges faced with the execution phase to deliver something to market.  In a strong "Hacker and Hustler" startup model, both roles feel empowered in their domains and have a tremendous amount of empathy for their counterpart handling the "other side".  Because of this empathy, the ability to influence and have an impact is earned.

Although difficult, this works really well with a two-person show....  Throw in marketing, engineering, legal, product management, operations, sales, management, governance, etc...  Empathy somehow pulls a disappearing act.  Unfortunately, most groups in organizations feel entitled to influence behavior or have an impact on outcomes WITHOUT any empathy of their teammates.

If the objective is to impact outcomes, then being able to influence behavior and priorities will start with building empathic relationships.  Consider introducing "Empathy" to your organization as you attempt the impossible as it may allow people to use one of their most powerful tools...their feelings.  Perhaps "it can't be done" will slowly evolve to "let me see what I can do"....or even, "I think so...should we try?"


Interesting post, Dipak. Just wondering how you are defining "empathy" and whether it's just a fancy word for "know your target audience?" -- whether that be external clients and customers or internal teams?

Interestingly, I did the Gallup StrengthsFinder some time back and empathy came up as one of my lowest strengths. In some ways I'm not surprised by that and in others I am. Then again, I'm wondering just how "empathetic" some of the most influential creatives really are...and whether having low levels of empathy is actually a good thing in seeing what can be done, not restricted by other's hangups?

Fascinating topic...we should debate this more when I'm in the Bay Area. Love the design of the site, by the way:-)

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