Most of us have grown up with the idea that business should always be about the bottomline – profits, revenue, growth – but there is a rising trend of redefining that bottomline to include compassion, empathy, support, care and camaraderie. International business consultant, international speaker, lecturer, and best-selling author, Dr. Bruno Cignacco elevates this line of thinking into a full-blown business philosophy with his latest book, The Art of Compassionate Business. Joining Melanie Parish in this episode, he explains what compassion means in business and why we need to shift our attention to striking a balance between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of business. As Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.” This is the long version of that.
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Triple Bottom Line: The Place Of Compassion In Business With Dr. Bruno Cignacco
I'm here with Dr. Bruno Cignacco. He's a PhD and he's an international business consultant, international speaker, and he’s a business coach. For years, he has advised and trains hundreds of companies on international trade activities and international marketing. He's a university lecturer and he's a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He's also the author of business and personal development books published in many different languages. His new book, The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise is available. We're so excited to talk with him.
Bruno, I am excited to have you on my show. Thanks for being here.
Thank you very much for your invite. I feel very honored.
I want to dive in. I love starting with, what are you working on in your work life?
I'm doing several things. I'm teaching part-time at universities here in the UK, in London. I'm also a consultant with some companies especially medium-sized companies. I’m looking for a solution for international trade activities and international marketing. I'm also consulting companies on a new topic over the last few years on these compassionate entrepreneurship, leadership, and business.
I know that you have a new book out called The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise. Tell me how you're thinking about compassion during these unusual times.
People think that compassion is not related to business. They think that compassion can be applied to family, friends, relatives, or a partner, but compassion can be applied to business relationships. We have to understand that the most important building breakup of any business activity is the human being. No company can succeed on its own or not by itself. A company needs suppliers, customers, employees, and community members. When a company treats these stakeholders in a compassionate way, these stakeholders tend to cooperate with a company.
When a company does not treat these stakeholders in a compassionate way, manipulates customers, exploits employees, deceive business partners, or pollute the environment, these stakeholders tend to withdraw and not to cooperate. I observed in many cases over many years of research, the company that is very compassionate can also be profitable because there is a myth that companies that are cool and conscious cannot get profit.
I have an idea that was shared by many authors. A company should focus on the triple bottom line, profit, caring for people, customer supplies, community members, and companies should care for the planet. When we see a company that are not compassionate and these examples are shown in the media. Many entrepreneurs believe that this is the only way to do business which is focusing on profit-oriented but this is a very limiting view of a business.
What got you started on this path for starting to study compassion and thinking about compassion in business?
I’ve read an article many years ago that was published in Harvard Business Review that was titled The Human Moment at Work. In this article, the author observed that there is a lot of misunderstanding in the workplace that people are treating one another in a very uncompassionate way. This is very bad because it doesn't allow employees to develop trust and cooperation bonds. I was intrigued about this and I started researching on company that are compassionate that are also profitable.
This was correlated by my new book, The Art of Compassionate Business that was published in 2019 by Routledge. At the offset, there are some principles that companies apply when they are acting in a compassionate way. An example is a company that are compassionate are also generous. They're generous with employees, customers, suppliers, and the community. In some cases, the company doesn't have to be generous in a tangible way like paying a higher salary to this employee. The company might write a thank you note hand signed to this employee because of their contribution to the company's objectives. In some cases, the company sends this with the customer because they give this customer more than the customer expected.
If the company is selling a computer, the company can provide this customer with a training course for free so that this customer knows how to use this computer effectively. For instance, Starbucks has the Starbucks Foundation. This foundation is offering training courses for youngsters so that they can get better job opportunities. These are examples of a company that do not focus only on the bottom line which is very important, but then understand that business is about human relationship. The only relationship that can prosper over the time are the relationships that develop mutually beneficial agreements. This means the needs of both parties are met.
I've been a business coach for a long time, Bruno. I am always asked by my clients, they're always curious about what the right level of generosity is in their businesses. How do they orient to that? How do they know when it's too much to give?
Many companies are not generous at all. They're only focusing on getting more clients, market share, profit, and talented people but in practice, there should be a balance between giving and obtaining good things. Many companies tend to be biased towards getting and obtaining and they are imbalanced. An entrepreneur should ask themselves, “How can I give more? Is there a balance between giving and getting?” Many companies only focus on getting. When you focus on getting, you’re focused on yourself and your own company. You don't focus on others. Generosity means supporting others. You don't have to give a tangible thing. If you are an employee working for a company, you can give a colleague advice or support.
If you are the boss, you can give employees an ear to listen to their problems. Allow them to talk about family problems or issues that are outside work. If you are a company serving customers, you can give them thank you for appreciation or you can invite them to come back to your company. You try to be focusing on others, not only on you because the relationship is at least two parties. If you focused on getting and obtaining, you cannot develop trust and cooperation bonds with others. The only relationship that prospers in business are the one that both parties’ needs are met. Not only one. We're not talking about transaction, short-term relationship, we're talking about long-term and long-lasting relationships.
It also brings to mind publicly traded companies and how people who work for publicly traded companies see the bottom line as their fiduciary responsibility or their primary responsibility is to generate profit. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I have a very important thought on this and thank you for bringing this up. Companies tend to focus only on a key performance indicator, profitability, productivity, efficiency. They forget that these indicators are always the natural result of interaction between a company and its stakeholders, customer employees, and community members. The company cannot achieve this indicator on their own. They need all the stakeholders. If the company focused only on these indicators, they cannot develop these trusting bonds with others so they will focus on themselves.
These relationships that are necessary to achieve these indicators, one prospers. I always say to my clients and leaders that they have to focus less on the indicators and more on building relationship. When you build the relationship with different stakeholders that is strong and long-lasting, these indicators tend to be a team naturally because they're the result of a relationship. There is a very limited view based on this. We focus on what can be measured, profit, shares, sales. These are the quantitative aspect of a business.
They are important but we dismiss the qualitative aspect of a business like empathy, support, care, camaraderie, or compassion. There should be a balance between quantitative aspect of a business, what can be measured, and qualitative aspect of business, what cannot be measured. There is a famous thinker that have said, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” This applies to business. There’s should be a balance between getting and giving. Qualitative aspect of business and quantitative aspects of business.
I want to shift gears for a moment and talk to you a little bit. I love asking leaders about imposter syndrome and what they've seen in their work with their clients. I'm not asking you to bare your soul personally, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on imposter syndrome even where compassion lives within that topic.
Imposter syndrome is very common in the working and business environment because people show only a fragmented aspect of themselves. They don't show themselves wholly. They don't show the emotional aspect, family aspect, or relational aspect. They show only the characteristics related to their role. Most of the business environment are unemotional. You cannot express your emotion overtly because people will think that you're a bit strange. This is very structured in many business environment, especially traditional companies.
People are not allowed to be vulnerable because imposter syndrome is like using a mask. This is not showing your real you and this is not good because many researchers or many scholars observed that vulnerability show authenticity, build trust, and cooperation. When you’re only putting yourself in a mask and not showing you're real you or yourself, this cannot create trust. The people will see you with a bit of suspicion because they feel that there is sensing the best one. That doesn’t make any sense. Authenticity is key. Trust is key in business. If you are acting in a way that is not your authentic you, these won't be contributing to the development of trust and cooperation bonds.
This is very rampant in many business environments. I observed companies that do not allow in place even to gather with each other on a social level. They have only to work. They have tight deadlines, multitasking, and don't allow employees to work and to have what I call in my book, natural conversation. We are not only workers, CEOs, or managers, we are people that have emotion, thoughts, dreams, expectations, setbacks. We have some project that work and didn't work in the past, failures, setbacks, learning, and experiences. We only limited these individuals to the role. It could be a buyer, employee, manager, or business partner. This is a very limiting view of a business.
What’s the pushback that you get from a business when you talk about compassion?
When I talk to business owners, I talk about love and business. I use a much stronger word. They should be more loving and they look at me and say, “Love? What are you talking about?” Love is for close circle like friends, family, or partners. I explained to them that we're talking about a much wider connotation of love which includes compassion, empathy, support, care, generosity, and gratitude. There is a lot of research that love in that work environment that are compassionate and supportive tend to bring about. Higher employee satisfaction, higher customer satisfaction, lower employee turnover, lower employee absenteeism, and also lower interest levels. When I find some resistance, I showed in the research that corroborates the fact that compassionate business brings about more profit because lower stress, turnover, and absenteeism indicate positively on the line.
I found some resistant because companies tend to do things in the traditional way. They focus only on the bottom line. What can be measured? What can be counted and visible? What is necessary for their survival? They forget the most important aspect in business that was highlighted by Stephen Covey a long time ago that businesses are interdependent. Within a company, all employees need one another even they have in different areas and they shouldn't be working as silos. Everyone should be connecting to one another because everyone is contributing to the company's mission.
These companies have different sellers, they call themselves as customers, suppliers, and community members. They need each other. Company needs the community members but companies need also the suppliers and also business partners. No company can try by itself and on its own. When I mentioned these different timeless principles, business owners look at me in a much more open-minded way.
They started to understand that they cannot be on their own. They focus only on themselves, on profit, this business is very short-term oriented. When they focus on building relationship, not only will this company become more prosperous in the medium and long-term but this company will have a better brand image and may attract more talented people. People will feel fulfilling a mission that is purposeful, they bring some sense and meaning to their lives.
Bruno, what keeps you awake at night? What do you worry about?
I feel that many companies are still not catching up with this new trend. I don't call this far because it will be offensive to this new trend. This new trend is very important for companies to focus on these triple bottom line especially during these challenging times, I feel that there are a lot of company fired employees, mistreating customer, and deceiving business partner. I feel that there is a lot to do. I always like to talk about this, train companies, and keep on talks internationally because I feel that my little contribution will create some ripple effects, multiple effects that spread this work. I am a bit worried that many companies are stuck in the past. They're only stuck in the traditional way of doing business and they do a lot of camp. Not only to their stakeholders but to the world.
Where can people find you?
My websites are www.BrunoCignacco.com and www.HumanOrientedEnterprise.com. They can find my book, The Art of Compassionate Business online and offline worldwide.
It's been such a pleasure to have you on the show, Bruno. I've enjoyed our conversation and I love the passion that you bring to this idea of compassion in business. It's so important.
Thank you very much. I feel very honored.
This is Melanie and I love talking to Bruno Cignacco. He's a researcher and from his place in Academia, he is talking about love in business. For a long time, I've known that the barometer for whether or not I take a client and continue to work with that client is whether or not I can love that client. I am so excited that he's talking about love in business because the emotional connection that we have with other humans during the work we do is very important. It's the difference between fulfillment and drudgery. I've enjoyed having Bruno on my show. Go experiment.
About Bruno Cignacco
Dr Bruno Roque Cignacco (PhD) is an international business consultant, international speaker, lecturer, and best-selling author. For over 20 years, he has advised and trained hundreds of companies on international trade activities and social marketing. He is a university lecturer at different institutions in the UK. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA - UK).
He is also the author of business and personal development books published in different languages. His new book is titled “THE ART OF COMPASSIONATE BUSINESS. MAIN PRINCIPLES TO THE HUMAN-ORIENTED ENTERPRISE by Dr. Bruno R. Cignacco (2019, Routledge). Link to the book: https://lnkd.in/dvJNYuS
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.