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The Globe and Mail

A ‘caring’ culture usually breeds success

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Ask any management guru or expert and he or she will tell you that employees need to be treated with respect. Undeniably true, but respect is the fundamental norm, the basis of all relationships; a must-have virtue which one should display towards friends, family and even to perfect strangers. However, we should go beyond the concept of "respect" in our workplaces and genuinely "care" as well.

The word "respect," when exclusively used to define the manner of how people should be attending to one another in a work environment brings up in one's mind of a covenant, drafted in two sections, with the do's on one side and the don'ts on the other; well meant, but barren and lacking in empathy.

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Instead, the norm should be creating relationships with the workforce based on empathy and bonding, and reaching out to as many as possible. An example would be asking your marketing manager how well her mother was recovering from her surgery, or starting the conversation by sharing your own weekend experience. Exercising in such behavior should not be deemed as unprofessional conduct, nor should it be seen as an invitation for losing self-respect.

The conventional wisdom which taught us that one should put a certain distance between himself and his subordinates should not be the rule to follow. This concept of detachment was probably embedded into our subconscious from the early days of kings and generals, to create a so-called aura of "unquestionable authority."

The admission of a manager's authority should not come from his or her capacity to hire or fire. Rather, it should be recognized by his competence, and by the integrity and trust he has succeeded in instigating within the work force.

It is important here to underline that caring is not only about verbal communication or interaction. It comes as a whole package. It's also about deeds, like showing appreciation by incentivizing good work with decent wages, assigning better health care plans, and implementing bonus and share ownership programs. Caring is also about creating an ethical, safe and healthy environment for all within the workplace. It should also be extended externally, such as to your clients, to your community, and to the environment.

In our modern business world, the bigger the corporation, the more likely the board would not have much of a clue how the leadership is communicating and creating a relationship with employees. The CEO holds the reins and as long as he or she delivers, typically many affairs may never be brought up. When performance starts deteriorating, the blame is laid (almost always) on one or more of these causes: Ineffective management, downturn in the economy, decline of demand, legal controversies, increase in competition, new regulations, environmental issues etc.

Deeper underlying causes like the issue of "low morale" among management and the workforce, which may have played a significant role in the losses of the company are almost never discussed. The failure of good communication between management and the rest of the company's employees is usually never on the agenda of the boards as this subject is deemed irrelevant.

One of the inevitable consequences when profits drop is usually laying off people, placing a tremendous impact on their livelihood and their mental state. The worrisome part of such dismissals is how they have become the standard knee-jerk response to even negligible declines in company's performances; decisions usually taken without careful consideration of other alternatives. Even worse, consequences of how such actions would be perceived among the remaining work force (who now will see themselves dispensable and will have no trust in the management board) are not carefully scrutinized.

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While it is a fact that several determinants could cause a company to deteriorate, it would be a mistake to accuse a manager of being naive if he were to argue that creating more meaningful communication with employees could make a difference. Employees that have been appreciated will respond better when the call of sacrifice is sounded. The resolve and positive feedback of a work force, whenever an entity is in dire straits, could significantly increase the chances of reversing the bad fortunes of the company.

I have personally observed, during my executive management career, that entities and institutions whether small, mid-size or large, perform better whenever they practice the "care" culture.

Toronto-based Erol Vekil is president of Gesturetek Systems Inc., a developer of gesture recognition technologies.

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