‘Kindness is the most underrated skill in business’

26 July 2021

Story by
Sarah Rice, Editor and Director, The HR World

Kathryn Kendall

The HR World speaks to industry leaders about their careers and life – what advice would they pass on and what wisdom brought them to where they are now. In this edition we caught up with Benefex Chief People Officer Kathryn Kendall who spearheads a culture of inclusivity and believes ‘life is too short to dread Monday mornings’.

Kindness costs nothing but means the world

It’s the most underrated skill in business, but I truly believe that kindness is everything. People want to work for and with people who make them feel good about themselves. It costs nothing to treat someone with kindness and compassion, but it can mean absolutely everything. Business leaders need to bring it to the fore in their organisations, because I truly believe that you cannot have a great organisational culture without kindness sitting firmly at the heart of it.

Flexible working is not a benefit

It drives me wild when organisations describe it as such. It’s not a benefit – it’s how the workforce of the 21st century needs, demands, and should be able to expect to work in order to ensure that we have employment that is accessible to all. The 9-5, desk-bound, Monday-Friday standard working week should be consigned to the history books where it belongs. I hope in the future that, if there are still organisations refusing to offer flexibility in working patterns to employees, it will be called out for the discrimination that it is.

The ‘rinse and repeat’ mentality gives HR a bad name

If you don’t understand the business you’re working in then how can you possibly expect to support, develop and deliver for its people? The HR profession gets a deservedly bad name when we go into an organisation and expect to be able to simply rinse and repeat. Out of everyone in the business, I would argue it’s HR who should have the most well-rounded understanding of how the various components fit and operate together. To get that understanding, you have to put in the graft and really spend time with your teams – it won’t happen by osmosis.

Treating people as adults is critical for business success …

If your hiring process is robust (and if it isn’t, then that needs to be your priority) then you’ll have brought great people into your business who are brilliant at what they do, are experts in their field, and are bright, intelligent, switched on adults – so, treat them as such. Give them the freedom to do what they do best, in the way that is best for them and best for the business. The moment we start treating our people like children we dumb them down and patronise them, we cause them to stop thinking for themselves, and, crucially, we see far, far poorer business outcomes as a result.

… And this means there has to be trust

The employer/employee relationship cannot work without trust, it’s as simple as that. You have to start from a position of trust. If your default is not to trust your employees, then you need to ask yourself why. Working in an environment where no one trusts anyone else is exhausting, miserable, and disastrous for business. Empower one another to succeed; don’t wrap so much red tape around your teams that it’s impossible for them to function.

The talk on diversity is not translating into action

There’s lots of talk out there about the importance of ensuring representative diversity within our organisations, but I fear that this doesn’t always translate into action. There is a danger that well-meaning diversity policies do little more than chip around the edges at a serious issue that permeates almost all businesses out there. If our senior teams, our managers and our wider employee populations aren’t representative of the wonderful diversity of our society then we are not yet doing enough… and when that’s the case we need to be big enough to call ourselves out, and work harder for change.

Passion and desire trumps CV spiel, every time

In my personal opinion, there’s no amount of experience can make up for an attitude and behaviours that don’t align with your organisational culture; and, equally, some of my best ever hires have come with experience that doesn’t necessarily match back to the job spec. Before I worked in HR I trained as a professional actor, which definitely isn’t the traditional route into the profession; yet there’s training from my time at drama school that I would still say I use in my role every single day! Don’t force people to fit into neat little boxes. You’re hiring humans, not robots.

Equity and equality have some crucial differences

Consistency of treatment is important, but consistency of treatment doesn’t mean treating everyone exactly the same, and this is where HR departments often find themselves drowning in and stifled by policies. The approaches you take will need to be as varied as your people. You cannot do “HR by numbers”. If we replaced a blind and obsessive following of policies with common sense, I sometimes think we’d be far better off as a profession.

Listen – even when you don’t like the answers

In a world filled with white noise, there is a risk that listening becomes a lost art. Yet it’s how most of us do our greatest learning. As HR practitioners and as business leaders, we have to continuously listen and learn, even when some of that feedback is hard to hear. It’s all too easy to become defensive and switch off when we don’t like the answers; but, when we do, we miss a huge opportunity to deliver positive change. It’s been the toughest pieces of feedback that have invariably taught me the most.

It’s a privilege to do what we do

Working directly with so many different people, supporting them and listening to them open up and share their confidences, enabling them to deliver; putting in place programmes to help them develop, succeed, and be at their best it is an utter privilege, and I give genuine thanks for the job that I am fortunate enough to hold, every single day. We won’t be alone in HR, in finding the pandemic perhaps the single toughest period of our working careers; and yet it’s also been so tremendously rewarding to sit at the heart of an organisation as we have worked our way through this very human crisis. Our people are incredible, and I’m so lucky to get to do what I do.

Kathryn Kendall is the Chief People Officer at Benefex.



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