Bringing Empathy into the Workplace

Leading with empathy builds trust, improves productivity, and enables collaboration. Here's how to cultivate an empathetic workplace culture that inspires everyone to do the same.


The last several months haven't been easy for big tech. Having spent my 25+ career directly in the heart of the tech industry, I've seen highs and lows impact everything from unemployment to consumerism. As I reflect on the state of the industry and its future, I keep returning to the leadership skill that continues to be my north star: empathy.  

I've been writing a series of blogs on empathetic leadership. So far, I've explored why workplace empathy matters, the types of empathy to display daily, and how to weave empathy into your leadership style. Here, I want to share how to center empathy in your workplace culture.

How to Bring Empathy into the Workplace

Leading with empathy builds trust, improves productivity, and enables collaboration. Here's how to cultivate an empathetic workplace culture that inspires everyone to do the same.

1. Put your people first.

Bringing together six disparate companies across four countries meant a lot of competing priorities. However, the one priority the entire leadership team agreed on was being laser-focused on putting our Crew first.  

The massive M&A we went through to create NewRocket required the streamlining of processes, the evaluation of tools, the caring of clients, and, most importantly – leading our new-found Crew with empathy.  

What did that look like? It meant putting our Crew first in every way possible. We chose to invest in and create NewRocket University – our world-class learning and development initiative, which has become more like a learning ethos central to our culture and company identity. We established a world-class Employee Experience program with Crew Members who focus 100% of the experience of what it means to work and NewRocket, and how that experience is enhanced daily.

I realize not every leader or company can (or wants to!) start all these programs and initiatives from scratch all at once. So where should you start?

2. Identify and Live by Core Values

An organization's core values are an established set of guiding principles that authentically define how your company and its people operate, behave, and interact daily. My favorite way to describe the function of a company's core values is simple: they define how a company and its people show up for their clients, their partners, their community, and each other.  

I firmly believe that as a CEO, it's not my job to select the values and order them implemented. It just doesn't work that way. I believe in letting your teams determine the north stars that will guide you. However, as CEO, it IS my job to uphold and live these pillars. I say this because simply establishing or defining a set of core values is the first step. A company's culture truly comes to life when the core values are ingrained, embedded, and at the heart of every decision made by every employee.  

As I've mentioned, NewRocket is the unification of six different companies, each with its own principles and value systems. How did we capture the essence of six legacy companies and distill it into whom we wanted to become?  

We asked our Crew.    

More specifically, we created the "Culture Crew” – a group of Crew Members from across each of the different legacy companies to evaluate each company's values, understand each's priorities, and determine where there was alignment and commonalities.

As the Culture Crew examined each company's culture and as we examined each company's culture and differentiating features, our Core Values almost came to life on their own, and our Crew Members landed on: Excellence, Creativity, Integrity, Teamwork, and Empathy (ExCITE). We've woven these core values into the fabric of who NewRocket is as a company and who we are as Crew Members. Our core values are a part of our everyday nomenclature. We've formulated our recognition program around them and even based our flagship company award on how an individual lives these core values. We recognize the values, not the results, and it's made all the difference for our Crew.

When your employees create your core values, your job to uphold them becomes simple. Live by them and embed them.  

3. Lead with employee feedback.

While collecting data on the employee experience is slowly becoming the norm (unfortunately, less than half of employers deploy engagement surveys regularly), leaders don't always use this data to its full potential. A recent report found that 60% of leaders design company policies with little to no direct employee input.

Employee feedback is a precious resource. At NewRocket, we've branded our annual engagement survey as Ignite! and have used it to inform new initiatives and areas of focus. We were even intentional about the name. We chose the word Ignite because of what it evoked: the spark of new ideas, change, and improvements. Powered by Glint, Ignite! allowed an anonymous platform where Crew Members provided rich feedback on what was working and where we needed to improve. The executive team then created a six-month action plan that took the top three areas of improvement identified by our Crew and created active workstreams. Our executive team updates Crew Members on progress towards these workstreams in our monthly all-Crew company meetings to show progress and accountability.  

Allowing our Crew to celebrate where we are winning and identify opportunities for improvement enabled us to act quickly. Look to employee data to spot weaknesses and rethink how your company works. Our Talent Acquisition often cites this as a competitive advantage when hiring new Crew Members – people want to work at an organization where employees are the experts in naming problems that throw off day-to-day workflows. Their input can help your organization level up quicker.

Speaking of hiring world-class talent: we also apply the same feedback loop to our newest Crew Members via our employee onboarding program. Our new employees inject new perspectives and ways of working while simultaneously learning our best practices.  

When crowd-designed policies fuel company success, employees become more confident in the collective judgment of the company. Employees who trust themselves and each other are more likely to speak up when they have an idea, offer candid feedback to one another, and contribute enthusiastically to the company's growth and success.  

4. Show you care about the big picture — and motivate employees to do the same.

In a recent Gartner survey, 82% of employees said it's important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee. According to Gartner, a "human-centric leader" leads with authenticity, adaptivity, and – you guessed it – empathy. While not surprising or even a new concept, these qualities used to be perceived as nice to have. Now employees expect them.  

In all my communications to our Crew, I try to remind them of the big picture – of our mission, vision, and why we're all here. Even during difficult decisions, I keep the 550+ Crew Members (and their families) at the center of my decision-making, and I make sure to share this with the Crew.  

I'm consistently reminding Crew Members of the five priorities we set at the beginning of the year. We use these priorities as a map – an opportunity to focus on the big picture. In our performance conversations, Crew Members set goals to map back to one or more of the company priorities for the year. This gives Crew Members a clear line of sight into how their contributions directly impact the success of NewRocket.  

Equally as important, I make a concerted effort to step out of the business lens and talk about bigger, more pressing issues, such as mental health and wellness. At our last all-Crew company meeting, we spent a substantial amount of time talking about these critical issues that affect a significant amount of people, and our Crew was the more connected for it.  

With focus and attention, you can accomplish anything, including putting empathy at the center of your workplace culture. Now that you know the incredible impact empathy can have on your organization and have all the tools, get out there and use them.

I'd love to hear how deploying empathy has impacted your technology, processes, and people.  

Connect with Matt on LinkedIn.

Want to work with us?

We're passionate about ServiceNow and love driving value for our clients. Simply fill out this form, we'll be in touch!

Want to Learn More? Talk to an Expert
Contact Us