My controversial decision to treat love as a business strategy

The year 2020 has come to test each and every one of us. From a business lens—our resources, revenue, and adaptability. From an individual perspective—our patience, our compassion, and most importantly, our resilience.

As we continue to see new highs in reported cases of COVID-19, the virus has not dissipated as easily, or as quickly, as we all hoped. Unemployment records continue to soar. Racial tensions are charged, proving that the value of a person’s life is an entrenched issue that goes deeper than we thought. Despite these circumstances, we’ve seen extreme perseverance from Black America; a fierce commitment from customers to support their favorite businesses; and the hopeful determination of the human spirit at peaceful protests and marches around the world.

To deny any of these milestones would diminish the resilience we’ve seen at a national and global level. The volatility of our circumstances increases from day to day, and forces us to adapt personally and professionally. This is no different for Softway. Constantly, we are evaluating, pivoting, and changing in every single aspect of our business. And while we are grateful for this agility, the one thing we are staying true to is choosing love as our business strategy.

I’ve experimented with this philosophy over the last few years, testing theories and proving—in many ways—the influential power of love. The duress of the first six months of this year alone have taught me just as much as the past five years, and I have new insights, shaped and molded by these significant events. And through it all, the challenges of this year have all pointed to one winning strategy: love.

There’s nothing for HR to worry about

Love as a business strategy elevates people to the first priority of strategy and business objectives. Applying this lens changes everything. Beyond process and technology, this forces businesses to consider the human experience within their walls.

From the way Softway recruits, plans our budgets, how our policies are defined—all of these are influenced by love. For example, food is a huge part of the culture within Softway. So much so, that snacks and energy drinks to refuel our team are a line-item in the budget. And yes, it’s true—there is a special coffee named after us (ask Barbarosa for the Softway blend). Our entire organizational strategy is impacted by this philosophy, even the way we approach our clients. And it should be clear by now that we are not talking about romantic love.

After solidifying this strategy, one of our goals was to demystify what is qualified as “love” in the workplace. To us, it comes down to some basic tenets, like respect, empathy, and value. We’ve seen other companies attempt this strategy, but are afraid of the word love. Many people believe “love” is too soft of a principle, so you’ll often see a mission or vision statement employing “care” or “compassion.”

But unlike love, care and compassion can be as shallow as you want them to be. These values do not create depth of relationship or forge bonds inspired by loyalty and trust. They are merely lip-service and are often used as buzzwords to promote a false culture.

Love breaks the surface and gets down to the root. The level of intimacy created by love ensures that interactions are genuine, motives are pure, and selfish ambitions are put on a shelf. There are many imitations of love, but none of them are love.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I love this quote from Peter Drucker. It gives life to the type of business structure we strive to maintain.

People are at the heart of every business. Mostly, you see companies hinge their strategy on processes or technology—but the core aspect Softway values most is people. By focusing on culture, we ensure that our teams are properly equipped and trained, they are motivated, and are given an earnest chance to succeed.

But perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that a culture-focus also helps build a psychologically safe environment where employees feel valued. When employees understand their true worth in a company, they will feel protected and empowered. They will trust their leaders to look out for their best interests—and in-turn they will bring their full selves to work, they’ll give their all, and they’ll be loyal.

This inborn performance moderator allows management to spend less time correcting employee behavior and more time focused on improving service offerings. And that’s because we are not trying to mask toxic behaviors in our teams, we are trying to solve culture issues by coming together and building a united company. But it’s important to note that employees will model what they see leadership doing.

Softway has been working hard to demonstrate the behavior we expect from our employees—standing up for what is right, fighting bias and discrimination, and embracing change. We have been practicing speaking openly about issues that affect corporate culture, like Black Lives Matter, Diversity & Inclusion, failing fast, and more. If we create an open environment where we can discuss these things respectfully with the intention to learn—we empower our teams to do the same.

What does it mean to love your team as a leader?

Beyond commitment, there is a responsibility to another person when you say “I love you.” It becomes a promise to uphold a certain set of behaviors and principles that are in their favor. If we treat love as an action rather than an emotion, we create trust and build an environment where people are willing to share without fear of repercussion, where employees want to know what they can do to improve, where feedback is coveted and not feared. The all-too-common narrative of blame and finger-pointing disappears and is replaced with true collaboration.

Downturn is a cyclical reality of business. When those difficult times present themselves you’ll see your team band together and ride out the wave. This is directly opposite to the “every-man-for-themselves” culture created when people jump ship amid crisis. We saw this first-hand before we were able to bring back our furloughed staff—both the India and US teams worked tirelessly to bring everyone back, asking if they could trade time off or find other ways to help those impacted by the furlough. That type of camaraderie is invaluable as a leader.

Previously, I mentioned one of our other operating principles—servant leadership. My own journey to become a servant leader was the catalyst that shifted our business strategy to love. To me, you cannot have one without the other. They directly correspond and strongly depend on the authenticity of the other to succeed.

A personal transformation is how this shift must begin. Softway’s management team practices servant leadership, and they help enforce this strategy. Without their help and accountability, the foundation is too impermanent. Consistent empowerment of teams, forgiveness when mistakes are made, and celebrating the wins—big and small are a critical part of this framework.

We’re still working at it

How Softway is adapting, how love is keeping Softway afloat, how employees respond—all of this we discuss more in-depth on the “Love as a Business Strategy” podcast. Through humor, heart, and honesty, we engage in a challenging conversation about a challenging topic. And as our circumstances change, so will we—and so will the way we show love to our teams.

If you want to keep me accountable for applying love as a business strategy—I encourage you to listen to the podcast. I invite you to challenge my thinking or ask me questions about how this works. And if you think of a new way to employ love as a business strategy, I want to hear from you.

At Softway, we are first and foremost practitioners. We don’t promote or recommend anything we haven’t done or walked through ourselves. And while we are still learning how to love our teams amid a global pandemic, a recession, and a war against racism—I can tell you that this philosophy works.

I’ve seen the way my employees have come together this year and I couldn’t be more proud of them. The genuine affection we have for each other inspires me to work harder for them. I don’t want to let them down, and vise versa. That’s the beauty of a loving relationship—it’s not all on one person. I trust them to have my back just as I have theirs.

The old adage is true: "Love never fails."

Ready to have important conversations to drive real change in your organization? It starts with love. Let us show you how, with our podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. 🎙