Bonfire Blogs #3

This is the fourth in my series of blogs on the ‘Bonfire with Soul’ course I did courtesy of Duke Stump and the Do Lectures late in 2020. This is about the third of the twelve principles that Duke shared and illustrated through a 15-minute video synopsis and then a 45-minute video of a call between Duke and an exemplar of that principle.

This one has taken a while, not because it’s tricky – just home-schooling and work getting in the way!

This time it’s all about connections and relationships.

‘Live Empathy’

On the face of it, this principle is all about trying to really connect with people as a means to work well with and sell services and products to other people. And by ‘sell to’ I obviously mean make the things that people actually want rather than try to make them want the things that you happen to make. There is a lot in here about empathetic design.

However, it is also about efficiency; we often assume that quantity is best: more connections, more sales, more stuff… but (and this is Cost of Sales 101) sometimes fewer, deeper, less transient connections mean more compelling relationships that give far more value over time and require far less graft when seen in the long view. If you treat everyone poorly because you’re not taking the time to get to know them, you’ll soon run out of customers and will find yourself pedalling ever harder to find new markets.

“You’ve got to slow down to hurry up”

(horsemanship ethos)

Duke uses the example of horse-whispering to make the analogy of are you trying to ‘break’ others to your will or trying to work with them to achieve success?

“You can pull a flock or shepherd a flock… empathy is an incredible tool that allows culture and brands and people and leadership to flourish.”

Duke Stump

By empathising we develop understanding, by understanding we can build a connection, and by connecting we can develop loyalty. Great individuals and great brands build a loyalty which means they don’t need to ‘sell’ to you again, you’ll come to them. There are definitely brands who no longer need to sell to me, I go looking for them when I need a product or service.

On a more personal note think of the people you *know* you can always turn to for support. They’ll be people you have that bond with, usually through some shared experience, and it’ll be that knowledge and empathy for who they are, their lived experience, and their knowledge and empathy of who you are and your lived experience that binds that loyalty.

Truth, Responsibility, Unity.

TRU Colors mantra

The case study exemplar this time was Khalilah Olokunola, then the Executive VP of HR at TRU Colors (now the Chief People Officer). Both Khalilah and TRU blew me away. TRU Colors is a for-profit brewery in Wilmington North Carolina with a powerful social mission to stop gang violence by creating an economic opportunity to be employed in brewery. Active gang members undertake a 60-day programme to set them on a path of personal and professional development towards a life of purpose, peace, and prosperity. By working with active gang members, they meet their beneficiaries where they are without asking them to renounce that allegiance, and by working with active gang members and purposefully recruiting staff from rival gangs they build empathy, understanding, relationships, and shared purpose which finds its way back into those gangs.

Fundamental to this model is a process of empathising with how and why gangs exist and an understanding that they are more like brotherhoods than criminal outfits. They often have values and purposes that any organisation would be proud of and that the gangs suffer as much from drugs and violence as their communities do and they need to be part of any process of reducing problems.

Khalilah herself spent time in prison for gang and drug offences but has now built their ‘DisruptU’ induction programme that not only provides the internship into a role at the brewery but also wrestles with all the issues that would typically derail such a process: emotional intelligence, relationships, physical and mental well-being. They learn social and business skills, learn civic history, and far more. It’s this empathetic approach to the systems that real people live within that makes it work. That systems approach to a really wickedly complex problem is amazing.

“It starts with us, but its not about us.”

Khalilah Olokunola

And the process doesn’t end there, they’ve grown an HR process that builds on it with ongoing ‘life’ support, celebrations, an internal competition for ‘community cash’ that cuts across existing allegiances.

“Empathy leads to Understanding which leads to Connection, that’s effortless loyalty.”

Duke Stump

Living empathy is about building relationships; two-way communication and trust, and investing in your connections with other people in a way that goes well beyond selling.

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