It is that time of year when we are being bombarded by Christmas advertisements which range from the schmaltzy to the bizarre. I am sure that since early January 2019 major retailers and their creative partners have been thinking how to ratchet the emotional blackmail up a notch on the scale so that once again, this year, we part with our hard-earned cash on mittens, scarves, Christmas puddings and quirky baubles. The adverts draw on the fact that Christmas is labelled as the “Season of Goodwill”. The online Cambridge Dictionary even defines the “Season of Goodwill” as the period around Christmas. And if you Google the term you get over 23 million results.
I do actually like Christmas (partly because when I was at Durham University it was the only time of the year when the email count plummeted to near zero). Furthermore, I am one of those people who gets rather maudlin during the festive season as I reflect on the year that has past and plan ahead, with hope in my heart, for the year ahead. I also love spending time with family and friends, those who provide unconditional love and support. However, I do have a problem with the term “Season of Goodwill”. Why is goodwill seasonal and not an all-year-round concept?
In accounting lingo, goodwill is the intangible assets associated with the purchase of one company by another. The value of a company’s brand name, solid customer base, good customer relations and good employee relations are examples of goodwill.
Calculating goodwill looks fairly straightforward in principle; however, in practice, it can be complex. The equation that is often used is Goodwill=P−(A+L); where: P=Purchase price of the target company; A=Fair market value of assets; and L=Fair market value of liabilities.
But I am not talking about the accounting goodwill concept (except that my thoughts do have a link to employee relations and internal brand values). I am focusing on the goodwill that is shown by people; that extra value that people bring to the organisation beyond the organisational contract.
From an organisational perspective, I think that those organisations that are successful, sustainable, which display high levels of wellbeing and exceptional levels of customer satisfaction run on goodwill. However, it is the goodwill of employees and colleagues within organisations that supports and drives the application of discretionary effort rather than effort which is confined within the boundaries of the job description. And it is this effort which supports and drives organisational success.
However some organisations have a blasé attitude when it comes to goodwill; they take it for granted and think there is an endless supply rather than understanding that goodwill needs to be cared for, nurtured and cherished like a delicate flower in the frost (where the frost is the harsh environment in which some organisations find themselves).
So let me develop the flower metaphor a little more.
Leaders need to remember that goodwill takes time to grow and develop and even more time to flourish. Leaders also need to think how to propagate goodwill so that the delicate flower spreads across the organisational landscape and creates a carpet of blooms. Leaders must learn about the fragility of goodwill and how to protect it and create the right conditions for it to grow.
A sudden change in the environmental climate or an absence of care and respect can damage the delicate flower that is goodwill. Weeds of mistrust and lack of appreciation can strangle the flowers.
The flower isn’t particularly hardy and once it is damaged or diseased its health is compromised and once it has died it is almost impossible to resurrect. When the environment has changed and the delicate flower has gone, re-sowing the seeds is purposeless as the seeds fall onto the barren ground. And significant work needs to be done to make the ground fertile again.
So how do we create organisations where goodwill can take root, grow and flourish? In my opinion, goodwill is built through establishing deep and authentic relationships with people; and creating an organisational culture built on trust, values and integrity.
However, we even use the word trust without really exploring and understanding what it means. There have been many research projects on trust and most point to the same three traits; competence, integrity and benevolence. So, to establish a climate of trust leaders need to help people develop their skills, knowledge and abilities; ensure that behaviours are in line with values at all levels; and ensure that the motives behind decisions and actions are good, kindly, charitable. Leaders need to help their people be the best that they can be and create an atmosphere of mutual respect and support.
To help develop and propagate goodwill unfortunately there isn’t an organisational equivalent of “Miracle Grow”. It takes hard work and skill along with tender loving care for the environment. It involves listening to and involving staff in decision making; good quality job design; giving permission for people to craft their own jobs; creating a strong strategic narrative throughout the organisation. It is about creating staff that are engaged with the organisation’s mission and purpose not just aligned.
It was not my intention in this piece to explore engagement in any depth, that is something I will write about sometime soon. I just want to sow the seeds of goodwill and consider it as a delicate flower which we can, with skill, love and care, support to grow and flourish. Also rather than goodwill being a seasonal flower like the beautiful poinsettia, goodwill needs to become an all-year beauty like the “sure-fire rose” begonia. I even think the name “sure-fire” is apt too!