More than 25 years ago, I was extremely fortunate to work at Kingfield Wholesale Office Supplies which was proud to sport the tagline ‘nice to be with’. Headed by Alan Hickman – one of the industry’s most amazing personalities – this eventually morphed into the ‘nice way forward’. This mantra still matters today: quite simply, being nice is great for business, employee morale and productivity, customer loyalty and brand reputation.
In the current fast-paced and competitive world, the importance of cultivating a positive and friendly environment cannot be understated. Being kind and respectful enhances workplace culture but can tangibly impact overall success.
Here are ten thoughts on why ‘nice’ works and why we ignore its influence at our peril for a successful, progressive and inclusive business:
1. Improved employee morale and engagement
Who doesn’t want to be employed in a pleasant, courteous environment with a deep sense of teamwork and a palpable feeling of belonging?
I retain strong memories of when we tried to integrate the second- and third-largest wholesalers in the OP industry from two separate entities into Kingfield Heath. They were very diverse cultures which needed to merge into one focused identity. We took our thoughts and vision on tour to customers, using the slogan ‘every step of the way’ – long before it was used in multinational banking advertising.
Alan was masterful in setting an example for each client he visited. He appeared to know everyone’s name and had taken the time to understand their specific circumstances. This spirit set the course for successful integration and cooperation.
2. Enhanced team collaboration
Niceness promotes openness, understanding and collaboration. Naturally, there are situations when we might feel less comfortable sharing ideas, seeking feedback and offering constructive criticism, but honesty, respect and consideration are crucial to creating an open and reciprocal environment. This fuels innovation and drives the development of novel approaches and solutions. It built the brand and was how the service proposition at Kingfield grew the benefits for all stakeholders.
3. Customer loyalty and retention
Being nice extends beyond associations within the organisation, it also seeps into customer interactions. Treating people with consideration and going the extra mile to ensure their contentment builds trust and commitment.
The Kingfield team satisfied clients by simply picking up the phone and conducting regular meetings and reviews to ask about their needs. This wasn’t us telling them what to do; it was about listening and empathising. The outcome was rapid growth in both new customers and product categories.
4. Real brand reputation
Kingfield was always looking to evolve and so the original slogan was subsequently modified into the ‘nice way forward’. Being known for niceness and compassion created a strong positive brand reputation. It increased brand loyalty, improved word-of-mouth marketing and gave the company a competitive edge.
5. Resilience in times of crisis
There were challenging times, but Kingfield’s culture of benevolence and mindfulness made a significant difference. When teams feel reassured and cared for, they are likely to band together and work collaboratively to overcome obstacles and deliver solutions. The business was known for treating its customers with awareness and sensitivity during difficult periods, which enhanced allegiance and trust.
6. Attracting top talent
Now, it’s easy to look back at that time and see an aggressive jobs sector, but the support net created ensured new employees saw more than just attractive salaries. They also valued working environments where they had a genuine opportunity to thrive and feel appreciated. Prioritising kindness and respect helped attract and retain high-performing individuals and they felt empowered to contribute to the organisation’s success.
7. Reduced conflicts
Here’s a really comforting thought regarding the following tough question: does the principle of being nice promote conflict resolution and reduce workplace tension? In our world, you bet it did!
It wasn’t perfect, but in the fast transitional environment in which we operated, members of teams were encouraged to address friction in a thoughtful manner and try to build a sense of unity and cooperation.
When clashes arose, the focus remained on finding resolutions rather than dwelling on fault. We tried hard to eradicate blame culture and instead replace it with personal responsibility.
8. Improved leadership
Alan set an enormous example by leading with understanding and empathy, consequently earning the regard and faith of colleagues.
He also ensured the company invested in learning and development and his leadership style enhanced staff motivation and commitment. The result was enhanced employee performance and satisfaction.
9. Increased productivity and efficiency
I’m convinced a constructive work environment, built on a foundation of care, results in increased productivity and efficiency. For 13 years, Kingsfield achieved double-digit growth and employees needed to be focused and motivated to genuinely feel valued and supported.
Everything I’ve said so far paints a pretty rosy picture, but there were times when we had to look inwardly and reassess our values. What we didn’t do was stray from the ‘nice way forward’.
10. Long-term business sustainability
Kindness is not a short-term strategy; it fosters a sustainable business model. The virtues of niceness, thoughtfulness and teamwork should always shine through. Companies that prioritise this tend to build enduring relationships with customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Being nice is an essential aspect of success. A hybrid working culture and the latest generation(s) displaying impressive caring attitudes can help organisations evolve. Encouraging niceness is likely to create a positive impact on the workforce, leadership and, above all, on our industry.
Some may disagree and think ruthlessness and self-interest make a more successful environment. But that, to me, is short-sighted, transient and unsustainable. The ‘nice way forward’ is a better route to lasting success.
Steve Harrop is Head of Commercial at Nectere – a service bureau helping resellers deliver a strong sales platform