Break the Glass – Be Surprisingly Kind

This is the 4th installment in my series Break the Glass, where we are looking at what you can do to maintain a positive human experience in a time of great business disruption.

Our focus today is on being surprisingly kind. I was fortunate to be raised by a dad, who routinely mowed neighbor’s lawns every time he mowed his, “just because it was the right thing to do” and by a mom who made food that she shared widely because she believed “living is giving.” My small-town upbringing didn’t prepare me for a lack of concern for others. During graduate school, I often experienced this lack of concern as people cut me off on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. During my time in L.A., I remember reading a book titled The Rise of Selfishness in America and it began my journey to champion what I then called “otherness” and what my mother would have called kindness.

Let’s fast forward a few years, I was consulting for a physician and then CEO of UCLA Health, David Feinberg. (David is now the Vice President of Health at Google). Dr. Feinberg was looking at how to improve the human experience at UCLA (for his team members and patients alike). UCLA Health includes a renowned medical school, cutting-edge researchers, multiple hospitals that provide world-class clinical outcomes, and a vast network of premiere outpatient services.

However, UCLA Health ranked around the 35-percentile in patient satisfaction compared to other healthcare systems. As David put it, “I would get letters which essentially said, ‘Thank you I am alive.  Your team performed a miracle. However, there were times I was treated so poorly I wasn’t sure it was worth what I went through to be alive.’” That’s where kindness comes in.

David’s leadership team re-crafted their vision statement to read: “UCLA is committed to healing humankind, one patient at a time, by improving health, alleviating suffering and delivering acts of kindness.” From there, David and his team talked about kindness, A LOT!

They also collected and shared stories of kindness, to inspire and reward those who were practicing it. Within a relatively short period of time, UCLA went from the 35th percentile in patient satisfaction to the 99th percentile and stayed that way under Dr. Feinberg’s leadership tenure.

Prior to COVID-19’s disruption across much of the world, my team and I launched something we call the Surprisingly Kind movement. We are collecting and sharing stories of surprising kindness. Here’s how we think about the topic:

We believe kindness is a choice that is demonstrated through action. Rather than practicing “random acts of kindness,” we believe kindness must be intentional. We also believe that it is not enough to be kind only when it’s expected. We want to surprise others with kindness!

Finally, we believe stories of surprising kindness serve to inspire others, so I am asking you (during this time of huge human need) to be surprisingly kind and share stories of surprising kindness you offer or observe involving leaders, managers, team members, colleagues, friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers.

We will re-share those stories when you include the hashtag #surprisinglykind. Let’s combat selfishness, practice kindness toward our team members and customers, and share stories of surprising kindness. My mom and dad wouldn’t have had it any other way. I hope that is true for you as well.

If there’s anything I can do for you on your journey to outstanding human experience delivery, please contact me, and we’ll find a time to talk.

Until our next time together, be safe, be strong, and be surprisingly kind!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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