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The Integral Role of Empathy in Leadership and Business

June 26, 2020



The Integral Role of Empathy in Leadership and Business

The Integral Role of Empathy in Leadership and Business

Norman de Greve, the CMO of CVS Health, discusses the importance of practicing empathy, both as a senior leader and an executive of the largest health and wellness company in the US. He describes their ongoing response to the COVID19 crisis—listening to customers and employees, addressing their needs, and communicating frequently. Norman shares his views about the beneficial outcomes for leaders who take empathy-driven action to build trust, connection, and demonstrate commitment to helping people achieve what they want to achieve. He notes how CVS Health measures and rewards empathy-driven results.


[01:13] Empathy is indispensable for business leaders to practice to help customers and employees feel safe.

[02:03] A strong focus on caring and empathy has long been a deep-rooted value at CVS Health.

[04:00] How integral is empathy now to corporate mindsets and practices, especially for leaders?

[04:46] Companies that are succeeding now have a deep understanding of both their employees and consumers.

[05:43] Norman shares how empathy has helped CVS Health respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

[07:00] How CVS Health listens to the voices of customers and employees to understand and address their needs.

[08:13] Considering the servant leader mindset and relevance in current circumstances.

[10:00] Key challenges CVS Health faced were being able to pivot quickly and preparing for the unknown.

[10:29] At the leadership level, what did CVS Health do differently?

[12:05] This crisis has brought out the humanness in people.

[13:18] Norman shares a more human approach as plans to return to the office are developed.

[14:06] How communication was the key to reassuring employees when CVS Health started Covid-19 testing.

[15:09] Across corporate environments, there is a heightened listening to, understanding, and responding to employees.

[16:00] How Norman is preparing for months of uncertainty and considering remote work options.

[17:24] Moving into a new world where we value the individual more than just a ‘resource’.

[18:30] Delivering empathy through a C.A.R.E.R. interaction model in stores increases customers’ adherence to their medication.

[19:21] CVS Health’s satisfaction scores are going way up because people are valuing empathy and kindness even more than ever in this stressful time.

[19:47] When CVS Health decided to track empathy internally, the reaction was ‘thank goodness’!

[20:30] An organization needs to deliver both operational follow-through as well as having empathic behaviors to enhance the customer experience.

[21:41] How empathy impacts the compensation of the management team of CVS Health.

[22:28] How does Norman define empathy?

[23:13] The role of empathy in cultivating a welcoming environment for a diverse population so people can reach their potential.

[24:08] We have a racism problem in America, as well as a mental health problem. People are not feeling enfranchised to bring all their skills and talents to work.

[25:26] How CVS Health supported their diverse workforce and achieved #24 on Diversity Inc’s top 50 companies for diversity for 2020.

[27:57] For leaders, Norman cautions that empathy is not just about listening, but also taking action.

[28:49] For any company, to enable everyone to bring their full potential, it starts with: what do we believe is the right vision for who we are and how we operate.

[29:37] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: Ask your boss how they’re doing, not just the people who work for you. It’s a way to connect and hear what’s going on, and people need it.


“It’s a very different environment than it used to be and companies that are succeeding are the ones that have a much deeper understanding both their employees and consumers.”

“The theory of the firm, which is usually why companies exist; and they exist to take the friction out of working together. Turns out Zoom does that pretty well.”

“This is challenging the paradigms we have in our heads.”

“Success really comes from a combination of operational and empathic behaviors.”

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