Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

Let’s say you catch a vision for producing an elegant, useful phone app that millions will use daily to enhance their life. So you decide to found a tech company.

As you begin hiring your first employees, what baseline principle would you choose to define your new company culture? What would be your primary premise for attracting, motivating, and keeping the best people in your exciting and promising new organization? Would it be:

  • Money: People who work here will be high-potential individuals who can count on being exceptionally compensated.
  • Professionalism: People who work here will be outstandingly skilled specialists who can count on being exceptionally challenged.
  • Love: People who work here will be highly fitted with others on the team, and can count on being exceptionally cared for.

This Thought Experiment Was Actually a Scientific Study.

Here’s What Happened.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, two sociologists* wondered which founding premise would correlate with the most success. So they tracked 200 tech startups in Silicon Valley, examining how the founders’ underlying ideas about culture impacted business outcomes.

Only 13.9% of the startups prioritized love as a founding premise for company culture and people management. But, as it turns out, this minority group significantly outperformed the other groups.

When founders focused on building emotional bonds and shared values, they saw striking results in revenue and longevity as compared to the other groups. They also got initial offerings three times more often when they went public.

Leaders of highly impactful and long-lasting organizations know that love is the secret sauce of success. When work culture is built upon bonds of belonging and care—in a word, compassion—it sets the stage for magic.

Why?

The Brain Science of Belonging

Well, a lot has to do with the architecture of the squishy stuff inside our skulls. The human brain has developed to fear rejection, punishment, abandonment, shaming, and other negative behaviors coming from our social group. After all, in our ancestral past, these types of experiences could kill us. (Being ousted from the group was a death sentence if you were part of a paleolithic hunter-gatherer tribe.)

Fear-based social vigilance is cognitively expensive, though. This is why we love to watch Hell’s Kitchen. We understand how impossibly stressful it is to be creative and high-performing in an uncertain, unwelcoming, and threatening social setting.

Our brains are built to thrive in environments where there’s emotional safety, connection, closeness, and support. A culture of care and compassion means the social threats we most fear (like rejection, punishment, abandonment, and shame) are off the table. So we’re not spending our precious neurocognitive resources on social hedging. Plus, we know that if we’re struggling, someone’s got our back. Neurocognitively, this means three things:

  • Our brainstem-based threat detection systems are deactivated. This feels like the relief of letting down your guard.
  • Our limbic-based affiliative systems are engaged. This feels like the joyful comfort of having a “second family” at work.
  • Our prefrontal-based executive systems are fired up. This feels like the easy flow of focus, creativity, productivity, and problem-solving.

Organizations that prioritize love and compassion do better because human brains need safe, trustful, close emotional bonds to be at their best. This is especially true when people are struggling to recover from trauma, burnout, and overwhelm.

When caring, connected bonds are the backdrop of our working world, we stop worrying. We feel good. We show up. We work hard. We lean in. We take risks. We laugh and smile. In a word, we flourish—and so do the companies for which we work.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.