Get happy: six ways to make your business more joyful (and effective)

Does happiness matter in business? Is the world a better or worse place? Depending who you talk to, it’s never been better or it has rarely been worse. But looking at the organisation and the business world, let’s ask: is happiness truly valuable? Is it practical? Can you actually drive a strategy that captures that value, isolates it and applies it in the organisation? Can we – should we – have a happiness strategy?

Happiness creates business value beyond productivity

When we talk about happiness in work, it’s usually code for worker productivity. But while productivity is vital and a natural product of people being more engaged, it’s the wider question of happiness in the organisation that provides greater value and delivers greater strength.

As the ways that people, technology, groups and organisations interact, driven by more intelligent processes, devices, analytics et al, become more complex and intertwined, there remain gaps that technology and process can’t close. But these gaps, in which ‘soft’ ideas such as satisfaction, engagement, worth and emotion are found – in other words, where happiness is located – are also where in the personalised, technology-centric world, new efficiencies and true value can be realised. Maybe we need to reach into the ‘soft’ areas of business to realise ongoing hard value. But how can you identify where those gaps are, and fill them? You could start by tying concrete performance ideas to the Ten Keys of Happier Living, as defined here. But that’s too fluffy, too personal and frankly too indistinct. So how can we model happiness in the business and drive it as a practical strategy?

The Happiness Strategy: a journey of people, technology and organisations – together

Let’s look at what we might call a very high level definition of strategy:

Strategy is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.

Perhaps this is only partial – but it’s certainly true; a necessary, if not a sufficient condition of strategy. But what’s it got to do with happiness? Well, perhaps if we reinstate the quote as it was originally:

“HAPPINESS is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”

M.K. Gandhi

This suggests that strategy and happiness are are directly connected in today’s increasingly people-focused, technology driven organisations. But we need to break anything, including happiness, into practical areas that can be applied and measured, for it to have practical, measurable value and therefore be part of a strategy. So here are a first-pass six steps to driving happiness at the strategic level in the organisation – all aligned to business benefits, to growth, and above all, to the needs, behaviour and complexity of humans.

  • Happy operations strategy – through clear goals, processes and responsibilities, aligned to human objectives and working patterns
  • Happy propositions strategy – through differentiated, simply expressed propositions, products and services, aligned to human needs and concerns
  • Happy communications strategy – through creative, clear, simple and bold, engaging mindful thinking, driving knowledge and critical thinking, internally and externally, and aligned to human ideas
  • Happy technology strategy – through simpler, more personal technologies, seamless connection, aligned to human need to interact and share and converse
  • Happy innovation strategy – through strong understanding of how trends are affecting your organisation, and brave aspirations for everyone, based on human need to achieve and progress and feel change happening around them.
  • Happy people strategy – through clear values, creative vision, and constant communication, aligned to human need to be part of something bigger and bolder.

Perhaps, by looking at these in turn and ensuring that they are aligned to (1) organisational benefit, (2) happiness at the general level and (3) future improvement, we can drive the ultimate goal of a happiness culture: a permanent and progressive culture, driving a more productive, effective and competitive organisation as a whole. By looking at happiness from more than one angle, you make it more practical; you also avoid driving one idea monomaniacally and undermining yourself – as you can argue that Tony Hsieh did, when he acted ruthlessly to fire a whole swathe of people from Zappos who didn’t buy into his positive vision, creating a raft of unhappiness in his quest for happy. Doesn’t stop him being astonishingly successful: but being focused on any organisation issue from one angle only is potentially dangerous.

The point is that the alignment of the business towards a new value system, one that values human interaction and builds structures and processes around the needs of humans, tends, over time, to become a healthier, happier and ultimately more productive and competitive place. Switching on a brighter, more brilliant and beautiful business world – in every sense.

Unless you’re Apple of course.