Building a business people actually love
Building a business people actually love can be a significant challenge for ‘people professionals’ to navigate. This article explores how to practice what we preach!
There have been numerous research studies conducted into happiness at work. Studies such as the one conducted by economists at the University of Warwick concluded that “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity”, they actually found it led to a 12% spike in productivity and that “Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.” Dr Eugenio Proto, observed that happier workers are able to “increase the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.” So there’s a proven commercial imperative to getting it right!
But is happiness the metric we should be measuring? Is it tangible enough? Is it even professional? Should we rather be talking about engagement? We’ve considered this carefully, reviewed a lot of research and come to the conclusion that people want to be happy and that engagement only plays a bit-part in that.
What is it people love about working in a business?
Research indicates that in general the average employee is motivated by “culture, respect and pride”. Other factors impacting people loving their jobs were identified as things such as a place where they can belong (the community side of that ranking highly), sense of significance and progress, challenging work, variety and flexibility, autonomy, recognition and reward, feeling that work is a safe, fair, supportive and fun environment.
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek
Martin Seligman (2011) identified the three components of positive emotion, engagement and meaning in his authentic happiness theory which is pretty well aligned with that of Annie McKee (2014) and the team at University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. They found that the main ingredients to employee happiness are a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. Let’s unpack that a bit:
Employees need rewarding work that excites them. They need to feel that their work matters and contributes towards something big that matters to other people. That’s why it’s really important to have a clearly communicated commercial goal or a higher ‘do-good’ purpose for employees to align with. It’s also essential that they have enough autonomy to own and feel proud of their achievements, with enough support to have a sense that they and their work are important to the organisation. Support can take many forms, but crucially people need to feel heard and nurtured in a ‘safe’ learning environment. And by that we mean a psychological safe environment where people feel safe to give honest feedback (rather than the given of a physically safe place).
Research consistently presents a strong correlation between colleague happiness at work and enjoying the company of those they work with. Whether that’s respecting their professional capabilities, cohesive team player nature, or just that they’re positive to be around. Having people in your business that others can develop close, trusting, and supportive working relationships with, is a critical component to building a business that people actually love.
People need purposeful work in order to feel they truly belong in an organisation, then a higher alignment is additive. Building a business people actually love is much easier with a blank canvas. Ensuring that your hiring strategy is not only about skills and experience, but cultural alignment helps to build a business people love. Research indicates that when peoples personal vision aligns with that of the organisation they work for, they feel a greater sense of belonging and engage more. So ensuring that your corporate vision is clear and well communicated can really help with achieving alignment with both existing and incoming colleagues. Organisations often struggle with employees, customers and investors aligning with a corporate vision, whereas unanimous alignment with a direction of travel seems to work for them.
We’ve done a lot of work with large multi-billion euro businesses. Many recognise a need to step away from archaic autocratic leadership practices to empower leaders throughout the business to lead in a more horizontal way. This is the best way to facilitate long-term organisational health that enables scalability without the bottleneck of all decision-making being the domain of the Board.
As Steve Jobs famously said:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Each of those ‘happiness ingredients’ of meaningful vision, a sense of purpose and great relationships should be relatively achievable in a smaller organisation, where communication and relationship building should be a less complex task. However, as an organisation grows and scales, it becomes more challenging to keep it personal, prioritise people over numbers and ensure the consistency of those ‘ingredients’.
The associated operational overhead of scaling may necessitate you engaging in tasks you don’t find intrinsically rewarding. It could also require you to rely on third parties who may not be entirely aligned with your vision and purpose which could disrupt the culture you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. This in turn can cause a dilution or diminishing of confidence in your corporate narrative, whereby your ability to execute is less within your direct control with more dependencies and the trust level drops.
And on the subject of trust, whilst a small company can operate on a more informal trust basis, as it scales, systems, processes and procedures are required to maintain alignment of a larger workforce. It’s important that employees don’t see the implementation of these changes as an undermining of trust, but rather the enabling of autonomy, accurate reporting and performance management needed when building a business.
Just as modern microservices use APIs to connect, teams need to become more loosely coupled to accommodate growth in a dynamic way. This is an experience we live in the incubation of new Rokker Network businesses. It’s also the way that we help our clients to both develop new businesses and extend existing ones.