Is Happiness Something Organisations Should Target?

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The Government in the UK started to measure “happiness” several years ago. Many businesses and organisations measure “employee engagement” and customer satisfaction but should they be focussing on something so vague? My years in research and insight tell me that these things might be “interesting” but at the very least are not particularly useful, and in some cases are downright foolish.

Why do I say this? Perhaps a brief delve into some basic psychology will help to explain. In order to be “happy” a human being needs to feel safe, as a hygiene factor and “loved” as a fluffy factor. I use the word fluffy not to demean the feelings around being loved but as a hard description of the many beneficial feelings around feeling loved, which for each of us will be different. So fluffy, in that they go in different directions to create the soft warm feeling which most of us will associate with being loved.

In measurement it is important to be accurate. If one sets out to measure a room for example, one would start at one end and take the measurement at the other end; no one would stand in the middle with a tape and guess the size. So why is it that in measurement of human factors, such as happiness and engagement, the measurement is done in this manner, and still considered sensible?

So why is this approach taken? My thesis on this suggests three reasons:

1. It has always been done like this, so why change it?

2. It is easier for the researcher because they can convince themselves that the respondent is able to dissect their levels of happiness/ satisfaction/engagement and therefore report on them objectively (I would argue that most people could not be this objective about something so personal, and be accurate).

3. Those who use this method may not have fully thought through and understood the meaning of what they are doing. Because virtually everyone in the space uses an inaccurate and misleading method how could it be wrong? This is the “Flat Earth” theory of research.

My work in this area over the last twelve years shows the there is a far better way. Something which promotes a feel good factor for teams and ultimately produces happiness for everyone involved.

What we know from our experience in this field is that organisations follow their measures so if the measurement is too narrow or in the wrong space so will be the direction of travel. If a hard working member of the team sets out to follow a measure which is pointing in the wrong direction they will get themselves, their team and their organisation to the wrong destination pretty quickly and wonder why all their efforts have been in vain. So could taking the opposite approach also be true?

How Do You Measure Happiness?

So what does an organisation that is committed to happy, engaged and satisfied staff and customers measure? And is this something which should be a target? Let’s take the target question first, my works shows the measures needs to be a vision, not a target. Without playing with words there is a difference and it is an important one.

A target needs to be SMART – that is specific, measurable (that one again), actionable, realistic and timed – a vision is something bigger and more aspirational than that, beyond measurement and aligned to feelings, which is where happiness sits. So the short answer is “no” happiness, engagement and satisfaction should not be a target as they sit in the “vision” or core purpose space and that is far too important to measure in a transactional way (we call these ‘head’ measures), although it is invaluable to understand whether you are on the path or not, and to do that the measurement needs to be in the ‘think and feel’ space, rather than the busy, transactional one.

Before anyone thinks that targets have no place in delivering visions or a core purpose let’s answer the question about what organisations who want happy, engaged and satisfied staff/customers need to measure. Firstly, they absolutely do need to measure; they need targets which are clearly set out to allow people to feel that they are on the right path, especially if they have a large workforce spread geographically, hierarchically or any other way. This is where the concept of measuring “the halo” comes in.

The halo effect of an organisation is the feeling which draws people, customers, the right staff and stakeholders to that organisation. The halo of an organisation is very straightforward to measure. It needs to be set as a “wide gate”, as happiness, in its best sense needs to be set with wide parameters, in order to catch as many people as possible. This makes it sustainable and attainable.

So that is the theory, now for the practice of measuring organisation’s halo, and therefore happiness. If we go back to the things which make people happy; feeling safe and loved, this needs to be mapped to the organisation’s core purpose, what drives that core purpose, what are the component parts and for individuals, how do they contribute to its manifestation? To help understand this, below is an example of how this is done.

Why Design in Happiness?

When I first started thinking about measuring happiness, satisfaction, engagement whatever the generalisations are, I spent time working out what happiness would feel like for the team at Halo. I mapped out the things which people would say to us which would leave us feeling like we have fulfilled our core purpose. What I found was that there is a very wide gateway for us to feel happy with our work and the difference we make; so organisations need to give themselves the same wide parameters, for the people in them, being served by them and even investing in them to feel confident and happy in their work, which in turn will allow them to feel happy in themselves.

Something, we have learnt from many years in research is that whilst everything can be in place to ensure the customer, staff member, whoever else the focus is on, is happy, there may be other factors at play which means they are not. What is important is that the organisation’s systems and processes are in place to allow all the various stakeholders to be happy and that they do not manage out the opportunity of happiness, which they easily can, if they are not aligned correctly.

Sometimes some numbers help make the case for a different approach. For one client we used our Halo measures to help them measure the difference being made. The approach we used was in what I would call the “happiness” space and the results were encouraging. In this case study we had the benefit of another part of the business using a more traditional, NPS type measurement system. Once a year we conduct an annual study, this is used to drive performance through the business. A key measurement is trust. It is key because trust and being trusted is something which most people find rewarding.

Using this case study we can see in the last five years the Halo driven part of the business has increased their trust numbers by a third, whereas the non Halo driven part has largely stayed the same.

When we took overall satisfaction and matched that, we found that for the Halo driven part of the business satisfaction had nearly doubled and for the non Halo part they were a third down on where they started five years previously.

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Which rather shows that processing and measuring happiness into an organisation is definitely worth it, as beyond any feel-good factors; there will be lower staff attrition, the right people – that is customers and staff will be drawn to the organisation and a low cost trust model can be used in managing the teams rather than an expensive command and control one. If the City financiers started asking questions around the levels of what we would call “Halo” measures in an organisation, rather than the too flat satisfaction and engagement, or worse still recommendation numbers, they could be much more confident in their investments and in their decision making around these investments.

We can always tell when an organisation is about to tumble based on our very reliable set of “wide set happiness” numbers. Using any of the other measures is far too unpredictable to call, and in our experience purely guesswork. So a very crucial reason for designing in happiness is to have reliable, accurate measures on which to predict the future.

A delegate to a conference I was speaking at said “wouldn’t it be amazing if all organisations had measures the people in them could be proud of?” Well, there are plenty of organisations who are really committed to their people, customers and stakeholders being happy with their outcomes so perhaps a campaign is required; measure the halo not the head and use measures, which people can be proud of and in turn build strong organisations that give people the chance to be happy.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent analysis! Wondering if this would work in India! It is my experience that if you give them an inch they tend to take a yard!

  2. Thank you, Cedric, not just for your compliment but also for an excellent question. Halo would work as long as the balance was correct between what I call “head” measures, that is the hard, transactional things and the “halo” measures which are the softer, “happiness” measures. So for example the base level of transactions per week would need to be reached, as a hygiene factor before being rewarded on achieving the softer, but probably more important halo numbers. Once the level is determined for the correct head number it may be possible to drop this as a target to focus on the halo measures. This is because in time, as organisations and the people in them develop it is much more efficient to run on a trust model than a command and control one. Halo measures develop trust, whereas, often, but no always, head numbers drive a command and control one.

  3. I am glad you liked the piece Nancy, and thank you for your comments. I looked at the case studies on your link and they are certainly very interesting. In 2012 The Cabinet Office ran a competition called Launchpad where they asked businesses to suggest ways in which Government and their agencies could be more efficient and better overall. We entered that along with 350 other businesses and Halo came second, this was meant to lead to work with Government departments as they took up the ideas they had voted for. We had lots of meetings but so far have yet to use Halo to improve efficiency in any Government department. If you would like to meet with a view to working together I would be delighted to do so.

  4. Great article! We have been focused on our team’s happiness for about 5 years now. We have built several tools to measure individual happiness. . . My favorite is the one we dubbed the “Happiness-O-Meter” We’ve finally settled on a score we call TPS . . . and yes, we produce a TPS report on a monthly basis. It rolls up every team’s collective Engagement / sense of well-being score into a company wide “bottom-line” number. We look at this number just as critically as we look at our income statement.

    I was so glad to see of other businesses taking employee happiness seriously!

    Nice Work!

  5. Thank you, Tripp, your Happiness’O’Meter sounds excellent and to have been doing it so long proves that it works. We just need to keep spreading the word. I think in ten years time people were wonder what was going on when businesses put more emphasis on money numbers than people ones. You are a trailblazer, thank you for sharing your story.

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