Category Archives: Happy companies

Herb Kelleher: I think people should have fun at work

I stumbled on this interview with Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines and it is all kinds of awesome.

From the interview:

Well, I think people should have fun at work. It should be an enjoyable part of their life. They should gain psychic satisfaction from it.

I think most of us enjoy fun, and why not at work as well as at play? And so we’ve always encouraged people to be themselves, not to be robotic, not to be automatons. We don’t expect you to surrender your natural personality when you join Southwest Airlines. We want you to have some fun, we want you to have psychic satisfaction from your job. It’s not just about money, it’s also how you feel about what you’re doing.

We want people to be recognized, participated, diligent and creative. And you can’t ask people to be someone other than themselves and have that kind of creativity and dedication and participation. So, we liberate people at work.

Go see the whole thing.

The CEO who made pancakes

From the workshop

A few weeks ago I did a workshop for a pharmaceutical company in Iceland called Medis as part of their 30 year anniversary and strategy kick-off. As you can see, they kinda liked it :) The guy in the front row in the blue suit is their CEO Valur Ragnarsson.

Now, as we all know a workshop itself changes nothing so we always work with our clients to come up with a plan that will actually make a difference in the workplace. As part of that plan, I challenged Valur to come up with something he could do that would be fun, easy and visible – just to show people that he is committed to creating a happy workplace.

And a few days later he sent me these pics where he’s making fresh waffles and pancakes for his employees:

medis 1

medis 3medis 2What an awesome idea :)

I asked Valur how he liked the experience and here’s what he said:

I thoroughly enjoyed it – the biggest joy I actually got out of observing the reaction of the colleagues !

FYI we did not announce anything but simply showed up in the corridor without notice and took people pleasantly bysurprise….. now it will boil down to a plan and team supporting this (which we have in place already btw).

The only problem was that the smoke alarm kept going off, so they had to temporarily disable it :)

medis 4

Well done, Valur!

Just to be clear: We’re not saying that you can turn an unhappy workplace into a happy one, by having the CEO make pancakes :)

What we’re saying is that upper management can support the process of creating a happy workplace by doing something fun and unexpected that shows employees that they are committed to the goal and willing to go a little bit outside of their comfort zone.

Get to know new employees

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In the last two months we have doubled the size of our company. We used to be three but we have added two interns and one full-time employee, who are working on some really cool projects for us.

Basically, Thomas, Nanna and Sofia in the picture above are our research department. We call them Woohoo Labs :)

Any time you add people to a team, it’s essential to get to know each other. The best tool we know for that is Personality Poker, so of course we played a game and ended up learning a lot about ourselves and each other.

2014-08-12 11.40.06Here are the personalities of everyone in the team:

2014-08-12 12.16.52

No matter which tool you use, it’s important to get to know the people you work with – both their professional skills and their personalities.

How do you do it? How does your team welcome new members?

What makes Zappos a happy workplace?

I’ve previously written about US online retailer Zappos and what makes them such a happy workplace.

In this video I talk to their Director of HR Hollie Delaney and Jamie Naughton who is Speaker of the House and we especially focus on the Zappos culture which permeates every aspect of running the company.

I also ask them how weird they are – but there’s a point to that :-)

Going green at Google

googleData centers like the ones run by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others consume huge amounts of energy and Google is taking the lead in making sure that the energy is renewable:

“Google is the most aggressive [tech company] in advancing a clean energy agenda, analysts say. Google has made 15 wind and solar investments totalling more than $1 billion.”

About 34 percent of Google’s operations are powered by renewable power.

“That’s through a combination of renewable resources that are in the utility areas that we operate, as well as the direct power procurements that we’ve done,” he said. “Our goal is to be 100 percent renewable powered.”

I respect Google greatly for this attitude. I also think that it’s one way for a company to make their employees a little happier at work. If you know that your workplace is actively working to minimize their ecological footprint or even to make the world a better place, that can bring a sense of pride and meaning to your work.

The poster boy in this area is of course Patagonia, who have committed their entire operation to improving the environment and donate 10% of their profits to environmental causes every year.

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Kill the suggestion box – here’s a much better way

Almost every company talks about empowering their employees, but few actually do it an any meaningful way. In many cases it becomes a sham process, where employees are encouraged to voice their opinions and those opinions are then promptly ignored.

And the best (or is that worst) symbol of fake empowerment is the suggestion box. Many workplaces have one hanging on a wall somewhere. You can stick in your idea, but then what? Who (if anyone) will read it? Will it ever be acted upon? If not, why not? If it is, who will take credit?

It’s time to kill off the suggestions box and the coolest way I’ve seen to do this comes from marketing agency Quirk based in Cape Town, Johannesburg and the UK.

They have created a process that let’s anyone in the company suggest ideas, gather support for them and then have them implemented (or not). When I visited their Cape Town HQ I had a chance to see it for myself, and I think every workplace who wants to give their employees a voice should do something similar.

This flowchart shows how it works:
Flow Chart

The first step is to post your idea to a board that hangs in a prominent spot in the office and get 12 of your coworkers to also sign on. If you like an idea, you show your support in a very low-tech way: you put a sticker on it.

Overall Board

Some ideas die at this stage – there’s just not enough energy or support behind the proposal. All ideas that don’t make it for one reason or another are displayed in The Graveyard:

Grave Yard

Here you can see each idea that failed and why.

If an idea does get the necessary support, the person behind it writes a one-page proposal which is then submitted to Quirk’s EXCO, which is basically their top leadership team.

If they approve it, the idea goes ahead immediately and is placed on the “Ideas in motion” section of the board:

Ideas In Motion

Ideas that were previously approved are shown on the “It’s happening” section.

It's Happening!

Of course, the leadership group can turn the idea down, and if they do, they must carefully explain why they don’t think it’s a good idea. They can’t just say “No” or “Maybe later.”

But as you can see from the flow chart above, even if the leadership group turns an idea down, that need not be the end of it. If a person feels that this idea is still to good to ignore, it can be put to a debate and subsequent vote inside the company. If the idea is voted through, this overrides the EXCO’s decision and the idea goes ahead anyway.

Another thing they do on the board is highlight the costs of previous ideas, so employees know how much things end up costing.

Parking Lot

I think this process is absolutely brilliant for 5 reasons:

1: It’s visual
It’s not just a bunch of documents or lines in a spreadsheet – this is highly visual which gives you a great overview. It’s also well-designed and looks pretty, which probably helps a little too.

2: It’s low-tech
This could also be done on the intranet or in an app, but I kinda like that it’s on paper and cork board and you vote with stickers. This also makes it very flexible. Also, a page or an app is on demand – that means that people need to be proactive to access their democracy (and apathy is a killer). This board is a sort of dynamic wallpaper – it sits in front of your eyes while you butter your toast in the kitchen – you can be as passive as you like – the democracy comes to you.

3: It’s fast
The process is fast. The leadership group have committed to addressing each idea at their next meeting and this means that ideas can get acted on while the energy is still there.

4: It has memory
The board is a great record of previous failed ideas (so you don’t have to deal with the same proposals once every 6 months from different people and it also highlights ideas that were implemented, so you can see that this actually works.

5: It’s transparent
This takes most of the politics out of these ideas. Getting your idea implemented is not about who you know or how well you can lobby for it, it’s about gaining support for good suggestions.

There is zero doubt that autonomy and control over our own situation makes us happy. The more we can meaningfully contribute to things we care about at work, the prouder and happier we feel. And that way the company can also better tap into the creativity of its employees and become more efficient.

So simply put:

Fake empowerment = frustration and cynicism.

Real empowerment = trust and happiness.

Your take

Does your workplace empower its employees? For real or in a fake way? If you have a really good idea, do you know where to go with it?

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Photo credits: The awesome picture above of the suggestion box is from a train station in Moshi, Tanzania and was originally shown here. All other photos are courtesy of Quirk.

Company to employees: Got an idea for more happiness? Just do it!

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 09.01.56

Last week when I was in London I met Gaye Andrews who is Head of Customer Service, EMEA at PEER 1 Hosting and very much the woman behind creating a great workplace.

She shared a cool policy they have: Any employee who has an idea to make work more fun or the office a little more cool that costs less than £100 can just do it and expense the amount.

As an example, that’s how they got space hoppers.

I think it’s a cool idea, that can remove layers of bureaucracy and get employees involved in making the workplace better and happier.

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Happiness at work at NRI

I just got one of my favorite kinds of emails – from a company who is doing something to create a happier workplace.

Dean Stainton who is the Director of Client Services and People Systems at NRI Distribution in Canada wrote:

I wanted to reach out to you and let you know about a couple of things.

I had the fun of meeting you at the Worldblu Live Conference in Denver and attending your session on workplace happiness. As a result of that experience I decided to try something when I got back to our work environment.

I am very fortunate that I have accountabilities on both the HR and the Client Services side, knowing that getting 12 customer service reps onside with workplace happiness would be far more difficult than 4 HR people I decided to give it a try and tackle Workplace Happiness with the 12.

I bought copies of the book for everyone (Happy Hour is 9 – 5) and everyone took some time to read it on their own. After reading the book we discussed it in our weekly meeting (which has been named Happy Hour!) and each Client Services Rep and myself were left with three questions to answer:

  1. What can you do to make NRI a happier place to be?
  2. What can we do as a team to make NRI a happier place to be?
  3. What is stopping you/us from doing the answers to the above?

Those are some great questions and Dean’s group came up with plenty of ideas and have implemented two already.

Dean's team
Dean’s team

One is a Praise Window at Dean’s office (erasable markers are available at the window and coworkers write down good things about each other for everyone to see). Dean writes:

No matter what people have written they are doing it with a smile on their face and typically a little giggle. Everyone who comes by stops to have a read and all either smile or laugh too….it is really contagious (but you already knew that). It has gotten to the point now where people in the warehouse are talking about doing the “praise window”. It has been particularly neat to see this coming from the Client Services side, as people have typically expected things like this from our HR team.

Someone else suggested “sharing the love,” writing:

I know that every now and then I get an email from a client who is super stoked about something. Most of the time I’m just happy that they’re happy and delete the email. Recently I forwarded one of these emails to Ops to SHOW them that the client was happy with the work they had done. This is praise coming directly from the client, and not just boring old me who says “yay! Thanks!” all the time. I think it was awesome for them to see, and made them feel good about their work! I know this isn’t something that happens often, but when it does…..share it!

Dean sums the whole thing up like this:

The ideas and enthusiasm have been amazing and once realizing that they didn’t need anyone’s “permission” to do cool, fun things it has been contagious.

And this is the team doing it, not the Manager asking them to do it!

We are very early in our journey but wanted to let you know the impact that your insight and passion have had on our team. I anticipate that the next time I send you an email it will have expanded past the Client Services Team. Thanks Alex!

What I really like about this is two things:

  1. That Dean gave his team a chance to talk about what they could do to create a happier workplace
  2. And of course that they then did it

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: Happiness at work is something we do.

I suggest you find a way to ask some of the same questions in your workplace and if you come up with something cool, please tell me about it :o)