Category Archives: Leadership

Leadership is an insanely important discipline. Here you’ll find the thought, tools and tricks of the trade of great leaders.

Using the Science of Happiness to Create Happier and More Successful Companies

Happy workplaces are more profitable and innovative, attract the best employees and have lower absenteeism and employee turnover rates. Simply put, happy companies make more money.

But how do you create a happy workplace? Many companies try and fail because they focus on the wrong things.

Some of the best answers are found in the happiness science – a fascinating field with research going on all over the world.

In this talk from our 2017 International Conference on Happiness at Work I reveal the 5 most important findings from Positive Psychology and how they apply in the workplace.

We’ll be releasing more talks from the conference soon. Subscribe to our newsletter, if you don’t want to miss them.

Being great at your work vs. feeling great about your work

If we want to be happy in our jobs, we need to be good at our jobs.

We human beings have a basic need to know that we contribute, create value and can make a difference and effect change in our environment.

That’s why doing a good a job feels amazing. It gives us feelings like pride, accomplishment, fulfilment, growth and worth.

On the other hand, when we feel that we don’t perform well at work, it creates feelings like inadequacy and lack of control plus of course fear that we might lose our jobs.

And it’s also in the company’s best interest to make sure that every single employee and team is getting great results and living up to their potential. Companies typically focus on 4 areas to make that happen:

  • Skills: Training, competencies, job skills match,  …
  • Resources: Time, tools, IT-systems, …
  • Structure: Organization, plans, goals, budgets, strategy, processes, …
  • Support: Coworker+manager support, coaches/mentors, …

These are all important and enable us to get results. If your workplace is not giving employees these 4 things, then how on earth can you expect them to perform well?

If we want people to be happier at work, we can definitely help them get better results. We can give them better training, more resources, more support, etc. in order to help them perform better.

However, many people already get great results – but don’t feel that way. And if that’s the case, then they won’t be very happy at work.

This is a crucial distinction that few companies make – the distinction between getting good results and feeling good about those results. If we want employees to be happy at work, they also need the latter - and many don’t have that.

When that is the case, employees may get great results right now but it won’t be sustainable. When people are not happy at work, it hurts their motivation, productivity and creativity. Stress and burnout tend to follow.

So in addition to helping employees get great results, companies also need to make sure that people feel great about their results.

There are 3 things that give us that feeling of results.

1: Meaning

I saw this sign in the lobby of Danish pharmaceutical company Xellia, carrying probably the simplest and most inspiring company purpose I’ve ever seen.

As you may know, one of the biggest current medical crises is the increasing risk of infection by multi-resistant bacteria, which are immune to traditional antibiotics. Xellia produces an antibiotic that is still effective against multi-resistant bacteria. Their research and products directly saves lives all over the world.

It’s crucial that we know what we have to do at work, but  equally crucial that we know why we do it.

That is what gives work meaning and purpose: when you know why you do each task and how it somehow helps someone.

And it’s not enough that your work is meaningful to the organization – it must be meaningful to you. Your work must have a purpose that you believe is worthy.

On the other hand, if you have no idea why your work matters and no sense that it makes any kind of a difference, it really doesn’t matter how good you are at your job – you won’t be very happy.

Many workplaces take great pains to give employees performance goals to clearly show them what they are expected to do. But we must make equally sure to show employees why their work matters and how it makes a positive difference.

US online retailer Zappos are a great example of this. Whereas most customer service reps are measured on how many calls/emails they handle, Zappos’ employees are measured primarily on how happy they make their customers. The former metric makes sense only to the company, the latter is meaningful for employees too because it shows them that they make a positive difference for the customers.

2: Autonomy

When you are free to do your job your way, you are much more likely to take pride in your results and feel good about them.

On the other hand, if a micro-managing boss is telling you exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it, you are much less likely to feel good about the results you get, because they won’t be your results.

As much as possible, we should be free to choose:

  • What we work on
  • Who we work with
  • What approaches and methods to use
  • When and where we work

One of my favorite examples of this is Middelfart Savings Bank in Denmark, one of the happiest workplaces in Europe. How did they achieve that? They gave their employees huge levels of freedom and responsibility. Their former HR directors said this:

“You’d be amazed what happens once people are empowered to make decisions.”

Another amazing example comes from the US Navy, where nuclear submarine captain David Marquet gave his sailors unprecedented autonomy. He explained how he did it at our conference in 2015:

3: Appreciation

And finally, we feel good about the work we do when we are recognized for it.

Harvard Business School professors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer talk about this in their awesome book The Progress Principle. They sum up the book’s main message like this:

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

Even a small win can make all the difference in how people feel and perform.

Creating a culture of positive feedback in an organization is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to give employees a feeling of results.

When your coworkers, your boss or even the customers praise your good work, it clearly shows that you make a difference and get great results.

On the other hand, if you feel you do good work but nobody ever notices, it becomes much harder to maintain pride in your work. Some companies even take it a step further – they never praise good work, but all mistakes are instantly and severely punished.

Our absolute favorite way to praise others at work is The Poncho. Try it!

The upshot

It’s not enough to help employees get great results – we must help them get a feeling of results.

Of course we first need them to do good work. No one should expect to feel good about their work, if they’re not doing a very good job in the first place.

But that’s not enough.

Happiness at work only comes when people know that their work has meaning and purpose, when they have freedom and autonomy in how they work and when they are appreciated and recognized for their good work.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine that you’re very good at your job and get great results. But you have no idea why any of your tasks matter, somebody else has decided how you work on those tasks leaving you no freedom and autonomy and you are never recognized for any of your efforts.

How happy could you be at work under those conditions? How good would your results be in the long run? How soon would you lose all motivation and burn out?

So improving how people feel about their results is crucial.

It’s also a lot easier. Provided a person is very good at their job already, improving their feeling of results may be a lot faster and easier than improving their actual results.

It’s also a lot more effective, because if we can’t figure out how to make people feel proud and appreciated about their work, it doesn’t matter how stellar their results are – they will never be happy at work and their performance will ultimately suffer.

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Announcing the final 2 AMAZING speakers at our international conference

We have just announced the final 2 AWESOME speakers for our International Conference on Happiness at Work in May.

Camilla Kring: Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

Camilla Kring has a PhD in Work-Life Balance and as owner of Super Navigators, makes workplaces happier by increasing the Work-Life Balance of their employees.

She will show how flexibility is among the keys to well-being, and management must have the courage to address the flexibility of their company’s work culture because culture determines whether employees have the courage to make use of flexibility.

The first step is to set people free from 9-5 and that work is something that only can take place at the office. Work is not a place – it’s an ongoing activity. Second, focus more on results and less on visibility. Third, give people the tools to improve their individual Work-Life Balance.

Arnaud Collery: Storytelling and improvisation

Arnaud is an award winning Comedian and filmmaker (NBC’s last comic standing, MTV, Fuji TV, Comedy store, Little Klaus Big World – Best comedy film Monaco Film Festival 2012). He has coached numerous CEOs in myriad industries. He’s worked with clients like Cartier, Chanel, United Nations, Novartis, Axa, L’Oreal, BMW and Renault Trucks.

In his workshop Arnaud will show how we can find even more happiness in our careers, by understanding, owning and reframing our own stories. He will help you to build stronger, deeper and more relaxed relationships with your team and all those around you.

The workshop will be fun and fast-paced and based on techniques from storytelling and improvisational theatre.

See the full program and get your tickets here.

Positive feedback is much better than fault-based feedback

This is a fascinating experiment in how different types of feedback affect people’s persistence and success in a creative task.

Unsurprisingly, positive feedback that doesn’t punish mistakes is much more effective. People who lost points for wrong attempts and were given negative messages gave up sooner and succeeded much less often.

I’m convinced that the exact same thing goes on in many workplaces. We need to change that and encourage much more positive feedback.

Here are some tips on how:

Watch the 5 best speeches ever from our conferences on happiness at work

For the last 8 years we have arranged an annual conference on happiness at work in Copenhagen. The next one is on May 18+19 2017 and for the first time ever we’re making the conference international, so the whole event will be in English.

We want to show you just how energetic, fun and valuable this conference is, so here are five of our favorite speeches from previous years.

David Marquet (2013): Happiness at work on a nuclear submarine

When David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine the USS Santa Fe, he knew he needed to change a lot of things. It was the worst performing submarine, was never ready for its missions on time and was basically the laughing stock of the US navy.

David came in with a plan to improve the results on the submarine and thereby make its crew happier. By accident, he found that he had to do it the other way around: Make the submarine a happy workplace and results would follow.

The new plan worked, and the USS Santa Fe became the best performing submarine.

In this speech from our 2013 conference, David Marquet explains how he did it and how you can create a happier workplace too.

Srikumar Rao (2009): The two traps that keep us from being happy

One of the highlights of our 2009 conference on happiness at work in Copenhagen was Dr. Srikumar S. Rao’s wonderfully inspiring and funny presentation.

His presentation focused specifically on two traps you must avoid, that keep us from becoming happy.

Dr. Rao is the man behind the pioneering course Creativity and Personal Mastery, the only business school course that has its own alumni association and it has been extensively covered in the media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, the Independent, Time, the Financial Times, Fortune, the Guardian, Business Week and dozens of other publications.

The Free Help Guy (2015): Happiness is… helping others.

The Free Help Guy has devoted a large part of his life to helping others – free and anonymously.

He believes in doing what you can for others, that value doesn’t look like coins and notes and that for every problem there is at least one solution.

He also believes in anonymity rather than self promotion and in living by your beliefs, which is why you can’t see his face in the video.

In this inspiring speech, he shares his story. Read more at www.thefreehelpguy.com.

 Steve Shapiro (2011): Personality Poker

Does your organization help every single employee know their strong sides AND apply them more at work? Do people know and respect their coworkers’ personalities and preferences? Do you know what makes your coworkers happy or unhappy at work?

Steve Shapiro, the author of 24/7 Innovation and Best Practices Are Stupid takes participants at our 2011 conference through a game of Personality Poker, showing the 4 main personalities at work and what makes each of them happy or unhappy.

Henry Stewart (2016): 3 advanced tips for creating a happy workplace

Henry Stewart is the founder of Happy, a company in London that does computer and happiness trainings. They are also (naturally) a very happy workplace.

In this speech, Henry shares 3 advanced tips for creating a happy workplace:

  • Let employees choose their boss
  • Give pre-approval on big projects
  • Let employees set their own goals

Bonus video: The world’s happiest DJ (2015)

This isn’t a speech as such but it is one of our favorite moments from the conferences.

This is a German DJ who became famous on youtube a few years ago for being incredibly happy while playing. He used that as a springboard to quit the day job that he hated and become a full-time DJ.

In this video from our 2015 conference he plays a very short set and then shares his story.

Meet a man who had the courage to go his own way and became world famous for being happy at work.

Does all of that look interesting? Then join us in Copenhagen on May18+19 for our first ever INTERNATIONAL conference on happiness at work.

3 reasons why leaders should recognize effort instead of results

Here’s a thought experiment for you: Imagine two sales people working for the same company but in different regions.

Johnson slaves away in her area. She does a great job, she’s a professional and accomplished sales rep and she’s always ready to help her clients and colleagues. However, due to circumstances beyond her control she doesn’t reach her sales target this quarter. Maybe her biggest account goes bankrupt or maybe there’s just less economic activity in her region.

Smith, on the other hand, is lazy. He is not very competent and he never bothers to go the extra mile to help his colleagues or his clients. But due to circumstances beyond his control he achieves his sales target nonetheless that quarter. Maybe a big order drops in completely by chance, or maybe the growth in his region is increasing, or maybe his sales target just wasn’t ambitious enough from the start.

Which of the two deserves praise and recognition? Johnson, who does a great job, but performs below target or lazy Smith, who just got lucky this budget year?

To me it’s pretty obvious that it’s both better, more fair and more helpful to the future results of the company to acknowledge and reward the employees who have delivered the bigger effort.

And of course most companies do the opposite and reward only results, partly because results are easier to measure, but also because of we have a systematic bias for underestimating the ‘luck’-factor.

Daniel Kahneman is the only psychologist who’s been awarded a Nobel Prize. However he won it in economics, since there is no Nobel Prize in psychology. He got the prize for his work with identifying how humans make decisions and founding the field of behavioral economics.

One of the intriguing results of his research is that we highly underestimate the impact that luck has in many situations, and we massively overestimate the effects of our own actions. Good results are often due to luck (at least in part), but we choose to take credit for them anyway.

It’s extremely demotivating to those employees who have made an extra effort but don’t get recognition for it, to stand by and see their less competent (but luckier) colleagues receive both accolades and financial rewards.

Some companies try to solve the problem by creating more complicated bonus structures, but that’s rarely a good solution. Experience shows that bonus schemes are either so simple that they’re almost sure to be unfair to somebody, or so complicated that no one can make heads or tails of them. The study also shows that bonus schemes and rewards on the whole lead to poorer results, less motivation and inferior efforts. I’ve blogged about this before in this column.

To me the solution is simple: Leaders must focus just more on the effort of employees than on just their results. We must recognize not only those who reach their goals, but especially those who do an amazing job and even more so those who help others to become better at their job.

One great example if this is the New York-based company Next Jump. Their most important and prestigious employee award is not given based on performance but based on who helps others the most. In this video you can see their 2014 awards ceremony:

It’s not so straightforward, as results tend to be more measurable and visible. Encouraging a great effort will require that we as leaders have more insight and show more interest in our employees’ daily work. However there are three good reasons why we should do it anyway, even if it’s more demanding on us.

Effort is not reliant on luck
While good results may be due to luck, great effort is always due to the employee’s talents and attitude – and those employees who consistently demonstrate and improve skills, should clearly be recognized and celebrated.

A strong effort will – in the long run – always lead to better results
It’s no good if we only optimize for this quarterly result. We are optimizing for the next 20 or 30 quarterly results.

We avoid suboptimization
If we only recognize the employee’s results, we’re creating a culture in which we’ll do anything to obtain results – instead of doing what’s right for the clients and for the long term targets of the company. If I only get rewards for achieving my own sales targets, why on earth should I spend time and effort helping my colleagues?

The upshot

So leaders must encourage and acknowledge effort rather than results. In the long run it will create more fairness, more motivation and – ironically – better results.

Your take

What is valued most in your workplace – results or efforts? What does that approach do for your motivation and engagement? How has it affected you and your coworkers?

Write a comment – we’d love to hear your take.

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How time scarcity kills productivity – and 5 ways to avoid it

“Your car is having trouble and will need repairs at a cost of around $1,500. How would you handle that situation?”

Scientists from the University of Warwick led by professor Anandi Mani stopped customers at a New Jersey mall and asked them that question. Next the subjects took an IQ test and the results was stunning: For financially well-off participants, this question did not affect their IQ scores in any way. But people who were struggling financially underperformed by 13 IQ-points simply because their money worries had been brought to their attention.

This experiment is described in the excellent book ”Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan and professor of psychology Eldar Shafir, in which the two scientists clearly lay out the negative cognitive effects of scarcity.

When we have too little of something that is important to us we become a little dumber, less disciplined and we make poor choices. This helps explain - among many other things – why poor people keep taking out pay-day loans, even when they should know better and even though those incredibly expensive  loans just put them deeper in the hole.

And this is not only about lack of money; the book gives plenty of examples of how time scarcity has the same kind of effects, making us dumber and worse at managing what little time we do have effectively.

So, knowing this, why is it that so many workplaces mercilessly keep putting their employees under massive time pressure? Why do leaders consistently create time scarcity?

This happens when:

  • Employees are routinely expected to increase their productivity year after year with little or no additional support, training or resources.
  • A manager commits to their team doing more work with the same staff.
  • A company is growing and taking on new clients/projects without a commensurate increase in staff and resources.
  • An organization lays off staff but expects the reduced staff to the same amount of work.
  • Schedules are filled to capacity with meetings and tasks before the work week even starts, leaving no time for ad-hoc or unexpected tasks.

Some leaders think that these situations create a burning platform that pressures employees to work effectively and creatively towards the company’s goals, but the truth is the opposite: Time scarcity reduces employees’ cognitive resources and makes it much harder for them to do their jobs well.

And what’s worse, this can become self-reinforcing. Here’s an example: An organizations reduces headcount leading to increased time pressure and scarcity among those left. This weakens their cognitive capacity and productivity drops, leading to even more busyness and scarcity.

Is this something you see happening in your workplace? Here are 5 things we can do about it.

1: Take time pressure off employees

Instead of giving employees hard-to-reach productivity goals and filling their work week to the brim (and beyond) we need to give them more realistic goals and leave some slack in their schedules so any ad-hoc task that comes along (as it inevitably will) does not topple the whole load.

Most employees actually get more work done when they have productivity goals that are reasonable and within their capacity.

Here’s a great example: The IT company Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor only lets employees work 40 hours a week and then only schedules 32 hours of work per employee per week. That way there is no time scarcity and always time for unexpected tasks. This is described in the excellent book “Joy Inc” by Menlo’s CEO Rich Sheridan.

2: Celebrate good performance

We also need to constantly praise and appreciate people and teams for the good work they do. This give employees a sense of accomplishment and purpose that goes a long way towards combatting time scarcity.

Some workplaces do the opposite though: First giving people unrealistic goals and then hitting them over the head for not reaching those goals.

3: Leave time for learning and development

Every single employee must have time to get better. To learn new professional and personal skills. To reflect on what is working well and what can be improved in the workplace.

This becomes near-impossible under time scarcity, preventing employees from getting better at their jobs.

The IT company Next Jump in New York give each employee significant time every week to develop their skills with a mentor, in weekly meetings or on their own. That way employees always have time for growth and development, which they deem essential to their success. Here’s a great article on how they do it.

4: Maintain good workplace relationships

One of the first things to go in a workplace facing time scarcity is the workplace relationships.

When we are very busy it becomes exponentially harder to care about other people, to help and support co-workers and to maintain a habit of helping each other.  Needless to say, this just makes the effects of busyness that much worse.

Instead we need to make sure that there is always time to create and maintain relationships between employees. There should always be time for a coffee break and a chat with a co-worker. No one should eat lunch alone at their desk. Even something as simple as saying a cheerful “good morning” to your team mates in the morning can make a positive difference – and can be neglected and forgotten under time scarcity.

 

5: Avoid permanent overwork

Some companies try to solve this by making people work more hours. Don’t!

First of all – overwork can kill you:

… those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

And to make matters worse, all those extra hours don’t even mean you get more work done:

[Overwork] … doesn’t seem to result in more output.

So overwork is killing employees while not improving business results. Can we stop it already?

It’s a topic I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.

The upshot

Simply put, many workplaces put employees in a situation of near-permanent time scarcity, thinking this will pressure them to work harder. The truth is the opposite: It makes them more stressed, more sick, less happy and less productive.

Instead, we should do our very best to reduce time pressures because that way, the organization will be more successful.

Your take

Do you see any of this happening in your workplace? Is time a scarce resource and how does it affect you?

Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

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5 lessons you can learn from Denmark’s happiest call center

Call centers are notoriously tough workplaces.

But City Call Center in Copenhagen is different. Very different. They were recently named one of Denmark’s best workplaces in the Great Place to Work Survey and people love working here.

In this interview, their founder and CEO Pouline Mangaard explains how she has created the (nearly) impossible: A happy call center.

 Her ideas are simple, effective and are relevant in any kind of workplace.