Saturday, January 2, 2010

Using the Science of Happiness to Build a Great Company Culture

This week you will probably say "Happy New Year" to a hundred people or more. Wishing people happiness is something we do a lot, without thinking much about it. We write "Happy Holidays" and sing "Happy Birthday." "Happy New Year" implies a grander vision - a whole year of happiness. Wow, that would be something. But perhaps it's not very realistic. Maybe we really mean, "have a happy year, more or less."

Much has been written about happiness lately, partly because the "science of happiness" has gotten more legitimate traction.

One of the people talking a lot about that science is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Hsieh grew Zappos from nothing to a billion dollar company in 10 years by making company culture his number one priority (making culture #1 led naturally to better customer service, which led to off-the-charts customer loyalty, which led to a billion dollar buy-out by Amazon). Hsieh has developed a framework for long term happiness he is promoting as a model for growing a winning company. Hsieh's framework will no doubt be the focus of his book called "Delivering Happiness" to be published in March. His ideas are exciting and I hope they influence a lot of business leaders.

But Hsieh didn't start out trying to make his company a "happy" one, at least not in the scientific sense. He just felt strongly that culture matters, and the business formula applied by Jack Welch and others (set company values to achieve market dominance, recruit talent to execute, motivate employees with money, recognition and fear of termination) often leaves company culture to rot. So he put culture ahead of market dominance. He and his team developed a list of specific values for the company and agreed to live by them. They set hiring and promotion policies to ensure that every Zappos employee would be inspired to his or her core to achieve the mission and reinforce the values of the company. This sounds hokey, but it worked.

Then one day Hsieh picked up a book called "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt and things really started to click.

Hsieh realized that hiring only people whose personal values were directly aligned with the company's values (and reinforcing those values all the time) created an environment at Zappos in which people felt they could (a) grow, (b) control their destiny, (c) share their values and personality, and (d) achieve a higher purpose than making money. These turn out to be four key ingredients we need in our lives to experience long-term happiness.

This is a model on which we aspire to build our business someday. Making our company a place where organizational values align with personal values.

Tony Hsieh will give a lot of credit to Haidt, saying "The Happiness Hypothesis" was the most influential book Hsieh has read in the past 5 years. But Hsieh hasn't talked a lot about what prevents us from achieving - or, more importantly, from even seeking - the kind of long-term happiness the Zappos culture fosters. To learn more about that, read "The Happiness Hypothesis".

As for Professor Haidt, the author, I will say he has great taste in quotes. Below are two of the classics about happiness you'll find in "The Happiness Hypothesis", and at Haidt also offers this good advice to all of us who read and enjoy great quotes:

"Words of wisdom, the meaning of life ... all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them, engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives."

Have a Happy New Year.

Victoria @ Quote Palettes™

"The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it." - Marcus Aurelius

"Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy." - Buddha

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