Challenging the Happy Workplace

6 min read Written by: Victoria Ford

This week I started reading ‘Build it – The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement’. I have long been a believer in the need to understand individuals and teams to get the best out of people and build a culture where change and innovation can flourish. Nothing I have learnt over the years, none of the failures and none of the successes, have shifted me from that belief, but I am always keen to learn more. A Twitter recommendation from a fellow communications professional found me pressing ‘buy now’ on my Amazon account and the book landing on my doorstep the next day.

Do we really want happy people?

Two chapters in and talk of happy employees got me reflecting on what stops organisations really transforming. What stops them making use of the opportunities technology brings to transform businesses, focus on user led service design and provide services their users really want.

Inertia has become one of our biggest enemies when it comes to transforming the way public services are delivered. ‘Build it’ talks early on about mistaking happy employees for engaged employees. Over the years I have heard organisations describe their colleagues as ‘happy’. ‘Everyone here is happy’. ‘People are really nice’. ‘Everyone enjoys working here, it’s a ‘happy’ place’. Spend some time with a ‘happy’ organisation and chances are that it is standing still.

Transforming an organisation takes people out of their comfort zone. It challenges and it’s hard. Find an organisation really shifting its thinking and teams are likely to be ‘challenged’, ‘ engaged’, ‘excited’ and full of ideas, as a result they may be happy as well, but not as an endpoint in itself.

Finding your rebels

‘Build it’ talks about finding your rebels and shifting the status quo. You might not need rebels, but you will need people open to thinking differently and challenging the way things are done. Underpin this with a sound communications and engagement approach and you are on your way.

Moving away from happy inertia

This kind of change isn’t easy and can be uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. It may need a change in thinking across, and up and down, the organisation. If you’re wondering what that might mean, here’s four questions to get you started:

  • Does your organisation work out loud?

Transparency, openness and visibility are key to shifting an organisation’s thinking and embedding a culture where sharing and learning is key and ‘knowledge is power’ becomes a thing of the past.  It also opens up its thinking to its users – the very people we should be engaging with and designing our services around.

  • Do your employees seek forgiveness or permission?

Does your organisation let people try new things, embrace  failure and give people the courage to admit when they are wrong? Think how different your ways of working could be if people, at every level in the organisation didn’t have to put up a defensive shield of knowing everything and always being right.  We should all say ‘I don’t know’ and seek advice of others more often.

  • Where’s your leadership in all of this?

Senior buy in and leadership behaviours will make or break your transformation with trust and authenticity at the top of the behaviours list for me.  Unless your CEO or leader champions employee engagement and leads the values you need, you will be up against it when it comes to delivering real change.

  • What do our users want? Do we know?  Have we even asked?

Talking to the users of the services we provide will let us know what is bothering them, what works, what doesn’t and allows us to prioritise our actions around what they need, not what we think they need or what our organisation needs.

None of these questions will create happy people, but they will get you thinking about how you build a culture and workplace that is energised, engaged, productive and ready to challenge the status quo.

Get that right, understand user need and you can start to look at how you exploit technology to deliver services that work. Technology is an opportunity, but first find your rebels and get out of the comfort zone. Move away from happy inertia and you’ll be on the right track.

I’m now going to crack on and read the rest of the book.  I’ve just reached the page that starts ‘Ditching performance ratings and annual reviews’. Bring it on!

Thinking about how you change the culture of your organisation and deliver services your users need? Get in touch with us for a chat about how we could help.

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