The founding fathers were onto something. The pursuit of happiness matters more than ever, especially in business. To boost the productivity and performance of every employee (even the CEO) from the inside out—and the overall perception of a company by customers—get happy.
In “The Happiness Advantage”, author Shawn Achor outlines a decade’s worth of research on the power of positive thinking and action for the work world and beyond. He’s a Harvard educator in the relatively new field of positive psychology that studies behaviors and practices showing a positive effect on human well-being.
“If you can raise someone’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we call the happiness advantage. Which means the brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed,” Achor outlines his theory in a popular TED talk. “Your intelligence rises. Your creativity rises. Your energy levels rise. In fact, what we found, is that every single business outcome improves.”
His research found that dopamine turns on learning centers in the brain, allowing people to adapt to their environment in different, more innovative ways. When positive, people are 31% more productive, and 37% better at sales, as compared to negative, neutral, or stressed states.
Especially for a startup or small business enterprise, happiness really can be the critical difference that makes the pursuit pay off, and builds a brand name with staying power. So, how do you focus on happiness in concrete ways? Here are six real-world tips focusing on both employees and customers to help you put happiness to work.
Tip #1: Focus on a big-picture purpose
Business is never all about the bottom line. Every business comes from a vision of doing things a better way, or of giving people a choice. So focus on that idea moment, and on the big picture end result of your product and company.
What do you want to be known for, far into the future? For example, Google wants to organize the world’s information, and make it universally accessible and useful. Or, as Steve Jobs wrote for Apple’s mission in 1980, “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” No sweat, right? When you give your employees a big idea to hold onto, it keeps the entire team—and brand—focused and aspirational.
Tip #2: Open up self-driven success
At 3M, a company known for new product breakthroughs for over a century—like masking tape and Post-it notes, to just name two—technical employees are encouraged to devote 15 percent of their paid working hours to self-driven projects. Basically, they’re encouraged to follow an independent idea on company time, then share it with the group. The corporation claims that “most of the inventions that 3M depends on today came out of that kind of individual initiative.”
Many companies now take 3M’s lead, and find that by giving employees autonomy, both their satisfaction and output increases. The author of “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Achor, found that being in control at work predicts greater satisfaction in nearly every aspect of life. Even allowing people to shape their own work environment—like picking out their own desk—can mean a world of difference.
Tip #3: Build in a real-time feedback loop
In case studies evaluating workplace happiness at five different companies, The Harvard Business Review found that excellence is a key to happiness, and recommended providing, “real-time data on employee and company performance, and highlighting employees’ individual skills and passions.”
They also found that interactive websites create connections between employees. Web-based project management and time tracking software—if they’re easy, flexible, and intuitive to use—can open up company-wide transparency on worker efforts and improve collaboration in real-time. Employees can have more freedom to work when and where they want, with the ability to switch project codes and clock in from different locations. Managers can see what projects staff are working on in real time, and make strategic adjustments with little friction or delay.
Tip #1: Lay out the welcome mat
The most difficult step for any business to take with a customer is that first one. If they try your product and like it, they will usually stick with it. It’s the path of least resistance, and basic human behavior.
So, make that first impression stick. At TSheets, a time tracking company, we send out a gift package to new users to remind people of the heart of the company’s mission, and leave them with an impression (or a heart-shaped stress ball) that never leaves their desk. Online shopping company, Zappos, does something similar. They earn instant confidence from their customers by offering free return shipping, no fine print.
Tip #2: Set the tone.
How will customers interact with you? Think through every way they might want to get in touch, and plan out your message for every arena. Make the options varied. Get on social media. Join industry networking sites. Plan a getting-to-know-you email campaign. Film a lively product demo video series for YouTube. Set up a dedicated help and review page on your website. Then keep the message clear, engaging, and consistent. Stay focused on the big picture purpose and a clear solution-focused message in every interaction. Positivity breeds positivity, so this quickly becomes second nature.
Tip #3: Make the most of user feedback.
Word of mouth means everything, especially in the internet age, when it can last online forever. Reviews can be a gold mine, and complaints can be the opposite. Responding to both positive and negative reviews online shows that your company cares, and leaves a resolution for future readers. By setting up an internal website for customer help, FAQs, reviews, and feedback, a company can show that it’s listening too. For example, allow customers to recommend and then vote on new product features they’d like to see directly on your site, as we have done on our Help Pages. Have a separate Twitter handle – as Nike does – dedicated to support-related questions and make sure to manage and track the tweets. Not only does this improve the end product in relevant ways, but it gives customers the power to improve their own experience, while deepening the connection they have to the company.
So how do you make happiness work?
How can you help inspire employees and customers to think positive?
If you do it right, you will see the rewards on every level, and faster than you think.