So, what's the secret to getting your hands on this magic potion for success?
Well, you need to, among other things: have a clear mission; get to know your staff; make sure they know where your business is going; make sure they know what is expected of them; listen to staff in an open and honest fashion; show appreciation and give them the power to make decisions.
That's a long list, but it also involves common sense. When employees are clear on what's expected of them and are prepared with the guidance and tools to perform, they are more likely to feel good about their jobs.
A new field of positive psychology research, or the “science of happiness” – which advocates focusing on what’s positive in the workplace – continues to advance employee engagement.
For example, for decades managers used a technique called a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) in strategic planning.
But more recently, positive-thought leaders have turned away from SWOT, contesting its relative emphasis on weaknesses and threats.
Instead, some happiness gurus propose the SOAR technique (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results). The result is often a strategic plan focused on the possible, and that motivates rather than limits behaviour.
Although the idea sometimes makes executives uneasy, many thought leaders have gone so far as to propose managers make work fun. In Managing to Have Fun, Matt Weinstein argues that by creating a lighter, more fun workplace companies can turn a competitive environment into a thriving one.
One such company is Zappos, which began selling shoes and other products online in 1999 and reached more than US$1 billion in sales by 2009. The company was rewarded with BusinessWeek’s Customer Service Champ designation, included on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and CEO Tony Hsieh was named Success Magazine's Achiever of the Year.
How did Zappos do it? By collectively agreeing on a set of core values that includes things like “create fun and a little weirdness” and “be humble”. These values are actually used in the hiring process. Every applicant must pass a hiring process weighted 50 per cent on job skills and 50 per cent on the potential to mesh with Zappos’ culture.
Although the idea sometimes makes executives uneasy, many thought leaders have gone so far as to propose managers make work fun. -
So, how will leaders work according to new values like these in the Zappos culture? We believe it’s from a state of peak brain performance where like the elite athlete, coaches collaborate to turn the attention to the possible.
How do Canadian companies fare in this regard? Not so well. According to the 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, 55 per cent of Canadian employees say they’re often frustrated in their current roles, and only 39 per cent think their leaders are committed to developing employees.
Recent developments in neuroscience, however, confirm what the happiness researchers have been touting. Using supercomputers and functional MRI brain scans, this new crop of scientists are finding physical proof that the engagement folks are on the right track. By watching brain activity as people solve problems, studies have shown that relaxed, playful states of mind make us more creative, even smarter, as we make decisions.
In the information age, where many workers rely on brain rather than muscle power, getting the most out of grey matter is essential. This responsibility often falls on the shoulders of leaders.
In Your Brain at Work, author David Rock describes what happens to the brain when people feel threatened – and it isn't pretty.
Our evolved brain functions become compromised. We continue to function (thank goodness) but not nearly as well as when we feel secure. But there’s good news. According to author John J. Medina, “The brain is so sensitive to external experiences that you can literally rewire it through exposure to environmental influences.”
Having said that, leaders don’t need to become neuroscientists. But they do need to apply the findings of science in the workplace.
By Trevor Stevenson and Pierre Gauthier
Trevor Stevenson is a founding partner of The Leadership Group, and Pierre Gauthier is a Certified Integral Coach.