Organizational Success – The Ultimate Secret

Organizational SuccessRead any book about organizational success – whether in a multinational or a small business – and the key to organizational success is related to something business-like: leadership, sales,  customer care, profitability, etc. Any reference to recreation and fun is almost always as an add-on. For example, a company retreat with balloons and treasure hunts once a year  or a sports day or  a company lunch once a quarter. HR managers lecture line managers on the need to have such events so their fun-starved staff can get a chance to “loosen up”. Yet staff engagement remains low….

While business priorities such as sales, profitability and customer care are necessary imperatives, the issue is about identifying what factor drives staff engagement and a desire to see the organizational collective succeed the most. Is it training? Is it a bonus scheme? Is it meetings exhorting staff to produce more? Is it polite managers treating staff with respect?  Is it free food, massage chairs and floor cushions as in Google? These help, of course, but do not seem to be primary drivers of engagement or passion at work.

A clue about what this factor might be comes from the world of training, an area my company works in. When a training event starts, participants politely participate and dutifully ask questions when prodded a few times. Then the coffee break comes and everyone visibly relaxes, the conversation and interaction becomes animated and engagement goes from perfunctory to sky-high.  This engagement happens when people are relaxed and happy and free from the stress of being someone other than themselves. This observation has in fact led to training and conference formats such as Appreciative Inquiry and World Cafe  that encourage participant driven agendas and interaction in a cafe type setting.

The ultimate secret of engagement, productivity and organizational success is in the creation of a workplace where people are especially happy and having fun at work.

Notice the emphasis on the phrase “at work“. This is not about having a no-nonsense, business environment where staff are rewarded occasionally with some time off or a “fun” event away from work. This is about embedding the “fun” element in the work itself. But why is this the case? Why should fun and happiness at work be such a primary driver of engagement? Isn’t this against everything we have been taught in management and business?

Well, organizations have very specific goals – like revenue growth and profit. The staff in an organization need to be aware of this but the organization needs to realize that the people in the organization have their own goals. These goals are – you guessed right – fun and happiness. The salaries and bonuses arising from a successful profitable company are just a means to acquire fun and happiness. If the time at the workplace is around 30%-40% of total hours in a day and that time is stressing about the tasks to be done and bosses to contend with, I am sorry but the annual picnic ain’t gonna compensate for this.

Surely there is something more meaningful for all of us than just profit.

Think about entrepreneurs and why someone running their own business tends to be generally more driven and engaged than the typical manager working for say a large well-known multinational. The conventional wisdom is “because its your own business” but the real reason is more to do with having fun and being happier and fulfilled at work (even though the work can be more challenging and the risks are higher).

So what are the ways to inject fun and happiness in the workplace? Here are the strategies that seem to be conducive for creating such an environment:

1- Small teams that work and play together

Team members can be not just colleagues but also become friends. The Berlin Wall between work and social life is not an absolute management imperative. Colleagues doing lunch together or enjoying time with colleagues and their families in social situations helps to bond team members in ways that corporate initiatives cannot even hope to.

2- Zero tolerance for office politics or back-biting

A company culture that absolutely forbids gossip and politics – easier in small teams of course – is essential. Senior management must make it clear that this is the ultimate sin.

3- Accepting the whole person

People are most stressed when they have to be someone other than themselves. When given opportunities to express their own personalities and working in the kind of jobs they feel good about, employees can feel comfortable taking off their masks when they come to work.

4- Autonomy and pride

No one is more fulfilled than someone who kicks off a new initiative then feels pride in seeing that succeed and getting noticed by everyone around. Everyone in the organization should have that opportunity.

Footnote: When an organization can succeed in making its staff feel that coming to work is fun, then the mantra of the work-life balance gang who never fail to advocate the benefits of the 9-5 routine starts to seem a bit hollow.