How One Leader Took “Happiness” Away from Human Resources

How One Leader Took “Happiness” Away from Human Resources

There is a lot of discussion these days about the impact of happiness on workplace engagement and productivity. In Shawn Achor’s book., The Happiness Advantage, he shares findings about the impact of Happiness – that it leads to a 23% reduction in stress and 31% increase in productivity. (Shawn Achor is speaking at WorkHuman in May – read on for a promocode for $300 off the conference).  These findings as well as Gallup’s report about only 13% of employees engaged and 24% actively disengaged, are leading to increased pressure on organizational leaders to improve culture and engagement. When I come across leaders with a passion for making an impact on making work awesome, I love to hear and share their stories. I had the pleasure of being introduced to one such leader recently.

David Kline, Happiness Leader

David Kline, Happiness Leader

David Kline works in Loss Prevention for the Canadian Retailer, Town Shoes. Loss prevention is responsible for reducing “shrink” (wastage or theft) in retail – which means investigating theft by employees and customers. Having worked in retail for many years, I’ve worked with an abundance of hyper-vigilant, policy and enforcement-focused individuals who were great at their jobs, but not necessarily the most “human” of co-workers. For starters, let me preface this with saying David is not a typical Loss Prevention leader. David’s investigative technique is to disarm people with humour and honesty, and his goal is that at the end of his interviews, they will thank him for listening to them. His human approach to investigating theft is only the start of how David operates.

Late last year, David’s VP of HR, Kelly Davis, sent an email to a group of employees, sharing an article about happiness reducing employee turnover and improving engagement. She asked for ideas and input for people programs. HR professionals send emails like this out a lot. Sometimes, they may even receive a few ideas for new “HR programs”. In this company, a Loss Prevention Advisor saw an opportunity to take the reigns and start what he calls the “H & S Committee” (H & S Stands for Happiness and Satisfaction).

You see, David had seen HR make great strides in reinforcing the company’s Values and in changing policies based on employee feedback. He said “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier or more satisfied in my job ever.” That is saying a lot, because David has had a long and engaged history with the company and speaks highly of the many opportunities he has had there, having worked his way from part time stock clerk to National Loss Prevention Advisor.

So David told Kelly, “I want to do this.” He believed that it was time for a grassroots, diverse group of people across the company to work together to increase happiness. Kelly gave David full reign to lead the H & S committee.

David knew he couldn’t do this alone, so he wanted to start by involving people in ideas. He enlisted the help of Marketing for creative ideas to make the brainstorming most effective, and he used his natural humorous style to invite people to a lively brainstorming session. More than 40 people showed up for the session, representing a broad spectrum of of ages, departments and years of experience. They developed 12-13 pages of ideas, and then filtered them to the most practical and impactful ones.

The first idea they launched was an employee Bazaar. People across the office were invited to show off their talents and sell their homemade crafts and baked goods. Everything from photography to homemade cards to Christmas ornaments to David’s own soup were displayed and sold to colleagues. One employee even brought her family in to help her create a mini-restaurant serving up Vietnamese cuisine. When people share their passions and provide glimpses into their lives outside of work, connection grows across departments or other boundaries.

Flying high on the success of the Bazaar, David shared his vision for the H & S Committee at the company’s next Town Hall meeting. In his words, he shared the idea of the Happiness and Satisfaction Committee, concluding that:

We want everyone to be heard.

We want every to grow and,

We want everyone to be involved

This is what will make the Town Shoes Limited Support Centre one of the greatest places to work in Canada.

happyDavid’s passion for spreading happiness caught on with the 200 employees there, and the Committee was born. They meet approximately monthly and have started what they call “Guerilla Happiness” events. They find opportunities that don’t require extreme amounts of time or money to put smiles on people’s faces. On Valentine’s Day, they surprised every employee with chocolates and a card saying “Donut you know you’re great?” The Committee ran an Oscars pool recently, with the winner receiving a gift certificate for shoes. David beams as he shares how when their Guerilla happiness events take place, the smiles around the office are visible.

Every month, they do two of these Happiness spreading events, but he has greater aspirations. He and his H & S committee partner, Denise, are piloting an 8-week mindfulness training course using meditation techniques in the workplace. (We’ll have more info on this in a future post).

There are many things we can learn from David’s story. Here are just a few:

Happiness and engagement are not an HR program.

In fact, I think, had the initial brainstorm session been run by HR, the turnout would have been nowhere near as high – not because of any fault of HR, but because the groundswell nature of this is more impactful.

HR and leadership need to create the environment for groundswells to happen.

In many organizations, HR may have felt the need to “own” this committee, and would have squashed the enthusiasm and passion that David has for leading the happiness movement. It is so important that people feel comfortable taking the lead and that they are able to do so with passion and freedom. At Town Shoes, David felt a high level of trust and he knew that he had a huge team of colleagues who would help him and provide support when he needed it.

Know what you can do.

In David’s words, it is a lot of work to run the committee and to organize each event, so be realistic when you start. Set expectations and share them clearly with your team, so that people understand the parameters they can operate within.

Community helps build culture.

Running “Guerilla Happiness” events does not create engagement or culture on its own, but finding opportunities to bring people together for positive reasons, building relationships across departments and functions, and creating conversations about more than the tasks at hand, helps to build community, and they type of community you build will impact culture.

You get more of what you focus on.

In David’s words, “through focusing on happiness, you see it more.” There has been a lot of research on attentional bias, and this is an example of this. It’s sort of like when your house is for sale, you notice every for sale sign. When you are smiling, you see others smiling. When you are mindful and thoughtful, you notice those tendencies in others.

My final thoughts.

It is only a few months into the Happiness and Satisfaction committees work, and I am looking forward to hearing how it goes. In today’s world, when culture and engagement are important for sustainable growth and innovation, it is my belief that while culture starts with the CEO and senior leaders, every leader, informal or otherwise, has an impact, and can have a great impact, either positive or negative. I find that magic often happens when we invite leaders at all levels to impact engagement at work.

Two Bonuses for you:

David reminded me of the “how to create a movement” video that was shared via TED a few years ago. Watch for further inspiration to create your own movement.

Bonus # 2: WorkHuman

If you believe that work should be more human, you will love the conference that Globoforce has created – WorkHuman. It’s happening this May in Orlando. Shawn Achor will be speaking, and I’ll be there, participating in the discussion about making work awesome. Join me! Use code: WH16PR300 to get $300 off when you register. Check it out HERE.

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