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Performance and happiness

In Business and Environment by LivingNowLeave a Comment

It was a throwaway comment but it got me thinking. Standing around the BBQ, the ubiquitous Australian weekend scene, my friend Andrew was lamenting about the next day – Monday – returning to his sales targets, his weekly focus group meeting and his impending performance review.

“Ah yes,” I said, “another week of being ruled by your performance indicators”.

It struck me that, for many of us, work has been reduced to meeting our performance indicators. The never-ending pressure to produce. Forget the concept of emotional engagement, or finding meaning in our jobs, just remember how much you need to generate and by when.

Is business really just about revenue raising? Are our individual work lives merely about assisting the business to increase its profits? Are we really required to race harder and harder on that revolving wheel, like rats – participating in the rat race.

The sole focus on productivity measures has the effect of constricting business operations and the language about them, resulting in a dry and merely task-oriented working environment. When work is reduced to performance indicators and numeric measures, cultures become stale and devoid of any excitement, creativity or innovation. Creativity, by its very nature, cannot be factored into a number. Imagine your boss stating that a rise of 10% in the creativity quotient is needed, preferably by tomorrow.

I understand the value of measurement. I understand that what gets measured gets done. I also understand that creativity arises out of experimentation and risk, that growth requires periods of both activity and integration, what I call noisy growth and quiet growth. When we’re in quiet growth, when internal changes are taking places, performance indicators and measures are merely outside factors that impede the process of creativity rather than enhance it.

It is not that we need to stop measuring, just that we need to strive for balance in the workplace between the quantitative and qualitative. And there are signs of progress.

I recently attended a talk by Grahame Maher, MD of Vodafone Australia. Maher talks of building a values-driven culture, he even talks of love measures, but more of that later. He is consciously changing the culture of Vodafone to one where all relationships and business procedures are underpinned by values. Words such as passion and love feature regularly in company material and Maher even quotes new age guru Marianne Williamson in the employee induction workbook: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Maher is regularly asked but how do you measure values? His response is “You can’t, it’s just a feeling.” This response would no doubt raise the hackles of many business commentators. But Vodafone’s recent financial results speak for themselves. As at March this year Vodafone recorded a profit before tax of $132.9m, an increase of $135.6m on last year. Maher is honest about what a rocky road it has been since taking over the helm of Vodafone three and a half years ago. How his unusual management style has caused upheaval, and at times chaos. How staff turnover increased as people self selected out of the new culture that was forming around them. No gain without pain.

Chaos is something Ricardo Semler also talks of when describing his revolutionary management practices at Brazilian firm Semco. It seems that it takes enormous courage from our business leaders to implement true change and, as Semler so eloquently puts it, awaken businesses from their self induced coma.

Many strategies and policies go towards creating a company’s culture. Undoubtedly one of the most powerful and simplest vehicles for consciously creating culture is language. Think of Virgin, and the casual, colloquial language which typifies their correspondence and communication. Brett Godfrey, CEO of Virgin Blue, has been quoted as saying “My title is not CEO of the organisation, I’m the big cheese”. Baggage handlers are called pit crew and dressed in Ferrari red, and reservation agents are part of the ‘res team’. Virgin are clearly onto something. How you say it, and what you say, is how it becomes.

These examples of Vodafone and Virgin indicate the genesis of a deeper, three dimensional language in business, one that marries head, heart and spirit, logic with emotion. Richer language creates richer work cultures, cultures which invariably are more innovative and creative.

As work evolves, so too must traditional business language and more specifically business measures. Current measures focus on an old paradigm of work, the tangible and mechanical tasks of production with quantitative outcomes. But in the new economy where we talk of emotional intelligence, cultural capital and values driven cultures, how can we possibly adhere to a rigid system of quantitative measures? We must look for other ways.

How about we try a Gross National Happiness quotient? Now I didn’t make that up myself. In fact it comes from a far more regal and authoritative source. The King of Bhutan no less. Bhutan is about the size of Switzerland, tucked away in the Himalayas and with fewer than a million people. In 1972 the King declared that progress in the landlocked mini-kingdom would henceforward be gauged in terms of GNH – gross national happiness. The Bhutanese philosophy is that while economic self-reliance is important, prosperity and happiness is more significant.

GNH is based around four values, self-reliance, human development, cultural preservation and environmental preservation. All government policies stem from these values and progress is measured against them. For example enhancements to the kingdom’s health and education facilities are in direct response to increasing the integrity around the human development value.

The King’s Buddhist inspired decree has sparked real interest among economists and spawned an international research conference in February of this year. The practice is one that some economists now see as a promising alternative to market fundamentalism. It is not necessarily anti development as it is pro-balance.

This movement has at its heart the recognition that economic indicators alone can only provide a limited perspective on progress. Factoring cultural capital issues such as flexible work practices and meaningful work into general business measures give a holistic and more balanced view. Broadening the definition of the bottom line encourages a deeper and one might say more accurate picture of an organisation’s health, one that emanates from both hemispheres of the brain. As Einstein said, genius comes from using both sides of the brain, rather than one side very well.

And then there is Maher’s ‘love measures’. Maher likes to think that all our traditional business measures, customer satisfaction surveys, employee surveys, performance reviews, are really just ways to measure the love in an organisation. The spirit of cooperation, harmony and affection that all people concerned with the business embody. It makes sense that a company high on love is a better place to work. It follows that we’d be quite happy to return to a place we love on Monday morning, a place where our life was not ruled solely by performance indicators, and that means we’d enjoy our Sunday BBQ’s all the more.

Robin Elliott BBus, MMgt

Robin’s early work life centred upon human resource management positions in the hospitality, chartered accounting and finance industries.  Most recently she held a Lecturing position for six years with Edith Cowan University.  Robin specialised in the teaching of human resource management and management at undergraduate and post graduate levels and was engaged in various research and consultancy activities.

Since 1997 Robin has consulted to a variety of companies such as Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, AMP, Westpac and Chevron Asiatic in strategic organisation and management development.  In 1998 she established Odin Management Services, with a particular focus on supporting individuals and organisations to reconnect to their spirit and soul.

Robin has a Bachelor of Business (Personnel & Industrial Relations) from Curtin University and a Master of Management (HRM) from the University of Western Australia.

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