The Secret to High Performance: Happiness in the Workplace
(A portion of this article first appeared in the NAHB Professional Women in Building, Spring 2014 edition of Building Women magazine)
The past 10 years have been an interesting journey for me as I have searched high and low for the magic ingredient, the “special sauce”, if you will, that makes a High Performing Team. And during a conversation last month with the Principal of a very successful Engineering firm based in Santa Rosa, CA, I had my “Ah-Ha!”.
It’s not about the product. It’s not about the location. It’s not about the size of your business, whether you are a multimillion dollar company or a solo entrepreneur running your own small business. It’s not about profit or non-profit, and it has nothing to do with how many years you’ve been in business.
It’s about the People. Happy People.
Having spent years serving business owners and team leaders as an Executive Coach, Leadership Development Consultant, and Team-Building Specialist, I look back at some of the unique and special opportunities that I have had working with teams, of all levels of function and dysfunction, and I realize that when you have the right people, placed in the right jobs, who are clear on their roles and responsibilities, who come to work every day and have the freedom to do the things they are good at and love to do, you find one special ingredient: Happy People. And an organization full of happy people makes for a pretty phenomenal place to work. It’s no wonder these organizations are performing at high levels, at the top of their game, leaders in their industry, doing things that other organizations aren’t doing!
And here’s another discovery that I’ve made: it really doesn’t matter whether your company has 150 people or 1 person. It’s about tapping into the innate talent of the individual, leveraging that talent in all that you do every day, and creating tasks that are perfectly suited to that talent! When you have the right person in the right job, it’s like magic. And high performing individuals know exactly what they are good at, where their “sweet spot” of high performance peaks – and they know exactly where they get stuck! Let’s face it, we all know what we are good at. And we all know what we aren’t good at. Anyone who’s ever sat through a performance review knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s time to learn how to manage our deficiencies and surround ourselves with the talent that’s needed to help us take our businesses where they need to go!
Do we, as leaders, “get it”? I think we do. But we also tend to dream up the greatness in others. We see the potential in others, perhaps before they see it. And we tend to justify, make excuses, or even change the job to fit the person! We give others too many chances to get it right. And that’s just backwards. In fact, it’s the People Problems that keep us up at night.
As a Kolbe Certified Consultant, I have used the Kolbe concepts for years to help my clients make sure they have the right people in the right jobs. I’ve used the concepts for hiring talent that’s missing from a team. And I’ve used the talent profiles to “rebalance” the team talent, by redesigning job duties and tasks that fit the individual’s instinctive talent – so that results become much easier to attain, work seems much more effortless and gratifying, and people get reignited about their jobs! It is so empowering for someone to do what they do best, and surround themselves with people who have talent in areas where they are deficient! That’s where team synergy happens. That’s when high performing people become high performing teams. And a high performing team = happy people!
So what’s so important about happy people in the workplace? Well, I have encountered my fair share of naysayers and those who find this whole happiness movement a whole lot of fluff. But I challenge anyone to take a look around and create their own theory. Have you ever worked with someone who exudes negative energy? Someone who sucks the living life out of a work environment because of their poor attitude, negative chatter, complaining rather than acknowledging the good stuff all the time? (My goodness…I hope this isn’t YOU!)
Happiness at work leads to a feeling of wellness. I have discovered in my work with teams of all sizes in many industries, spanning from Hawaii to New Jersey, in the States and in Canada, that when you enjoy your work and know that you are making a difference with your clients and those you serve, there is a physiological effect on one’s overall well-being. In fact, the brilliant folks at Gallup did a study a few years back, polling people of all kinds in dozens of countries, and the research consistently validated this fact: the #1 factor that created well-being in someone’s life was career well-being! That rated higher than other factors, such as social, financial, physical and community well-being. Career well-being.
One of the great thought leaders of our time, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, has taught classes at Harvard University on Positive Psychology. Certifications and college degrees on Positive Psychology are popping up everywhere! And for someone like me, who has spent my entire life seeing life through these brilliant rose-colored glasses and finding the greatness in everyone, I am ecstatic to share the research that is out there! Our happiness is directly related to our overall well-being. So why not create work environments where people can thrive, be productive, have pride in their accomplishments, and be happy?
My big disclaimer: this isn’t about a lack of accountability. In fact, the power one has in placing people in the right jobs, suited to their talent, and creating happy work environments means we must be that much more diligent about putting accountability measures in place at all levels of an organization. We must honor the needs of the business every day. In order to achieve results consistently, we have to be clear about the needs of the business, have clear roles and responsibilities for everyone on the team, and have consistent, daily conversations about what’s working and where we are getting stuck so we can rebalance and get back on track.
In my first book, Managing For Performance: Building Accountability for Team Success, I share several tools and resources that I have used over the years working with my clients. And the most powerful conversation I consistently have with my clients, which I emphasize throughout my book, is about the courage it takes to lead. It’s not easy to run a business, manage a team, take people where they need and want to go. It’s a lot of work. And it all starts with YOU. You have to be willing to do things that others won’t do. You have to be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations with your people, to call them out when you see them heading towards the edge of the cliff, and know how to redirect them so they can get back on track. Sometimes we have the right people in the wrong jobs. And, sometimes, the kind thing to do is to help someone to leave. Sometimes we discover that we have people on our payroll who don’t believe what we believe, who simply don’t “fit”, and we need to help them to find other work that is more suited to their talents and beliefs, so they can be happy.
It’s an amazing privilege to be in a leadership role where you are empowered to develop people, and help them to be exceptional by utilizing their natural gifts, leverage their talent, and shine the light on their greatness. And it’s even more impactful when you can model for others what you want them to be by doing the work yourself.
Dig deep and discover your greatness. Set yourself up for success by aligning your innate talent with the work you do every day. It’s the best recipe for a happy life, and a wildly gratifying career. Sometimes we have to get out of our own way to create the life and career that we want. But, as I have discovered personally, when you are ready and willing to do that work, your days will be full of joy and you will find yourself saying, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this work!”
Here’s my final inquiry for you, which makes all that work worthwhile: how good can you stand it?