People love change. Seriously, they do. And yet, we keep telling each other that change is a bad thing, and most managers I meet talk of resistance to change in their organizations. These are the managers who say they want to improve things, and then complain that their people don’t want any part of it.
Why do I say we love change? Because it’s hardwired into our biology to seek improvements and new ways to do things. Before I explain more, take a look a these examples of change from everyday life, and tell me that people wouldn’t love this:
- Your lose your office, but get a new one twice the size and with a better view.
- Your old computer gets replaces with a the latest model.
- You give up your old car for a brand new 300bhp BWM or Mercedes.
- You move out of an old and small apartment, and into a large, beautifully renovated house.
- Your phone breaks, and you get to choose from any of the latest models at the store.
- Your boss stops handing out orders and instead ask which tasks you would prefer.
“Ah, but those are nice things, and all improvements from what was before” you might object. And yes, they are. But that’s the whole point of change: To improve on what is. No-one sets our to reorganize the company to provide a worse experience for the customer, or to be less successful as a business. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Wired to seek out change
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years ago, evolution made us explorers. We love seeing out new experiences and challenges, and that’s why kids are so adventurous and playful. They explore the world. Our biology supports this behavior by releasing endorphins when we discover something pleasant. These hormones makes us measurably happier and more energetic, so you can consider it a reward for positive surprises, and thus a system to encourage seeking out novelty.
As adults, many people tend to not throw themselves at new possibilities. The causes are many, and include both cultural influences (we are taught in school not to play anymore, to respect authority and not to stir things up), your biological nest-builder instincts (let’s not take any chances while the kids are small) as well as forces of habit (hamburgers are nice, I think I’ll just stick with those). So we tend do choose the known over the unknown. But, and this is important, we still find joy in positive changes when they happen, and we will take the bigger office any day. As long as we get to bring our family photos and the stapler with us, that is.
So, we actually do like change, if it’s for the better. Why is it then, that so often changes at workplaces lead to all sorts of problems and resistance? To put it simply: Because the wrong people decide on the changes to be made.
Top-down = poor by design
110 years ago, Ford adopted the principles of Taylor, the most famous management consultant in history. At the Ford factories they became hugely successful by adopting a style where management knew best and therefore told workers exactly what to do, no questions asked. Great if you’re building primitive cars as fast as humanly possible! Not so great in today’s complex world, where most work consist of countless of interactions between large numbers of people.
And yet, we still do what Taylor taught us. We asume that management knows best, and therefore should be the ones to decide what needs to change and how. Meaning they almost always get it wrong and bring about changes that make it harder for people to do a good job, instead of easier.
Danish chain of grocery stores Irma shows the way forward. Irma is in the high-quality market, and somewhat pricier that the discount brands. And so, when on September 15th 2008 Lehman Brothers went belly-up, Irma experienced a 5% drop in revenue overnight. Customers simple started shopping for cheaper goods elsewhere, despite thet fact, that no danes actually worked at Lehman Brothers, and no-one had lost neither their job nor their savings. Simply feeling that times were though was enough.
How did Irma respond? With cutbacks of course. There really was not alternative. But here’s how they differed: Where a more traditional (Tayloristic) CEO would had ordered stores to make X number of layoffs, save Y on marketing and increase the prices of all products by Z%, legendary CEO Alfred Josefsen (awarded Leader of the Year 2003) let the people affected by the changes make the call.
Each store was given the full picture regarding the dire straits the company was facing, and it was then up to each store to make the changes possible, and save money where it made sense. As Alfred Josefsen explained it to me: “Only at each store do they have detailed knowledge of their local clientele, insight into which products do well, knowledge of the behavior of the local competition as well as insight into the talents of each of their employees. I couldn’t possibly make better decisions at head office than they themselves could.”
Involvement is the path to happiness and success
The Irma example is your solution in a nutshell. We cannot force poor changes on people and expect them to be happy about it, it’s a recipe for disaster. But what we can do is provide them with the full picture and engage them in finding the best possible solution. Thats what many small start-ups do so well – the engage their people in crafting a desired future, instead of letting some distant CEO make all the calls. For the dynamic and modern workplace, embracing change feels like embracing and old love, and who wouldn’t want that.
Jon Kjær Nielsen, M.Sc., is a professional speaker and bestselling author, helping workplaces achieve success through shaping a happier and more engaging workplace. His core message: That we can all shape our everyday lives, and the lives of those around us, if we take simple and consistent action on a daily basis to better our situation. Watch his TEDx talk here, or download his free ebook with 12 tools to more happiness at work.
So, it’s monday around the corner, a day that many people dread, or at least view with some regret. A day where most people again have to get up early, and a busy change from a calm sunday. If you’re like me, Saturday nights’ party can still be felt, and that second Sunday would really come in handy right now…
My mondays are, however, always great days, and just as energizing and fun any Friday. I thought I’d put together a recipe for getting the off to a good start of the week, so you can happy at work right from Day One. It’s quite simple really – maybe that’s why I usually manage to follow this advice myself :o)
Our expectations are of huge importance to our levels of happyness at work as well as in life in general. The great news from the field of psychology is that boosting expectations is quite easy and effective. Simply giving attention to the things we can to look forward to can improve our mood and wellbeing. So try answering this simple question:
- What do I have to look forward to this week?
Try to name at least three different things for both work and at home. Positive expectations at work can be in relation to upcoming deadlines, exiting events, replies you are waiting for, places to go, or people to interact with. For me, I look forward to launching a facebookpage to go with this site, giving three talks on happiness at work as well as two quiet days alone, with time to work on the next book. Privately, I look forward to a tournament wargame on Monday, we’re having friends over for my homemade deluxe Paella Tuesday night, and Saturday brings the party of the month. Find your 3+3 things now.
Ambitions and goals for the week
I’m not a fan of long to-do lists, since I feel they drain my energy and only make it clear that work is never done. What works better for me is defining, usually on Sunday or Monday, which important tasks I will, as a minimum, get done the coming week. Usually it’s two or three things of huge importance that I promise myself I will get done.
Having these in mind helps me prioritize my time when the bucket-load of other stuff to do invariable shows up. Email, calls, snail-mail and meetings all add to the weeks load, but my first priorities remain the same. For this week, it’s relocating the website to a new domain (yay, HappyWays here we come!) and writing a page a day on the book project Ways to be Happy at Work. The post My Positivity List, from my free eBook is an example of what to book project is about. 82 tips are now done, 18 to go, so one a day is huge progress. What are your top priorities this week?
The success review
On Friday, look back at the week and note what the major achievements were. How did it go with the top priorities, and what other great results, progress or experiences stand out? Counting your blessings is an absolute classic from Positive Psychology, with measurable impact on your levels of happiness.
The daily repeat
Each day, I do a quick daily version, almost on auto pilot:
- What do I look forward to today?
- What is to one or two things that I absolutely will get done today? (I ask this before I check my mail for otherpeople’s priorities)
- At the end of the workday I count my blessings by asking, specifically: What were three good things today? Things I’m happy about, grateful for, or proud of? It makes for great dinertime conversations, as opposed to the classic pasttime of complaining about your day.
Let’s all have a great week!
Ever been in a meeting where the most pressing thought was something like I’ll never get back that hour of my life…? Then you have witnessed firsthand the sad truth, that a lot of meeting are a waste of time, effort and sheer human potential. It’s time to cut back, reclaim your worklife and be more happy at work.
The incremental way to happier meetings
There are many ways of tweaking your meetings so the cost on your soul is reduced. Here’s a few tried and tested methods:
- No table, no chairs. Doing a meeting standing in a small circle
- Schedule short meetings, 20 minutes max
- Set a timer or a buzzer, and stop the meeting when it goes of
- Start in a positive way, with good news. This has been shown by psychologists to increase productivity in meetings
- Invite fewer people – and no tourists. All those that just need to “bee in the loop” can be told after any relevant, specific decisions have been made.
- Make attendance voluntary. If people believe their current work is more important, they’re right. Do more to make them understand why this is important too, if that is even true.
The full monty: Kill a meeting
How long does a one hour meeting take? One hour? If there are 6 people in the meeting, it actually 6 hours spent, and with time to get to and from the meeting, and getting back to what you were working on, it’s more like 8 hours. That’s a full workday just because 6 people needed to get a detailed status, discuss endlessly over some problem or were just trying to look good. Meeting with customers are often like that: A show of keeping up appearances and seeming genuine, without much deep insight being shared or solutions designed. Smile and wave, keeping it cute and cuddly.
Skip your next meeting. If it’s your meeting, then give everyone their time back, so they can get some work done. If the meetings is someone else’s, then simply turn down the offer to attend (mental note: it’s always just an offer), and go get some work done. Later you can ask someone if there’s something you need to know after the meeting. Often it can be said if very few sentences, and that’s the scary part.
Can’t talk, working. Can’t eat, working. Can’t come home, working. If you have felt you didn’t have enough time to get your work done, then I’d like to offer a different perspective that will make you more effective and more happy at work: Instead of desperately trying to squeeze in more hours for work, give yourself the challenge of reducing work without reducing results. Since work smarter, not harder is sooo overused, I’m going to call it the Work Less Challenge – a way to increasing happiness at work and in the rest of life as well.
Stressed with less?
At friend of mine recently got bumped down from 40 hours to 25 hours a week due to financial challenges at the company. The work is stil there, however, and as a Project Manager, she is struggling to get everyting done in time. She feels she can’t allow herself to reduce the quality of the work done (we all have our pride), and working fewer hours actually has her more stressed (and a whole lot grumpier) than working full time, since she’s running faster to make ends meet.
The trouble comes when we reduce marginally. Anyone who have seen a speaker with a 1-hour seminar being given only 40 minutes will have experienced an increase in pace, with slides flying on and off the screen and key points coming only half across. That’s why, at the TED and TEDx conferences, they drastically reduce speaking time, so you’re forced to come up with something new. So it was for me this saturday when I spoke at TEDxSquareMile in London. 10 minutes was my allotted time, and I had to give a whole other speech than usual, in order to still be succesful (I’ll brag another day, and just add that it was awesome).
Creative and happy at work with less
Suppose my friend had only one day a week to be a Project Manager. Then things have to change. There’s no longer room for two to three daily meetings, a dozen calls and 20-50 emails. The approach has to change, and that lets creativity loose. My friend might start considering working like this instead:
- One weekly half-day workshop with all involved, where we don’t just talk, but actually work on plans and decide on solutions and commitments for the next week.
- No meetings longer that 20 minutes. No tables, no chairs.
- All meetings are voluntary – if you believe work is more urgent, then get out and do it.
- Only plain-text mails and documents since making something look “nice” is just a time killer.
- Living 80/20 to the max: “perfect” is the enemy, and “good enough” is almost too good.
Signposts that you have too much time: People are texting in meetings, or hiding behind their computers. Emails get responded to immediately (weren’t you working?) and “It would be nice to…” requests gets more priority than reaching the goal.
Legendary IT company 37signals gets it right when they refuse to hold meetings (calling them toxic), never work more that a few people on the same job, launch half-finished products (good enough), deny request for additional features (reduce complexity) and during the summer reduce work to four days (skip the things that aren’t important and go surfing). All while making a healthy profit, being happy at work and having millions of happy customers.
Your challenge: Work Less
Try it for a week. Ask yourself If I had to finish my work in half the time, what would I have to do differently? Then try it out.
Use the time freed to be with your friends, play with your kids, do sports, read a book or do the things at home you’ve been putting off. Work is NOT the singular purpose in life, and looking busy does not make you look valuable, intelligent or important. I just makes you look stupid, and you are smarter that that. If working less could get you the same results, then tell me one reason why you should not do so? Going from 40 hours to just 25 would actually allow you to learn a second language (or third, fourth or fifth, if you’re not american;) in just a few months, if you committed the time for it.
If you’re facing a similar problem, or have successfully reduced work, then I’d love to hear your story.