Monday, 5 January 2009

The embarrassment of happiness


Today was day one of the new happiness agenda, and time to break the news to the teams. My plan was to get all of the teams together in one room so the sceptics had to sit further away from me – sceptics normally sit at the back. I also tried out my philosophy on my two managers to make sure that I hadn’t gone crazy over the holidays and was about to declare myself certifiably insane. Oh, I also emailed everyone so that they had a chance to read my first blog entry. I think I secretly hoped that they’d come running in waving their hands in the air clapping happy like the final scene in Grease. They didn’t.

Ok, not mental – check, team prepped – check, glass of water handy – check. The stage was set. I wanted everyone to understand the concepts and ideas I was trying to explain, so I resorted to the only management tool a non-communicative backward thinking manager can use; Powerpoint. At least I should be thankful that I didn’t use Excel. I considered it. I am a weak weak man.

There was a problem. I’d been like a management machine for the last few years. I even promoted the idea of thinking of people as machines. How was I going to stand up and tell my hard working colleagues and team mates that things were going to change? There was only one way. The first slide starts “There is a strong possibility that I was very very wrong”.

I started with the general principle that we should change from only thinking about the tasks we perform, and change to thinking about our happiness and our colleagues’ happiness. I then moved onto how we could use this when we deal with issues. I’ll explain that more in my next entry. I think it’s fair to say that there were a few blank stares looking back, but I’m convinced there were as many nods. Once I reached the stage where my voice was even annoying me, I asked for any comments.

There was a general nod of acceptance that this was a good idea. Sure there were some doubters, but they’d come on board in time. One thing we discovered was that we were so procedural; we were even trying to plan a procedure to ensure happiness. Luckily, one very bright spark pointed out that this was probably a bad idea, and we backed away slowly, closed the procedural door, locked it and swallowed the key. No, we’d be starting with small steps. Each person will think about how their actions make other people feel. We’ll talk to each other more, help each other more, and most of all, understand that we make good money and we make mistakes. If we can stop letting that stress us out, then we may even be happy.

The strangest thing I learnt today was from the uncomfortable faces whenever I used words like “happiness”. This might be hard to believe, but I think that they would actually have been less embarrassed if I’d told them all I had piles. Doesn’t that seem a little bit weird to anyone else. Is talking about emotions embarrassing? Hi, I work in IT and I’m happy. Oh, and for the record, I don’t have piles.

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