While those of us in the Agile community have for years fostered the values of employee empowerment and creating productive work spaces for our employees and teams, I’m increasingly bothered by the degree to which some Agile advocates place employee happiness above nearly everything else. Is this the key to business and innovation success as some claim? Is this a smart thing to do? Maybe not.
It’s long been an adage in the business world: make employees happy. After all, happy employees are productive employees, right?
Perhaps, however, we should consider the end of the chain first: delivering the “wow” for our customers.
Delighted customers, after all, will buy more from us, interact more with our products and services, and identify more with the Agile brand than dissatisfied ones. And this customer satisfaction, in turn, creates a sense of job satisfaction, security, and yes, happiness for the Agile community.
Is their any brand that garners more love and attention than Apple? Did Apple achieve their greatness by putting their employees above all else? Nope. While it may have worked for Zappos, Apple’s ecosystem in which Apple’s customers and employees collaborate based on mutuality and interdependence is the model more proven over time. One does not survive without the other, and one is not happy without the other. Ultimately, there is no truly happy employee without a happy customer, and vice versa.
Happiness Through the Ages
The fact is, humans have philosophized about happiness and its meaning for thousands of years. “Happiness depends on ourselves,” argued Aristotle, who emphasized that happiness depended on cultivating virtue, and on reaching a mean between excesses, on existing somewhere between too much and too little of any attribute or possession.
Happiness in the Workplace
Maybe, though, there’s a middle ground in the workplace, too — and it’s that middle ground where good business practices thrive; a space where the happiness of our employees depends on the happiness of our customers, in a complicated interweaving of needs and desires on both sides.
In other words, it’s simply not enough for us to promote employee happiness. And, perhaps more than that, it’s actually impossible for us to be happy without happy customers.
Happy Customers, Happy Employees
In “Employee Happiness Isn’t Enough to Satisfy Customers,” an April 2009 article in the Harvard Business Review, researchers Rosa Chun and Gary Davies note that their “surveys of the customers and staffs of 49 business units of 13 service organizations in the U.K., in fields ranging from financial services to retailing, failed to confirm that service businesses with more-contented staff also have more-satisfied customers.”
Their conclusion: “Simply being served by a satisfied employee isn’t enough to win customers’ loyalty.” Happy customers, not happy employees, lead to higher profits. Having happy employees isn’t a bad thing — it’s just not the only thing.
At Gear Stream, we’re striving to find a middle ground; recognition that both employees and customers must both be happy for our business to be profitable, successful, and sustainable and that placing one above the other is not a smart thing to do. If Aristotle were still around, I think he would probably agree.