Creating happy charity workplaces

Henry Stewart shares his secrets to creating a happy and productive workplaces where staff and organisations both thrive.

Imagine workplaces where people are energised and motivated by being in control of the work they do. Imagine they are trusted and given freedom, with clear guidelines, to decide how to achieve their results. Imagine they are able to get the work life balance they want. Imagine they are valued according to the work that they do, rather than the number of hours they spend at their desk. Wouldn’t you want to work there?

Increasingly, charities are exploring how to create a culture that enables their people to be truly fulfilled. The evidence is clear: happy workplaces are not just nice to have, they are more effective and more productive.

Trust your people
If you ask people when they produce their best results, it’s almost always when they have been given the trust and freedom to make their own decisions.

One way to achieve that is the concept of pre-approval. This means that instead of people making proposals and then waiting for them to be approved, you approve the solutions before they have come up with them! 

For example, at the Stockport based charity TLC. Michelle Hill, the CEO, describes how she pre-approved the charity’s website and let Paige, the project lead, take full ownership:

“We did some work at the beginning about working out what the brand guidelines were and what being brand guardian meant, and then we said, ‘off you go, it’s up to you, you’re our marketing expert’.

“Our new website launched about six weeks ago. The first day I saw the website was the day after it launched. The first few weeks Paige was asking me: ‘what do you think about this colour, what do you think about this font.’ I reminded her to go back to what we said about pre-approval. She knew the outcome we were aiming to get. You almost saw her come to life, because she’s really creative, she thinks really quickly, she wants to test new things, and the website is amazing. The difference that we’ve seen in traffic through to the website in the last month is unbelievable.”

This isn’t about giving people complete freedom. Most people don’t want that. They instead tend to say, ‘give us the framework and then give us the freedom to work within it’. 

Ask yourself: What could you pre-approve tomorrow, giving freedom within guidelines?

Define the role of the manager
Many years ago Channel 4 ran a series called Boss Swap, where they swapped the managers in two companies. In several of the swaps managers walked into companies they knew nothing about, in sectors they had no experience of, and started telling people what to do. The effects were disastrous and the series wasn’t repeated.

Why did they do this? Many managers feel they have been appointed because they’re experts and need to demonstrate how clever they are. Effective managers take a different approach and seek to show how clever their people are..

Google did an extensive piece of research to discover the most effective behaviours of managers, entitled Project Oxygen. They found that the three most important behaviours to drive productivity are:

  • Being a good coach
  • Empowering rather than micromanaging
  • Showing interest in your people.

The role of an effective manager is not to be the expert, it’s to be a good coach, build confidence, ask questions and help people find their own solutions.

Ask yourself: How would your culture be different if your managers’ focus was on being a good coach?

Did you know?

We can help you implement coaching within your organisation!

We’ve teamed up with Coaching Culture to provide charities with the best coaching solutions.

Courses, events and resources are just some of the goodies included. 

Do what you’re best at
Gallup has asked over a million people if they do what they are best at every day at work. Sadly, only 17%, or one in six, in the UK say yes they do. Yet Gallup also found that in workplaces where people do get to do what they’re best at, productivity is 30-40% higher.

At Happy we aim for people to find joy in their work at least 80% of the time. We measure it and are currently at 79%. We put a lot of work into helping people find their talents, asking questions like “what makes you feel magnificent?”

When we recruit we have a job description but then throw it away and try to work out what that person’s real talent is. In fact, we generally have team job descriptions, so each person in the team can do the things that reflect their talents and meet the overall goals of the organisation.

Ask yourself: What are you best at, and how could you do more of it?

My three steps to creating a happy, productive workplace are:

  1. Get people to work to their strengths
  2. Give them the trust and freedom to perform at their best
  3. Ensure the role of the manager is to coach, not tell

Put those in place and you could be well on the way to creating not just a happier workplace but a more effective, productive one too. 

Sarah Burrell

About Henry Stewart

Henry Stewart founded Happy Computers 20 years ago, and today he is CEO of Happy Ltd. The On the Radar Thinkers50 list has previously proclaimed him one of the most influential business thinkers in the world. Happy Ltd has won numerous awards and has also been listed as one of the best workplaces in the UK by the Great Place to Work Institute. 

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