A number of years ago, a close friend who I greatly respect for the deeply, well thought out way he goes about his life, started a small company making software.  At the time, I was working with him on an unrelated project and was around him a lot and therefore had a front row seat to observe the hiring process.

One of the first things he did when his three or so employees joined was to sit each one down and ask what would make them happy in their workplace.  At first, they hemmed and hawed, giving politically correct answers like “doing quality work”, “contributing positively to the company” etc., but he laughed and said “No, I’m really asking you what would make *you* happy in your workplace.”

One after the other, they thought about it, and one said “Being able to take a break to play computer games during the workday”.  Another said “Coming in at 11 and working till 8” and the third said “Having a <latest model computer>”.

To each request, he immediately said “done”, and even went so far as to buy the computer games for the employee.

Having never heard of an approach like that, I spent the next several days mulling it over, searching for the deeper intent in my friends approach, knowing, like almost everything he did, there was a well-thought out, intentional motivation behind what he was doing.

After a few days I realized that if I was reading it right, there are several things implied by my friend’s approach:

  1. What makes each person happy is different
    It sounds both simple and obvious but we are often hung up on what makes us individually happy and don’t think about it much.  People physically look different and that is reflective of the fact that everyone’s internal makeup is different so what makes each individual happy differs from one person to the next.  This is why positive human resources policies are effective in building employee satisfaction but finding out what makes the individual happy is far more effective.
  2. There is something to starting out a relationship with an employee by making them happy
    Think about that.  Finding out what makes the employee happy—what make that specific person happy—is a brilliant way of simultaneously creating an environment where you can get the maximum production from that employee while also creating a situation where employee satisfaction and therefore retention etc. is at maximum levels.

Stop worrying about whether you are sufficiently whipping the horse and whether your people are going to get away with stuff.  The system is perfectly self-correcting.  Good people for whom you set the table by specifically asking what makes them happy, will respond and give you their all.  People who look to take advantage you will recognize as such and send on their way.

(And, there are tests that can be applied during the interview process to increase the odds that you are hiring the kind of person who will respond to your offer, but that’s another post).

 

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