By Ron Thomas
“Everyone always ask me could they transfer into my department. When I ask why they tell me that ‘it just looks like you guys have so much fun: laughing, hanging out together, and it is just looks to be a fun and happy department.’ ”
That statement was told to me by an HR colleague a few months back. We all laughed in talking about some departments that appear they are in mourning. No one is smiling, everyone has that sad face, and it shows that they do not want to be there.
That also translates to managers that we see — their people just love them. They have more crowds in their office, more laughter, and they seem more like a colleague rather than a boss.
In other words, as she told me, “we are just a happy department.”
This all came to back to me over the past week. The government of Dubai just created a “Minister of State for Happiness” last month. The stated goal was that this department would “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.”
Happy city, happy workplace
In April, the Dubai Government HR association will convene for their one-day learning experience for HR professionals in government agencies. I am beyond excited to have been selected as the keynote speaker of this esteemed event. My topic: Happy City, Happy Workplace.
This type of initiative coming from a government is just not heard of. However, this is not unusual as there have been other governments that have done this in the past.
In 2013, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of a new “Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.” The stated mission was that the ideal government would create the greatest amount of human happiness. Nearby Ecuador followed a similar policy that same year, creating their version that translates to “good living” or “well-being.”
Say what you will, but I applaud this type of effort.
They call it core values
No matter whether you work in a private organization or a government agency, there has to be a vision of how you are going to do business. This guiding principle is the organization’s core values. They are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles that dictate behavior and action.
Core values are what support the vision, shape the culture, and reflect what a company values. They are the essence of an organization’s identity – the principles, beliefs or and philosophy behind the values.
Many organization’s focus mostly on the technical competencies but often forget what are the underlying competencies that make their organization or in this case governmental agencies run smoothly.
Establishing strong core values provides both internal and external advantages:
- They help companies in the decision-making processes. For example, if your guiding principle is to give superior service, that will frame any interaction with your customer. The Ritz-Carlton core values include an “unwavering commitment to service ,” both in hotels and in our communities, that frames their value proposition.
- Core values educate clients and potential customers on what the company is about and clarify the identity of an organization. Especially in this competitive and constant changing world, having a set of specific core values that speak to the public is the ultimate competitive advantage.
- Core values are also a prime retention and recruiting tool. Organizations are no longer in the driver’s seat when it comes to their identity. Smart recruits are seeking out organizations that they can identify with. Job seekers are doing their homework on the identities of the companies they are applying for, and are weighing whether or not these companies hold the values that the job seekers consider as important.
One size does not fit all
The problem today is that so many organizations make the mistake of picking core values out of thin air and trying to fit them into their culture. You go to websites and reach them and it looks like they were created with a “core values statement dictionary” or better yet, it’s a “we can use this and lets also try that” kind of philosophy.
However, core values are not about “one size fits all,” or “best practices.”
True, you can hold the same core values as your competitors, but only as long as they are authentic to your company and your employees. It has to be as custom as a well-tailored suit. In other words, it must fit.
So while some skeptics may have looked at this governmental initiative in Dubai creating a Happiness Minister as only a feel good type of initiative, I say bravo to them for moving in this direction.
If you have ever gone into a government department and been met by indifference, you know what a pleasant encounter it could be if the needle was positively moved. This applies to the private sector as well. Go into any organization and you could get the same type of indifference.
And, indifference equals acceptance. If you do nothing as a leader of a company to address problem areas, you send the message of “acceptance” of how things are.
In the end, whether it is a government, private, or public entity, people want to be engaged — whether as a customer or worker. It is no different no matter where you are.
Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused HR-MENA, based in Dubai. He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf countries, also based in Dubai. A former CHRO who was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ron is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute [hci.org ] covering the MENA region. Ron’s prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.