Business at the Speed of Happiness

Keeping your best talent in our competitive marketplace

By Stephen Garber

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I want to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
— Attributed (apocryphally) to musician John Lennon

In most of our businesses and organizations, our model, our “unique selling proposition,” our service, or our “technology” is not our differentiator. It’s the quality of our people and how they relate and communicate with each other and the world around them—our stakeholders and our customers—that determines our success.

Attracting and keeping great people is the pathway to sustainable success. And it’s a very challenging market out there for notable talent, particularly in South Florida.

“Management,” as a concept, often seems complicated, sophisticated and even obtuse. “Leadership” is even more esoteric, and harder to qualify and quantify. They’re both about understanding human motivation, and what makes people happy. As Abraham Maslow taught us in his 1943 hierarchy of needs, once our basic needs (wellness and safety) are met, it’s the higher needs of love, esteem and growth that keep us motivated—and happy.

Assuming your people are healthy—and working in a healthy environment—and they’re receiving a fair compensation for their contribution to your organization’s success, creating an environment of “likeable” and “happy” is the best way to keep your best people engaged and loyal.

The Association of Accounting Technicians in the United Kingdom did research that was absolute in its result: Good colleagues beat high pay: Eight in 10 workers would turn down a higher salary if it meant working with people they didn’t like.

Happy people make delighted customers, which make happy shareholders. They’re all people.

When you look deeply into Apple, Google, Zappos and other hugely successful, standout companies, you’ll find they nearly all have something in common that helps separate them and keep them soaring. From the bottom to the top of the organization, their people:

• Are passionately engaged advocates for their business.

• Understand what the business strategy is, and their part in delivering it.

• Go above and beyond what they’re paid to do.

• Have an emotional engagement with the business, the product and with their client or customer.

• They are happy where—and with whom—they work.

This is what separates the mundane from the good. And, more important, the good from the great.

On the flip side, the cost of having a disengaged culture is huge—probably a lot larger than you realize. Factoring absenteeism, low morale, poor customer service, lost sales, lost long-term customers … the costs of unhappy people are obvious.

The most important business and leadership objective for sustaining business growth is to attract, retain and grow great people—and keep them happy.

Are you happy at work? Do you help others be happy? It is the direct path to so many rewards in business and life.♦

Stephen Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or

Stephen Garber
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