When a conference makes you happy. (Honest.)

Nikki Gatenby

June 22, 2018

Singing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, with 100 other people we’d never met before, for 15 minutes, in rounds, after lunch, was not what we expected to be doing yesterday.  Andrea Callanan and Patrick Steed from inspire me whipped everyone into a positive mind-set and full voice – with us belting out the tune, acapella, having a thoroughly good time.


It’s just a snippet of how the Happy Workplaces Conference was unlike any other.


Image courtesy of @andydevale


The words ‘business conference’ can fill you with dread. A few hundred people in a room, with little natural light, even less movement (apart from the odd tea break) and the potential of death by Powerpoint. Not exactly the most scintillating way to spend a day.


This, however, was something else. With Maureen Egbe from Happy Ltd as our MC, we were in for a treat. A former athlete and now athletics coach, Maureen had us moving from the off.  We never sat in the same place twice throughout the day and regularly found ourselves ‘waving’ as a signal to come back together.  A sure-fire way to get and keep the energy levels up – quite unusual for a conference, but then it was clear from the start this was going to be way more than that.


With a mix of strong speakers, from John Lewis to Kingfisher, Happy Ltd to Woohoo, they all set the bar with ideas and inspiration to take on board.  We did a spot too, the dreamball machine went down a treat, we showed how having an engaged team inspires impactful client work and we had plenty of pre-orders for Superengaged (which is nice!)…


To find out more, all the talks have been recorded and will be shared by Happy Ltd. Here’s few snippets to whet your appetite:


Cathy Busani, Group Managing Director, Happy Ltd began by getting everyone to self-reflect on whether they were ‘multipliers’ or ‘accidental diminishers’ in their business. Turns out we all are the latter, every one of us in the room. Blimey.  Accidentally of course, but now we all need to get the hell out of the way (note to self).


Donna Reeves from Kingfisher shared the B&Q experiment where bosses made no decisions, instead of giving orders, they only asked questions. It had a game-changing effect on the business; the experiment created an unprecedented increase in productivity and drove such commercial success that it’s been rolled out internationally.


“Are women judged more negatively when they behave the same way as men?” was just one of the thought-provoking questions posed by Dr Jill Armstrong and Jason Ghaboos, Deputy Director at the Home Office, and both Fellows at Murray Edwards College, when talking about gender equality.


How gender inclusive do you think your workplace culture is? Turns out 40% of women feel they are judged unfairly at work, where 81% of men think this rarely happens to women.  (Gulp). A gulf in perception if ever there was one.


“Don’t think outside the box…burn the box instead” was Laurence Vanhee, Chief Happiness Officer’s advice, after turning around the culture at the Belgian Ministry of Social Security, from a low performance, union-led, negative place to work, to a place where 75% of the team were engaged, productivity went up 20%, costs went down by €12m and staff turnover reduced by 75% whilst job applications increased by 500%. She certainly lit the touch-paper.


When Sophie Bryan kicked off with “In 20 years in HR I’ve never come across an appraisal process that didn’t make me want to bash my head against a wall” there was a universal collective nod around the room – Sophie has been creating change and helping people retrain their brains on this and many other HR challenges to boot, helping boards to enable their team solve problems they didn’t even know their company had. #shrewd


Sarah Gillard, Director of Happiness, John Lewis talked about the Partnership as a 100-year experiment in industrial democracy. With 85,000 people across the business, there’ll never be a one size fits solution, so instead the partnership focuses on ways it can create connections and community within its team to drive employee happiness and engagement. We were delighted to discover that the Partnership also makes its team’s dreams come true, including how it gave one employee the opportunity to take to the stage to conduct the performance of a full orchestra and 18 choirs! Epic.


Arlette Bentzenm Chief Happiness Office, Woohoo rounded off the day by sharing progressive employee engagement best practices from Denmark. Did you know that only the Scandinavian languages have a widely used word for happiness at work? In Danish the word is arbejdsglaede. She shared ideas for building a positive culture, like creating happiness ambassadors who create a company happiness plan for the year and the importance of random acts of kindness at work. She also talked about how LEGO always ask attendees to share a great experience that they had at work at the start of their meetings, which helps create a positive atmosphere and enables them to reach agreements faster and more easily.


This was all captured brilliantly by Andy de Vale who speed-doodled all the best bits.


We must have talked to at least 90% of the people in the room with the mix of speed networking, speaker questions for table discussions, break-out sessions and quick-fire breaks. If anyone is putting on a conference in the near future, have a chat with team Happy, I’m sure they would help you elevate the day and enable every attendee to come away raving about it.


Thanks Henry, thanks Happy. What a bloody great day. Arbejdsglaede in motion.

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