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Tuesday / March 5.
HomemitwocentsThe Gross National Happiness Factor

The Gross National Happiness Factor

Business consultant Michael Jacobs gives readers his reflections on lessons learnt from a high profile and successful career in optics. This issue he looks at the future for independent optometry and the impact of happiness on a business.

The paradox of wealth versus happiness plagues many of us from countries like Australia. Our pursuit of material wealth is relentless yet happiness seems to predictably elude many. Years of travelling in poorer countries of Asia bring this paradox into stark reality. How many times have you witnessed a sight such as this: dad, mum and two children aged five and seven riding on one motorbike? The children in their school uniforms sporting clean, crisp bright white shirts and giggling constantly. They have just emerged from a small village of shanty style buildings heading to work and school. They are happy. Simply, gloriously happy. In fact, the whole village appears similarly happy. Yet by western standards these people are poor. How can this be?

Gross National Happiness

The Kingdom of Bhutan, a tiny landlocked country of only 700,000 people and sandwiched between China and India, measures its national performance in terms of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Conversely, Australia, like all Western democracies measures its performance in terms of GNP or gross national product, a purely financial measure. In Bhutan, material wealth is only one of the measures included in GNH – others include community, culture, governance, knowledge and wisdom, health, spirituality and psychological welfare, a balanced use of time, and harmony with the environment. Importantly, gross national happiness has increased year on year for the last five years. Are these measures of happiness the same as you would use for yourself? Can you honestly say that your happiness measured against these measures has increased over the last five years?

Happiness and Business

At this point you might reasonably ask where this discussion is heading, especially coming from the pen of a business analyst and writer. As we move into the year I think it is time we faced the prospect of us all being declared insane. Well, at least that would be the case if you accept the oft cited definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet it would seem that is exactly what we are doing. We continue to pursue our materialistic personal and business goals and wonder why we are not happier. By ‘we’ of course I mean you the business owner, the proprietor of an optometry practice.

While I am not holding my breath for the federal government to apply the principles of Gross National Happiness to their planning and policies for Australia (although Malcolm Turnbull is certainly showing encouraging signs) I am suggesting that there are lessons in this philosophy both at a personal and a business level for each of us. I am yet to meet a customer, employee or supplier who doesn’t want to be happier so if you were able to make your business a happier business it would surely be a better business. Put another way, if you set happiness as the primary goal of the business then the bottom line (profit) becomes the result and not the goal. To quote Richard Branson “have fun, do good and the money will come”.

Acclaimed online US shoe store Zappos growth and success (US$2 billion sales) is the stuff of legend and happiness is a key ingredient of their culture. Zappos 10 core values are:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

    Surely these values would fit just as comfortably in an optometry practice!

Develop a Culture of Happiness

I feel safe in saying that I don’t know of a single business owner who does not want to be happy but I do know of many business owners who clearly are not happy and if they are not happy then those around them are not going to be happy either.

Improving your happiness quotient will require change and as usual, the change must come from you, the business owner. Your team – your practice staff – is looking to you for leadership and passion so maybe it’s time to go back to those heady days at University and ask yourself “where did the passion go?”. Rekindle that passion for your chosen profession and live that passion daily. Passionate people make natural leaders, not because they are natural leaders but because people love to follow passionate people. Passionate people typically have a clear set of values and live by those values. Their followers understand clearly what is expected of them and where they and the business are heading. Take care however that your drive for happiness is not simply jingoism. Live your values, don’t just laminate them. In the absence of values all decisions go down to profits.

Develop a culture of happiness in your business. Business guru Peter Drucker said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Believe, think, act and be happy. The dividends are limitless.

To quote Herb Kelleher, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines in the US: “If the employees come first, then they’re happy…. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries
of all time, it is just the way it works.”

And so it is! Make 2016 the best year ever.

Happiness in Bhutan

Over the last 20 years, Bhutan, which measures its national performance in terms of Gross National Happiness, has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100 per cent of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.

At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60 per cent of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

The Guardian, 2 December, 2012

Employee Happiness Drives Customer Service

Herb Kelleher, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, believed that happy employees would result in customer service excellence. The following passage from Wikipedia, demonstrates that his employee-focussed culture really works, even when applied to the largest US domestic airline with 46,000 employees.

“Southwest maintains excellent customer satisfaction ratings; according to the Department of Transportation Southwest ranks number one (lowest number of complaints) of all U.S. airlines for customer complaints. Southwest Airlines has consistently received the fewest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded of all major U.S. carriers that have been reporting statistics to the Department of Transportation (DOT) since September 1987, which is when the DOT began tracking Customer Satisfaction statistics and publishing its Air Travel Consumer Report.”