French-language television audiences were recently treated to a documentary on one of the hot topics in business today: “Le bonheur au travail” – “Happiness at Work” (directed by Martin Meissonnier and broadcast over the German-French channel ARTE on February 24th, 2015).

Based on case studies of businesses whose inspired, charismatic leaders chose to update their companies’ traditional corporate codes, the documentary invites us to reconsider the workplace of the 21st century and imagine how it might be organized.

Le bonheur au travail - planification stratégique

Beyond the documentary’s catchy title (after all, who doesn’t want to find happiness, whether in one’s work or private life?), the program successfully focuses attention on some of the very pragmatic and functional aspects of operating a business, establishing that production, markets, and management practices are closely linked to employee satisfaction.

In the article that follows, we would like to share our blueprint for creating a “business that works”, and by that we mean a business that is organized in such a way as to produce wealth in an environment in which each and every actor feels valued while fulfilling his or her primary role.

Why the title “Bringing Happiness Back to the Workplace”?

Because it centers the debate on the workplace

First of all, because it centers the debate on the workplace. Our focus here is on the workplace much more than on work alone or on some highly variable and personal notion such as happiness.

Management has to step up to the plate

Another reason is that the title emphasizes action and, consequently, centers on the actors involved. It calls on Managers, who have the power, and perhaps in certain cases the obligation, to enact change.

“Bringing back happiness” goes hand in hand with “Reinventing”

And finally, because the expression “bringing back happiness” stresses the importance of “reinventing” the company in order to make it an attractive place to work as it once was, and a source of satisfaction or even inspiration for every one of its constituents: employees, executives, contractors, investors and clients alike.

How can Managers “bring happiness back to the workplace”?

By setting up good strategic steering

Turning the workplace back into a place that fosters personal fulfillment is a process that begins with a company’s long-term vision. This vision encompasses several aspects: the company’s mission and values, but also its strategic steering plan.

The conditions needed to develop good strategic steering come about when we are able to accurately predict the market’s future needs as well as when we have a realistic assessment of the company’s ability to innovate, both from a technical standpoint and in terms of its management. The technical dimension allows a company to assert its leadership; the managerial dimension correlates with its appeal to stakeholders.

Good strategic steering must therefore develop realistic objectives, that is to say objectives that do not overwhelm the company’s capabilities and that take into account the ups and downs of business that it will inevitably face. How these different ups and downs impact the company can be measured by developing “what-if” scenarios.

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In keeping with the spirit of this indispensable dose of realism, a strategic steering plan cannot be designed by general managers and financial officers alone: it has to be a collaborative effort involving each and every one of the company’s key constituents, including sales staff, engineers, an advisory group of operations staff, and both internal and external participants.

Not only must these different actors be involved in developing the strategic steering plan, but we must also listen to whatever advice they may have to give, finding out what their wants are and even the complaints they may have. More than just defining objectives, the strategic plan must therefore include programs designed to improve the organization, and attempt to align means (e.g., in terms of finances, sales, operations and human resources) with established objectives.

By using reliable measures of performance

Although establishing realistic objectives is indispensible to any strategic plan, it would amount to little more than a list of good intentions if it were not guided by a set of performance indicators. These indicators are crucial if we want to bring the strategic plan to fruition.

Developing good performance indicators in tandem with objectives is therefore crucial. And even more important is the ability to refresh these indicators reliably and with ease. In order to do this, the data fed into these indicators have to be able to be drawn from data systems without having to resort to extraordinary measures, such as temporarily shutting down accounting operations.

This is why we pull data from the management system in everyday use and run them through simple operations (additions, comparisons, selections, etc.), so that they can be displayed in easy-to-read dashboards later on (cf. our pdf publication “Analytics and What-if Scenarios”).

Once validated by stakeholders, the strategic steering plan is then itself translated into a series of tactical steering plans.

Tactical steering is based on a model of the company’s value chain.

This plan is developed so as to minimize – as much as possible – bottlenecks that restrict flow anywhere along the company’s value chain. Tactical steering seeks solutions that can withstand peaks in demand, but that can also capitalize on opportunities provided by over-capacity when demand is not as great.

By carefully orchestrating flow within the organization

The goal of tactical steering is to streamline operations by better orchestrating flow within the organization, which means using resources to their full potential (resources designated as “critical”, for example), but also to reduce as much as possible priority shifts once the plan is underway.

Developing the tactical plan is a comprehensive planning process involving the company’s top managers (in sales, purchasing, programs and operations) who meet together under the stewardship of a facilitator (often referred to as a PMO – the “project management officer”), or within a dedicated managing authority (or “PMO cell”).

Tactical steering determines what production objectives are to be achieved over a specified period (two weeks or a month, for example). The fruit of close collaboration, tactical steering is fully endorsed by stakeholders. It reflects, moreover, the notion of “one truth for all”.

From a technical standpoint, and to the extent possible, targeted results (tasks to be accomplished, parts to be manufactured, etc.) are at this stage estimated on the basis of realistic standard execution times. Realistic because they take into account the fact that events slowing down or frustrating the progress of operations will most likely crop up (a lack of critical resources, mechanical failure, a delay in supply delivery, a delay in obtaining official authorizations, and so on).

By reducing disruptive factors

One of management’s objectives in PlanningForce’s methodology is to draw up a list of disruptive factors, evaluating how they impact productivity, and to work to reduce them, or progressively find ways around them.

Tactical steering ultimately gives rise to operational steering, which is the most detailed level of operations, to be carried out every day or on every shift. Team leaders and of course operations staff are involved in developing this operational plan which, although it is very much part of the “tactical sphere”, does provide them some leeway so that they can attend to the ups and downs of day-to-day operations.

By cutting back on operations management

Several conditions must be met in order to cut back on management:

  1. Operations staff must have proven experience (and so it is vital to invest in training and to regularly monitor the effectiveness of skills highlighted early on)
  2. The management system must reduce administrative work at intermediary levels (so as to consequently reduce the overall number of these levels)
  3. Team management should focus on providing technical, logistical, and decision-making assistance (as defined by procedures).

Nevertheless, as we attempt to give operational levels greater autonomy and responsibility, the most important detail is to do away with interruptions, intrusions and priority shifts, as these have the effect of fatiguing, discouraging, and taking away the sense of responsibility of those actors working in the field.

The fact of the matter is that these very interruptions, intrusions and priority shifts are most often the result of decisions made at the highest hierarchical levels, and this includes top management. The point simply cannot be stressed often enough: such events are one of the main reasons why operations staff experience lost productivity and may feel discouraged and useless!

By empowering operations staff

Echoing the documentary mentioned at the outset of this article, “Le bonheur au travail”, the key to successfully empowering operations staff with autonomy and responsibility can be found in well-designed strategic and tactical plans, and in the rigor with which company leaders and managers apply governing policies, applying them to themselves as well.

This heightened responsibility can be further reinforced by setting up task forces (or quality circles) that bring operations staff together with team leaders.

These task forces may seek the assistance of consultants specializing in lean manufacturing to help them formalize their ideas and observations, especially with a view to integrating them into future strategic and tactical plans, thereby creating a virtuous cycle in which the company’s plans reflect the suggestions for improvement prompted by operations staff. This, in turn, further engages and motivates operations staff as these plans are carried out.

The BUSINESS STEERING CYCLE as specified by PlanningForce’s methodology

Planning cycle and steering cycle

Happiness returns to the workplace when we embrace new ways of thinking

Bringing happiness back is less complicated than it seems. Most often, all it takes is to (re)create the conditions whereby each member recognizes his or her own importance, as was the case in the company’s early days when those carrying out projects were involved simultaneously in commercial aspects, R & D, production and management.

Bringing happiness back means returning to an integrated, comprehensible and people-focused understanding of the organization, regardless of how complex it is or how many legal and administrative constraints there are, and that over time have come to bog down operations.

In order to recreate the favorable conditions that existed back in the company’s early days when each employee felt that he or she had real power over things, PlanningForce brings a unique combination of software-based tools and a methodological framework that steers business operations through the application of rules that are – once again –clear and simple for all.

Every unit within the company benefits from this new way of organizing work, which, in practice, results in:

  • Better financial performance
  • The elimination of bad stress
  • All actors in the company are more involved
  • Increased customer satisfaction

So yes, it really is possible to “bring happiness back” and, in the end, it is much easier than it may at first seem.

But, as the documentary “Le bonheur au travail” clearly points out, it results from a change in mind-set, one that originates first among business managers, and which then comes to permeate the entire organization, above all thanks to the use of new tools and methodologies.