Toni, Head of Marketing, and Jasmiina, VALA’s Culture Hacker, summarize the first year of working towards our new common strategy, regarding employee wellbeing and culture.
We started this year with a brand new, shining strategy. The vision in our strategy was to become the happiest company in Finland by 2020. Now, a year later, the numbers on our goal framework, indicate that we’ve already reached our first set targets on our path to 2020.
When the vision of “Happiest Company 2020” was on the planning table, it felt very challenging. Happiness is such a lucid term and attempting to collectively reach it, let alone measure it, seemed a little far-fetched, even to us. But in the end, we’ve achieved a lot during this year. Naturally, there have also been some difficult things. In this post, we’ll demonstrate what has been achieved and what could have been done differently. Hopefully some happiness seekers find this helpful for their own endeavors.
What were the goals
So, the end goal was and still is, to be a happier company, even the happiest. This kind of end goal or a vision definitely needs sub goals to make the aspired things more concrete and the whole journey more tangible. Also, with goal setting, it was possible to get everyone even more committed to the vision.
Thus, a common goal framework was created, which was named not-so-creatively as Balanced Scorecard. We set up eight different parameters that we could all have an impact on. Most importantly, each parameter was thought out in a way, that improving it, would make VALA a better place to be. Purpose of this was to get everyone to work together to make VALA a better place for all of us and to be able to measure our progress very concretely.
The best part is that we have worked together for these goals, increasing the cohesion in our company, and at the same time, VALA has definitely become an even better place to be.
What did we do to reach our goals?
In order to reach the goals, set in the Balanced Scorecard, everyone at VALA really stepped up and took initiative. Here are some of the things that we did together.
- All developmental ideas and changes that happened within the company, came internally through feedback questionnaires and discussions. This approach is critical because we knew that everyone at VALA is an expert in their own field and knows what’s best for themselves.
- VALA’s entire professional development framework was built by the employees themselves. Ideas were gathered through interviews and workshops.
- Support for comprehensive wellbeing was updated to cover everyone’s happiness even more inclusively. More encouragement was focused on mental energy, physical exercise and own hobbies.
- Everyone at VALA was invited to brainstorm what kind of clients they wished VALA to work with in the future. These companies were then contacted and informed that VALA believed them to share common values with and expressed interest in cooperating with in the future.
- The participation count for taking part in surveys and creating building blocks within the company grew considerably and was one of the biggest successes.
- Participation for various events and presentations and taking initiative in hosting own events also grew significantly.
- The company-wide Skill Meter grew rapidly during the year. This was done by expanding everyone’s own skill-set through new interesting projects and various courses and certifications.
Conversation is very important.
Then some numbers about our progress to prove how we have developed.
Our employee satisfaction was in a very good level before this year but we have still been able to improve it significantly. In the beginning of 2017 the overall score from our quarterly survey was 3,9 on a scale of one to five. Now, the score is 4,2. It might not seem like a lot, but on this high level, it’s a great improvement.
In the quarterly survey, we also ask “How happy are you in your life right now?”. Despite our vision, we understand, that we as an employer, can only affect a relatively small portion of a person’s overall happiness. If someone is having a hard time outside work, we can only support them and offer tools for feeling generally better, but we can’t meddle with people’s personal lives. Thus, it has been uplifting to see the average of the happiness question to increase from 3,9 to 4,1.
But after all, nothing normal ever changed a damn thing.
There’s another result from the satisfaction survey that can’t be left unmentioned. The average to the question, “How likely would you recommend VALA to a friend or acquaintance?”, has increased from 8,2 to a whopping 9,1 (scale zero to ten). This is truly something for everyone to be proud of.
Our weekly Feeling Meter has established a very good level, reaching average scores above 8,0 week after week (on a scale of zero to ten).
Also, apparently others have realized that VALA would be a good place to be. In the end of 2016, we received about five to ten job applications monthly. Now, a year later, we get about 50 applications a month.
All of the above metrics were included in the goal framework (the Balanced Scorecard) mentioned above. Now, conveniently when the year is coming to an end, we are happy to announce that the weighted average of the BSC has reached the targeted level!
As a common reward for reaching the goals of the BSC, we will rent a large villa from somewhere warm, where everyone can spend holidays or do remote work. This is pretty special and something that we feel good about. However, this is most certainly not the best part in achieving our goals. The best part is that we have worked together for these goals, increasing the cohesion in our company, and at the same time, VALA has definitely become an even better place to be.
Maybe something like this one?
What could have been done better
Sometime in the beginning of this year we were listening to Pauli Aalto-Setälä’s keynote about change management. What stuck with the two of us most, was how he emphasized the importance of communication in the times of changes, “there can never be too much communication”, he stated. We high fived and felt good, that now we just needed to communicate like crazy and it would all go well. And then we didn’t.
We announced the new strategy and vision and tried our best to get everyone on board, but we just didn’t communicate enough. Although each and every VALA person was involved in creating the strategy (here’s a blog post about our strategy creation process), it’s difficult for a company like VALA to get everyone involved under a common vision because people often do their daily work in various places. It must have took more than half of the year until it started to genuinely feel like a common vision. Naturally, most of VALA people were on the same page pretty quickly, but it indeed was a challenge to get everyone as excited about the vision as us two. Looking back now, we believe this was because we underestimated the importance of continuous communication.
If happiness is seen as the ultimate objective in life, unhappy emotions might be perceived as personal failures.
As another lesson, only after launching the strategy, we studied that theoretically, constant talk about happiness may ironically cause unhappiness, which we did not take into account. If happiness is seen as the ultimate objective in life, unhappy emotions might be perceived as personal failures. Unhappiness and negative emotions are a part of life, just as feelings of joy and happiness are. The two opposites can’t exist without each other, but what Happiest Company 2020 means, is celebrating the positive emotions and learning from the negative ones.
Now that we’ve reached our first set of common goals, will we just be happy about the current state and enjoy our villa under the sun? Of course not. We will most probably make new goals and a new model for the next year, and continue our pursuit of happiness. No goal is too big but if we’re honest, ours is no piece of cake. It’s not a very normal goal. It requires a major amount of team work, and perhaps a little luck too. But after all, nothing normal ever changed a damn thing.
Our tips for those who are building a better place to be
- Include all the personnel from the begin, and together, figure out your vision
- Set your goals high enough
- Choose measurable and concrete goals
- Communicate more than you thought was enough
- Remember to celebrate reaching the goals and sub-goals, preferably celebrate with something that will help reaching the next milestone (like in our case, the villa)
- If your vision is to be happier, celebrate it, don’t force it