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Last year, the economics team at the University of Warwick found that when we are happier we are approximately 12% more productive than when we’re not. And we all know intrinsically that this true too. Don’t we all have more energy and bounce about life when we’re happy? So it’s no real surprise that if your team are happier at work they’re going to deliver their work with a smile – something that’s infectious to all, including your customers.

Many businesses recognise this and have started a number of programmes around employee engagement. But the concept of focussing on your team first before your customers is one which you don’t often hear in the business world. I mean, the customer always comes first, right?

Vineet Nayer, former CEO of HCL (one of the global IT powerhouses) is a leader who believes in turning this notion on its head. He dedicated his time at HCL to delivering an environment which puts the employee at the heart of everything they do. This isn’t because he believed that the customer is less important to them, by any means. But as he explains in his book, ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ ( 2010), most companies who say ‘customers first’, don’t always know how to deliver on that goal. Under his leadership, HCL grew significantly, something he believes is due to the focus they place on creating an environment which creates different shared value through the interface between the employee and the customer. He feels that there’s no way you can reach your customers, without reaching your employees first.

You might think that as one of the largest IT service providers in the world, they have a tad more resources at their disposal than most SMEs in the UK, but I would argue that it’s the little things which you can do in this regard that make the difference here – things which he summarises in his book as: focussing on creating a culture of trust; enabling all the supporting functions to help customer-facing employees as they help the customers; promote accountability. To this latter point, it’s worth noting that in his business all managers (from CEO downwards) have their 360 feedback published on the web – something which is entirely within the reach of any company brave enough to do so!

So how can you as a small business compete in this space and have your employees banging the happiness drum for you? The good news is there are tonnes of ways you can increase trust between your employees, but the key to it all seems to be the pieces which don’t cost the earth and are entirely within our gift – like using our ears: Research shared by Best Companies (who sponsor the Sunday Times Top 100 companies) when I undertook some client work with them recently, was that when asking employees a range of questions, the question which had the highest correlation with people leaving, was “My manager does a lot of talking and not enough listening”.

The benefit of employee happiness goes beyond just stopping people leaving and saving you money. There’s also the extra business it can bring you via the customers they interact with.

Richard Branson has long been a proponent of a similar ethos with regard to his employees and having experienced booking my first ever holiday through his flagship brand recently, I have to say I’ve been blown away by how much better the experience was compared to that of his competitors. Happy agents on the line, follow up calls to check I’ve got all I need covered, funky personalised emails, concierge services at the ready, offers to ‘help me pay for my holiday over time’ without extra cost… Yes,  yes, I know they are all good marketing and that this means they get my money quicker, but what the hell, I’m sold! And as a result, anything else they suggest, I’m likely to buy too.

For other ideas on how to inject a bit of happiness in your team, drop us a line at to find out how we can help you.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

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Photocredit: Ramesh MG: Smileys