Earlier this year, we were named the Happiest Company in Education by TINYpulse. Every 4 weeks, TINYpulse sends out an anonymous survey to all employees asking “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?”. We averaged about an 8.7, which was the highest average in 2014 of all the education companies using TINYpulse.
At first, I was stoked. It felt like all the hard work we put into our culture and values was paying off. People truly enjoyed coming work and felt great about the work they did. But over time, my excitement about the award has waned. Every 4 weeks, I get an email where I’m asked to rate my own happiness. And while I enjoy what I do and why I do it, I do have rough days. We all do. But I’m hesitant to be honest because we have an image to preserve—we’re the “Happiest Company in Education” and if we start being less happy that means something is wrong, right?
Because of this mindset, I started realizing that I may rate my happiness at a 9 instead of a 7 (with 7 being how I might truly feel on a given day.) I’m letting the award and the image of happiness get in the way of how I’m truly feeling, and that’s not okay. I also started to wonder, “is something wrong with me if I’m the CEO and am rating my happiness at my company as a 7 out of 10?” When I see other anonymous ratings that are lower than usual, I’d also wonder if we were on a downward trajectory, going from the Happiest Company to just another company (as if that’s a bad thing).
Reflecting, I’ve realized that I’m never going to be satisfied: not with our happiness, not with our growth, not with any aspect of the business. We’re doing well as a company, but we can always do better. The Happiest Company award created the sense that we’ve arrived. But we haven’t. We’ll never arrive. But we are constantly moving forward.
Ben Horowitz, partner at VC firm A16Z and the author of The Hard Things About Hard Things, wrote about how the most difficult skill of a CEO is managing your own psychology. I think the first step to that is being honest with myself.
I’m now pushing myself to embrace my feelings. When I’m at a 7, I rate myself at a 7 and then figure out how I can improve that number rather than avoiding it. When it comes to culture and happiness, we should be using TINYpulse to get honest feedback and to fix our “broken windows.” We should not be using TINYpulse to win the award of Happiest Company.
Last week TINYpulse asked us the happiness question again. I saw a 6 (several actually), and I’m embracing it. A 6 doesn’t mean that the company has serious problems. It’s reminder that there’s room for improvement, which is actually a good thing. Things will never be perfect—we’re always a work in progress, and that’s okay.