Powered by Love – What nimble companies thrive on

What makes a company a place where love rules? Where people love to work and customers love to shop. A company that sends out concentric circles of happiness and well-being and thus also finds a place in the heart of society at large? And why would this be relevant?

It is relevant because a company that is powered by the “energy of love” is a company that is highly adaptable, masters complexity with aplomb and thus stands a good chance of being around for a while. Why? Because in the presence of love and trust, all communication interfaces – i.e. the headspaces where different people meet and where complexity happens – are highly functional. As a consequence, collaboration is smooth, decision making becomes easier and more skilful, innovation can flourish and, yes, it’s also good for the bottom line. By the way: If you feel uncomfortable with the word “love” in a business context, you might just as well talk about trust, respect, tolerance, appreciation, kindness, or generosity. It’s all the same energy.

Let me tell you a little story about such a place and how it feels. In January, I spent time at a medium-sized bakery on a German island. I had met the entrepreneur on a crazy train ride. We got talking, and I took an immediate interest in his company. Because here was an entrepreneur who, a few years ago, had set out to transform his business: “You know, Sabine, I could have probably amassed several pieces of real estate and other assets in my lifetime. But what would I leave behind? Exhausted human beings. So at some point I asked myself: ‘How about, some day, I’d be looking back on a whole lot of happy people? Wouldn’t that be a legacy to be proud of?’”. I guess, it can’t get any more straightforward when it comes to “purpose statements”.

The Magic Ingredients

We eventually agreed that I would come to visit. What did I find? Well, I found an extremely well energized place. Even at 3 o’clock at night in the bakery, the buzz could be felt. Wherever I went – be it the bakery, the office or the shops – I met friendly, relaxed human beings who were pretty much self-organized. Collaboration was so effortless, that it hardly needed any verbal communication. This was particularly true in the bakery. The moves and actions were so nimble that in spite of the incredible speed with which everything happened (because boy, once the dough is ready, you got to get going) it looked like a ballet performance to me. Everything in synch. Such smoothness is achieved when people know each other well, trust their colleagues, know exactly what to do and are trusted to do it. So trust and freedom, based on a general belief in the goodness of people, are essential ingredients of the magic “love potion”.

This trust and freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility. Quality control, for example, happens everywhere – in the baking process, at the oven, in the preparation of snacks, by the delivery drivers and in the shops. Everyone takes pride in the products and makes sure that only the best bread, rolls, cakes and pastry making it to the customers. No “leaders” or managers are needed to make this happen. It happens, because people love what they do and want to make their customers happy. The fact, that most customers have been regulars forever, speaks for itself.

Respect, appreciation and generosity are other magic ingredients of a “happy people company”. This is expressed in decent salaries being paid to everyone – including apprentices and seasonal helpers. In additional benefits beyond the obvious, such as a company car that is available for all employees on the mainland (so that employees do not have to pay for car transfer on the ferry), or affordable and appealing accommodation, free bikes and free events for seasonal workers. Communal areas are airy and welcoming, and there is even a room for smokers, so that they don’t have to hang around in the cold. Also, all the teams receive a budget every year that they can spend on team activities according to their liking. They can also save it up over a couple of years, to help fund more lavish outings.

Concentric Circles of Happiness

And beyond the operational, there is the personal: such as when one new employee who moved to the island could not afford the deposit for the new flat and hardly had any furniture to speak off: Her boss did not hesitate to provide a guarantee to the landlord, and all the colleagues got together to find her some furniture.

All of this adds up to concentric circles of happiness rippling from the company – to friends and family of the employees, the wider island community and seasonal customers, who often spread these circles to the mainland in the form of bread and cake they take home at the end of their vacation. I guess, that’s the ultimate definition of Corporate Social Responsibility.

No Carrots or Sticks

The absence of things is just as meaningful as their presence. For instance, there is not much classic “leadership” and no internal competition going on.  Major changes – such as the massive reduction of the product range during covid times, repricing against the backdrop of inflation or the purchase of big machinery – can be suggested by any employee and are discussed with everyone concerned. Even when the final decision is taken by the owner, it is thoroughly informed by a wide variety of perspectives. Other decisions, such as smaller product range changes or adhoc changes to work schedules, are routinely made between team members directly. Former rankings, comparing the turnover of the different shops, were abolished. Also, there are no individual bonuses or incentives, or other carrots and sticks.

The Power to Heal Thyself

Does this mean that life is always hunky-dory on the island? No. Actually, the owner mentioned that they were having a bit of a problem with communication recently, and could I help? I was happy to, but, really, there was not much “consulting-around” to do. I analysed the situation, pointed out the “block” I found in the otherwise effective flow of communication and suggested measures to dissolve it. I have no doubt that this healthy and well-functioning organism will get back on track by itself after this “micro-invasive” intervention. Because there is no fear in the system that would stand in the way of change. One of the employees put it quite succinctly: „Here, change is not a cause for concern or anxiety. I trust, that we will always find a solution that makes sense for me as well.“

It is thus no surprise that I was myself filled with the most beautiful energy when I sat on the ferry on my way back. With a big, happy smile on my face and a good supply of yummy bread and cake in my backpack. Taking a concentric circle of happiness to the mainland.

© Sabine Breit