How we put a number on employee happiness and did something about it

I just recently – finally – finished reading Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book, which I liked a lot. With my first company I didn’t think much of employee happiness; if something couldn’t be solved with spreadsheets, it didn’t matter.  And something as fuzzy as happiness certainly couldn’t fit into that framework.

The approach that we’ve taken at my current company Trulia since the 2005 beginning is quite different and we had the hypothesis that if we can even try to measure Employee happiness, it will always be front and center in our minds, and possibly we can even improve it as a result.

I thought to share a few insights about our very own Happiness Project.

First, on a quarterly basis we send out a simple anonymous survey that has multiple choice (1 to 5 points) questions around three areas:

  1. How happy employees are?
  2. How well are we living up to our stated culture as a company?
  3. How well we are aligned as an organization (i.e., does everyone know what/why/how we are trying to achieve something)?

The basic idea is that if we truly are what we say (as an organization) and if we are all working towards a well stated goal (that everyone knows and buys into) and if we enjoy the process ,we ought to become very successful! Here are some of the questions we use to try to get into the heart of those issues:

On Organizational alignment:

  • I understand company’s top business priorities?
  • I believe the company is heading in the right direction?
  • My manager keeps me informed about relevant information that helps me do my job?

On Happiness:

  • I would recommend Trulia as a place to work?
  • Trulia provides the flexibility needed to balance work and personal responsibilities?

I’m sure we’ve got a long way to go to make our system world class, but here (chart) is a good example how we’ve step by step improved our metrics, from 2010 to 2011 while doubling the size of the organization.

Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way:

  • It’s easy to create survey fatigue unless the loop is closed with consistent reporting of results back (to all employees) and action plan to improve things. In other words, there’s little incentive to offer feedback, unless participants get something tangible in return.
  • Our thoughts about happiness seem to be influenced very heavily by the very recent memories. A raise is the 3 days leading into the survey, will surely spike the results! To get consistent results, it is important to measure results at the same time, e.g., just before quarterly reviews.
  • Averages are useful, but I’ve typically found the open ended feedback and business unit (or by function) results most actionable. If, for example, engineers are loving the company every moment, but sales is having tough time,  they both average out the results and you obviously can’t draw many conclusions.
  • I’m (still) a huge believer in measuring employee happiness and drawing insights and actionable improvement ideas from the results.

I’d love to hear more ideas and resources how to improve this. Feel free to shoot me an email  sami at trulia (dot) com.

(If you’ve never heard of Trulia where we do all this magic, check out http://www.trulia.com/about for reference)

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