At the Future of Work Consortium, one of the challenges we have been debating is how to craft organizations which are able to focus as much on the quality of life of employees as their standard of living. The question is particularly pertinent to a low carbon future, where high levels of consumption will be increasingly inappropriate. It also plays to a theme I have explored in an earlier blog about the need for what I called ‘regenerative’ communities – places and people that bring renewal and positive energy.
I was able to take the debate further when last week I had the pleasure of spending time with the Prime Minister of Bhutan Hon'ble Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley and his colleagues. We met at the World HRD Congress in Mumbai, where he presented me with the Tata award for services to Human Resources. His own speech to the congress was fascinating, as he described how Bhutan, a small country situated in the north west of the Indian sub-continent with a population of 690,000, has for the last three decades persuaded a policy of focusing on the happiness of their citizens as a key national indicator.
Gross National Happiness (GNH) has been the development indicator that has guided Bhutan's development process since the early 70s. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world, citing a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006, called the "World Map of Happiness”. In a survey in 2005, 45% of Bhutanese reported being very happy, 52 percent reported being happy and only three percent reported not being happy. Based on this data, the Happy Planet Index estimates that the average level of life satisfaction in Bhutan is within the top 10 % of nations worldwide, and certainly higher than other nations with similar levels of GDP per capital.
What, if anything can Bhutan teach us about how we in corporations could make the transition to a deeper focus on quality of life – and dare I say it- happiness? Listening to the PM speak, talking to his colleagues, and dining with him later in the day, I was struck by three ways that we could learn from the path they have taken:
1. It takes courage and role modelling: what was really striking was the way that the PM and his colleagues behaved that day. Ever courteous, charming and prepared to listen to anyone – what ever their point of view or perspective. He also told us of how the King of Bhutan – despite dismay from many of his citizens, had abdicated in favour of a democracy that he believed would support more fully the strategy of happiness. It reminded me that in our own research on cooperation it was the role modelling of the CEO and their senior team that was the lead indicator of a cooperative culture.
2. It takes a focused strategy: GNH is not simply a fanciful wish, it is enshrined in what are called the four pillars:
Pillar One: Equitable and Sustainable Socio-economic Development: The first condition of sustainability prescribes the moral responsibility of each generation to ensure that development is pursued to benefit not only the present but future generations as well.
Pillar Two: Preservation and Promotion of Culture: This is seen as the main driver of GNH. This pillar is measured against the indicators of cultural resilience; time use and balance; community vitality; psychological well- being. The belief is that in the ultimate analysis, happiness is about relationships more than anything else. It is about caring and sharing and being able to moderate one’s desire and craving. Happiness abounds when relationships grow.
Pillar Three: Conservation of the Environment: For Bhutan, a highly vulnerable mountain ecology, the integrity of the environment is an everyday concern. Recent actions taken in the legal and policy domains include a minimum forest cover of 60% and a voluntary pledge to the international community that Bhutan will always remain carbon negative.
Pillar Four: Promotion of Good Governance: The success with which one pursues and finds happiness has much to do with justice, freedom, peace, security and access to basic services. These are the functions of governments which can be best fulfilled within a democratic culture where the citizens are capable of exercising the power of the vote with responsibility to not only bring honest and competent leaders to public office but to hold them accountable and remove them in a perfectly orderly manner. This has been supported by the abdication of the King at the age of 53 to enable the transfer to a democracy; and the commitment of the government to the principles of transparency, accountability and responsiveness.
3. It takes measurement. These four pillars and their nine indicators are measured through an index that comprises 72 variables each of which is given equal weight and can be aggregated into a single indicator to reveal a more truthful and reliable assessment of Bhutan's progress and well being. The country has begun piloting a screening process, which requires that every policy, programme and project be assessed in terms of its negative, positive or neutral GNH value.
Let me simply finish by letting the Prime Minister speak for himself:
‘Looking at human resource on a larger and complete scale, and not as working economic animals, but as human beings, it is our moral responsibility to be concerned about their common need for happiness beyond material incentives. The focus of leaders and human resource managers ought to be to bring out the best of human nature and quality in people. The nature of our companies, institutions or governments must be of the human kind, which value and promote enabling conditions for happiness for their members for the realization of the limitless potential of the human individual - so that not only will she/he become more productive but be motivated and inspired to add quality and meaning to products and the way in which such products are made. I believe it is the possibility of attaining happiness in an organization or a country that gives people the sense of security, pride and confidence to make them productive employees and good citizens”
Humm…interesting stuff – let me leave you with a few questions:
· H - How appropriate would GNH be to your company?
· - - Do you believe this is anymore important for the future than it has been in the past?
· - What’s stopping us taking this debate forward?