A Happy, Buzzing Hive at Burt’s Bees

Twenty years ago, Burt’s Bees was making candles and soap in an abandoned bowling alley in Maine. Two years ago, they were ready to make a huge international expansion. A lot of smart decisions happened in-between, but one of the smartest happened right there as they prepared to go global: CEO John Replogle decided to put his employees’ happiness first.

This is not the first thing that would occur to many leaders. There’s so much to be done, so much compliance to ensure. So many forms to file and blanks to be filled in and details to be seen to. So a lot of leaders respond to the pressure by immediately turning the dial to eleven, pulling their managers into frequent meetings and making a lot of urgent demands.

When you’re running around in circles like that, it feels like you’re moving the ball forward. And yes, it might get some extra work done. But the frantic craziness can also do real damage to your progress by increase everyone’s level of anxiety and fear, which steals energy that could go to smart decision making.

When Burt’s Bees was about to make that big, scary leap into the unknown, Replogle made a conscious decision not to turn up the pressure any more than absolutely necessary. Instead, he focused on culture, creating an environment that was much more likely to see them safely through. He asked his managers to talk to their teams often about the company’s values. He also held a half-day company-wide workshop on happiness. Not productivity, not efficiency—happiness. At every step, he fostered positive leadership, which kept his managers and employees engaged and cohesive as they made their successful transition to a global company.

There are two advantages to this approach. In addition to learning about happiness and reinforcing company values, the employees at Burt’s Bees felt like they were important, like they were the key to the company’s success in this venture. That’s good—because it’s true. And that feeling propelled Burt’s Bees into a very successful expansion.

Culture shouldn’t just be something we attend to in calm seas. It’s just as important—even more so, really—to focus on culture when the heat is on.

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