Tuesday 9th February, Happy and Epic CIC hosted the 2016 Transforming the Public Sector conference at Kensington Town Hall in London.

The conference focused on encouraging change within the public sector to improve staff engagement, happiness, and productivity, with real life examples from the speakers.

The attendees were all seated at round tables and questions were presented to the audience to encourage discussion amongst the groups. After each break, we shuffled the attendees and asked them to set with new people, which encouraged further discussion and most importantly – networking opportunities. The atmosphere was energy and friendly, with plenty of positive feedback.

We’ve identified several key themes for the day that were discussed by several of our speakers. Here are the five key outcomes from the conference…

  1. Many of the ideas presented were simple but effective

Many of the ideas given in the talks were really simple ideas that could be implemented straight away – and frankly were just common sense.

Henry Stewart, author of the Happy Manifesto, explained that service to patients can be improved by just five small things – introduce yourself, smile, make eye contact with the patient, communicate clearly and explain what’s happening, and ask at the end of the consultation: Is there anything else you need?

As Henry said: “This is common sense. This is obvious. These are things we can do.”

Dom Monkhouse, CEO of iomart, told us that every week he sends an email to all of his staff, with three emoticons: a happy face :), a neutral face :|, and a sad face :(. He asks them to reply with which one reflects their mood right now. When someone replies with a sad face, he calls them to ask what’s wrong and if he can help – whatever level in the company they are.

  1. Hire for attitude, train for skill

This was mentioned by June O’Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation, Brendan O’Keefe, Managing Director of Epic CIC, and Dom – so definitely a key lesson from the day!

Dom spends two days a week recruiting, as it’s so important for the business to hire the right people. Rather than asking about qualifications and work history, his common interview technique is to ask candidates to draw a picture of what motivates them, as it gives an interesting insight into who they are, and whether they share the organisation’s values. He explained that once you have staff with the right attitude, you can train them to do the job.

“Hire for attitude, train for skill” is also one of the 10 core principles in Henry’s Happy Manifesto.

  1. Remove triangulation

Triangulation – or gossiping – was another key theme of Brendan and Dom’s talks. Transparency, honesty, and teamwork is crucial to creating a happy environment at work.

Both have found that when staff have complained about a member of the team, telling them to discuss it with the person in question or they will speak to them on their behalf has been incredibly effective in getting rid of this behaviour and has improved the atmosphere in the office.

  1. Giving staff freedom within a framework

Alieke van Dijken of Dutch organisation Buurtzorg explained that the heartbeat of their organisation is patient care, and so at Buurtzorg they have no managers, just coaches. They employ over 9,000 nurses who look after 80,000 patients – and have just 45 management office staff.

Small teams all work together to organise their workload, deciding for themselves how much time they need to spend with a patient. As Alieke says, the Buurtzorg’s ‘onion’ style of management “gives you the freedom to choose how to do your job.”

And it works – not only are overhead costs just 8% compared to the 25% industry standard, they are also consistently top for patient satisfaction out of over 300 Dutch nursing providers.

You can read more about Buurtzorg in Henry’s blog on the Happy Manifesto website.

  1. Pre-approval

Pre-approval was another very common theme from the day, spoken about by Brendan, the team at GCHQ, and Dom. This is only possible when managers trust their staff – giving them all the information they need, and then giving them the responsibility to make a decision.

Pre-approval was an idea Brendan took from Henry’s Happy Manifesto, and he admits that it was difficult – particularly when the first decision made through the pre-approval system was coming up with the new name for the UK’s first youth service employee led mutual! However, he says “when you give a team a task and the responsibility, they do it really well.”

You can read more about how Happy helped Epic CIC during their transformation on Henry’s blog.

Reading list

In his talk, Dom recommended several books – here are the highlights:

  • Work Rules, by Laszlo Bock
  • The Happy Manifesto, by Henry Stewart
  • Good to Great, by Jim Collins
  • Hiring for Attitude, by Mark Murphy

Overall, the day was incredibly positive, and everyone left full of ideas and excited about bringing change to the public sector. We are looking forward to hearing about all the change that the conference has helped to spark!

Happy would be delighted to speak to you and discuss how we can help you create a happy workplace. Our available courses include our transformational 4 Day Happy Workplace programme. You can learn at your workplace or here at Happy in Aldgate, and all courses can be totally customised to your needs. Just contact us to find out more.


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