Why you don’t want happy employees

Umpteen studies over the decades have proven that a happy employee is not necessarily a productive employee.  So all the talk and articles and blog posts about how to make your employees happy are misleading.  Making employees happy is not what you should be trying to accomplish. 

So what do you want your employees to be? 

First of all, you want them to be productive.  Getting the job done is the sine qua non — without which, there is nothing.  But productivity these days is not enough.  You can, through command, control, manipulation, and consequences get people to be productive.  But as a result, they won’t be committed — to providing the best service, to continuous improvement, to developing their skills, and to your company.

So secondly, you want employees who get satisfaction from their work.  This is not the same as being satisfied – that’s not motivational.  Rather, it is the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment and doing  good work, which is the strongest source of motivation — intrinsic motivation.

When someone derives satisfaction from their work, they treat other employees and customers better, they put in extra effort, they want more of the satisfaction from doing a good job.

Don’t try to make employees happy or satisfied.  Instead, help them to be productive and to get satisfaction from accomplishment.  Only then can you maximize your return on people.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Accountability and responsibility — both are important, but they are NOT the same thing.


An accountability is an end result.  Being accountable is being answerable for a result.

For example, a primary accountability for a customer service manager might be to “ensure that all customers are satisfied with their company interactions.”  The manager is never completed with this result, and it involves many activities and many smaller results such as answering calls within three rings.  The manager is accountable for the ongoing achievement of that result by many means.


A responsibility is an action.  To be responsible is to be answerable for acting on some task or acting in a certain way.

For example, a manager is responsible for treating all employees with respect.  To treat any employee without respect is to be irresponsible.

Both accountability and responsibility are important building blocks of strategy execution.  Unfortunately, both are also misused such that they connote “guilt,” as in “Who  is accountable?” and “Who is responsible?”

Competitive Advantage and People

On October 21, 1805, Lord Admiral Nelson’s English fleet defeated the combined fleets of France and Spain at the Battle of Trafalgar.  For decades afterward, the English fleet dominated the seas.  What was Nelson’s competitive advantage?

His ships were not faster, nor were his guns better.  His success had nothing to do with clever maneuvering or better sailing tactics.  In fact, his approach was simply to put his ship right next to the enemy and slug it out by trading broadsides.

The  single most important factor — his competitive advantage — was that his gun crews were so well trained they could get off 2 to 3 times more broadsides than the enemy ships could.  That was an advantage that increased in strength the longer the battle continued.

No matter what your strategy is, whether it’s lower cost or some aspect of differentiation, how well your organization performs as a whole — how well it implements the strategy — is key to your success.

A mediocre strategy excellently implemented will almost always outperform an excellent strategy poorly executed.