The Greatest Competitive Advantage May Not Be What You Think
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In his book, The Art of Freedom, Jesse Panama proclaims that the philosophy of love lends a business a competitive advantage. Though it may seem counterintuitive, his suggestion to run a business with love — yes, love — is actually a quite pragmatic way to approach most endeavors. Panama sums up the technique simply as, “Treat the people in your market or audience (your tribe) like family.”
If there’s one word that describes family, it’s love. If there’s one phrase that directs corporate businesses, it’s competitive advantage. Given these truths, the question becomes, how does an organization marry “love” and “competitive advantage” to achieve greater employee satisfaction and produce better bottom-line results? And, is it really important to do so?
Research says, “Yes!” Before suggesting ways to satisfy love languages, let’s cover the research confirming the importance of love and happiness in sales. The director of an 80-year study of adult development, George Vaillant stated, “Happiness is love. Full stop.” The study followed Harvard graduates over their lifetime and determined loving relationships as the most prominent indicator of both happiness and income. In addition to strong marriages, the study reported social engagement and support from friends, groups and volunteer activities as key components of happiness.
Related: 20 Secrets to Living a Happier Life
If love equals happiness, how does happiness impact business productivity? A 2019 study by the University of Oxford indicates employees are 13% more productive when they’re happy. In his book, The Buddha and the Badass, Vishen Lakhani recounts his interview with Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, and details the following statistics: "When the brain is in a positive state, productivity rises by 31%, sales success increases by 37%, intelligence, creativity and memory all improve dramatically. Doctors primed to be happy are 19% better at making the right diagnosis."
The value of facilitating love and happiness as a competitive advantage for greater sales in a corporate setting is clear. However, for many — especially traditional corporations — the concept of love, and even happiness, in the office may be a totally foreign concept.
Love languages can bridge the gap and help executives connect with employees for increased corporate cohesiveness, camaraderie and sales. And just as love-language dynamics are unique within each relationship, the same is true in the office. While love languages are universally explained, the application of them is very individualized — and different for every person. A person’s love language represents actions that make them feel most loved, and most people have two: a primary and secondary love language. Knowing a person’s love language can give corporate bosses clues into how to spur connection and efficiency for employees. The following are suggested love-language adaptations that can be easily applied to the office environment:
- Words of Affirmation = Recognition. Conversations are important to people who use words of affirmation as a love language. They appreciate being acknowledged and built up with written and verbal feedback. They feel valued when others express gratitude and give thanks for their service. Being validated as a person and recognized for the work they do is important to them. In a corporate setting, forms of recognition can be as easy as agreeing with or backing an idea in a meeting; or, it can be simply to write a thank you note or email. These simple acts of love provide unquestionable dividends. Under Shawn Achor’s direction, Nationwide Insurance employees were directed to write a two-minute email and give thanks or express appreciation to someone they knew. The results after 18 months of the practice were astounding. The company brought in an additional $300 million in sales, charted a 50% increase in revenue and processed a whopping 237% increase in applications — without any new hires!
In addition to providing straightforward thanks, recognition can also be more elaborate with specific awards and public acknowledgment of a person’s ability or achievement.
- Acts of Service = Delegation. As a love language, acts of service demonstrate love when recipients are supported in daily work life. Anything that eases the burden of their responsibility feels like love to this group. Giving these folks occasions to delegate tasks provides an opportunity for acts of service to be rendered on the regular. Giving an employee authority to delegate tasks like making copies, entering data, scheduling meetings, sending meeting notes or compiling spreadsheets serves the employee by reducing their burden and gives them a little chemical boost of love. If a person’s position doesn’t support direct delegation, consider a shared administrative resource to keep moving projects forward. In addition, rather than relying only on assigning tasks to a direct subordinate, corporate execs can consider if the delegating can include trading responsibilities among co-workers. For example, those who like to write could trade tasks with others who prefer numbers and data analysis.
- Receiving Gifts = Remuneration. Those with gifts as a love language appreciate receiving surprises and tokens of appreciation. In addition to competitive pay, workplace remuneration can come in the way of large and small monetary bonuses as well as ancillary gifts like meals, gift certificates, weekend getaways and time off. For the intrinsically motivated, even opportunities to work on exciting or high-profile projects can feel like a gift.
- Quality Time = Freedom. Quality time as a love language is all about connecting with others and spending time together. This is focused, undistracted time where people can truly connect with one another. Corporations can support employees and their love of freedom by providing generous time-off policies, and supporting flexible schedules that allow employees to attend family events, take vacations and even catch an afternoon movie with a friend.
Corporate events, training and outings can also provide co-workers the opportunity to experience quality time with staff outside of the office where more casual social customs govern over professional ones. Herein lies the true connection point — and connection is essential to happiness. According to Vishen Lakhiani, founder of personal development company Mindvalley, “When you bring connection to your workplace you give people and yourself one of the greatest gifts in the world — and the gift with the highest correlation to human happiness. The gift of belonging.”
- Physical Touch = Community. This is a precarious one for a corporate environment. However, skipping this important love language would be remiss because physical touch speaks to the camaraderie shared by friends in the office. Research by Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey confirms that people who have a best friend at work are “seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being and are less likely to get injured on the job.” Given their connection, it would be strange for a best friend — even those who are not huggers — to decline a hug, pass up a high-five or fail to hold a hand when prompted. It’s through these shared moments that community breeds intimacy and love in the corporate world.
Another way companies can support physical touch is to bring in professionals and practitioners who can support employees with services like chair massage, physical therapy and chiropractic care.
Given the statistical support of love and happiness as proven ways to increase sales in the workplace, there’s no question a corporate culture that nurtures employee satisfaction is a logical choice for both the employer and the workforce. Corporate love languages offer a framework to foster love, self-worth and connection as one of the greatest competitive advantages an organization can utilize.