Scope - Design - Deliver

Hacking Happiness with Nic Marks

Nic Marks is the special guest on show 18. He is the CEO and founder of Friday Pulse, Statistician, Happiness Expert, and Ted Speaker. Learn from Nic about:

  • What happiness is and how to measure it
  • How feelings and emotions come before cognition
  • Why some nations and people are happier than others
  • What leadership activities increase happiness in the workforce
  • How human appreciation increases happiness in us all


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Full Transcript Below: 


Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.


Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you.


Joining me on today’s show is CEO and founder of Friday Pulse. Statistician, happiness expert, and Ted speaker, its Nic Marks. Before we get to speak with Nic, It is The Leadership Hacker News.


The Leadership Hacker News


Steve Rush: In our role as leaders, we have likely to have made some significant decisions of late. Our approach to making decisions will vary from individual to individual and while some considered and thoughtful strategic decisions would have absolutely been a must at work, recent research has found using a coin toss to decide major life decisions may ultimately make you happier. The new study has found overall happiness increased after a six-month period. The study titled, The Review of Economic Studies published in the Oxford University press also found that people that rely on a coin toss to make a decision are more likely to follow through with their choice and be more satisfied as a result. To find out the impact of using a coin toss economist Professor Steven Levitt from the university of Chicago, asked people to make important decisions such as whether to quit a job, move home, end a relationship or quit smoking using affirmative and negative assigned to either heads or tails of a coin.


Users were also asked to include their own questions such as, Should I get a tattoo? And prior to the coin toss, volunteers were also instructed to help identify third party judicators to verify the outcomes and assessed independently the results. After two months participants and their third party judicators were asked to conduct a survey; which found that participants favoured the status quo, making a change less frequently than they would predicted they would before the coin toss, according to However, a further study conducted after six months found that this bias towards the status quo had gone, according to the six month survey. Those who were interested to make certain changes regarding major decisions were more likely to do so, and be happier as a result. Participants also said that they were more likely to make the same decision if they were to choose again.


According to the researchers, the findings were inconsistent with the conventional theory of choice, which states that people who are on the margins should on average report equal happiness, regardless of where they made the decisions. Professor Levitt said, society teaches us quitters, never win and winners never quit. But in reality, the data from his experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting. He went on to say, “a good rule of thumb in decision making is whenever you cannot decide what you should do choose the action that represents change rather than continue with the status quo”. The leadership lesson here is, we often get stuck in change and we’re not sure on which direction to take, and whilst tossing a coin might give us a yes or a no to a certain direction. Does that change really bring something new? So that’s been The Leadership Hacker News. We would really encourage you to share with us your insights, ideas, and funny stories around leadership, leaders around the world. Please get in touch.


Start of Podcast


Steve Rush: I am joined on today’s show with Nic Marks. He is the CEO and creator of Friday Pulse. He is an author, Ted speaker and a statistician. Nic, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.


Nic Marks: Thank you very much, Steve.


Steve Rush: So statistician, numbers, I guess that must have started at an early age for it to become such a big feature in your life? Tell us a little bit about that.


Nic Marks: Yeah, there is a lot of syllables in that word as well isn’t there statistician? I just was, I was good at maths and was not very interested in much else at school. I mean, I did my A- levels with double mass Physics and half of Physics is mass as well. It was sort of I could do, and therefore, you know, I was top, of the year at school, pretty much all the way through and pretty much ended up at Cambridge reading mass before I made a decision about anything and actually ended up not liking maths at Cambridge. Because it is very, very pure and therefore discovering, I was really an applied statistician. I liked using numbers to solve problems rather than the sort of abstractness of mathematics, which is what you get into in that space. So yeah, was kind of, what I was good at.


Steve Rush: So the fascination really was not just about the patterns and the numbers, but actually how can you use these numbers in a positive way and how can I apply them in doing something that is relevant for people?


Nic Marks: Yeah, that was the big eye-opener. When I started sort of solving things, particularly on health statistics, you know, they start setting you problems to solve maybe in A-level and anything that sort of had a bit more human side to it. I got quite, I enjoyed those questions more and that is what I was actually able to do at Cambridge. I was able to switch into an applied statistics course and you know we did sort of industrial psychology and Queuing Theory. I accused even now if I get in a queue and I can see it is badly organized. That put me in a rage and it is partly my Queuing Theory sort of ideas, but yeah, so anything, it was very practical I got interested in.


Steve Rushs: And even more so, during lockdown where there are queue everywhere, I should imagine for you particularly that is really challenging, Right?


Nic Marks: Well actually, what I don’t like about queue is when they’re not fair, I don’t mind a fair queue, and actually the lockdown queue are very fair, aren’t they, you know, you’re standing there in order and you let older people pass if you’re a certain time or key workers and that all seems very fair. What I really hate is like when you come into an airport and you’re queuing up and there’s a big queue at the, you know, the passport control and you know, one, they haven’t put enough people on, but then you can’t see if the front of your queue has got one or two people on it. And so the queue go at different rates and you always end up in this lower queue. In fact, you are statistically more likely to end up in this lower queue anyway, and then it feels unfair. And I once actually had an argument with passport control guy, not an argument as a discussion. I said to him, you know, why don’t you queue up in a snake? And he said, Oh, actually it makes the average queuing time go up, which is a very fair thing. And I said to him, well, the problem is the experience of queuing is related to the standard deviation, not the mean and he looked at me and went…


Steve Rush: I should imagine that when down well?


Nic Marks: …Can you put that in writing please? My kids were very embarrassed.


Steve Rush: And who would have known that queues have so much applied maths behind it; Which I guess if you look around society that we are in, there are maths and numbers behind everything.


Nic Marks: I mean, totally. I mean, if you do marketing these days, digital marketing, you’ve got a lot of queuing theory and mathematics in there and about friction and flow and the way you model it. There is so many ways that at least a sort of A-level understanding of mass can really, really help you. I don’t think you need to go much beyond that, but well obviously some people do, but it is very interesting to me anyway.


Steve Rush: So beyond University, then you started applying your learned mathematics, what happened next?


Nic Marks: I did a Masters and then I joined a consultancy. Anderson consulting who sort of now called Accenture and did programming and things like that. I quit really, when I realized they were going to sort of move me around the country to wherever they wanted me to work. And I just got engaged and was in London and didn’t really want to move around. And I also started to make more choices in my life. I mean I think some people, this comes earlier, but I started thinking actually, what do I really want to work on? And I went to work for sustainability, environmental investment company, and I started getting more interested in things which were sort of, as I say, sort of more socially useful statistics. Yeah, and I did that for a bit, but I also had a slightly kooky side, but slightly different side. I got very into sort of personal development and I used to go to sort of men’s encounter groups. Cause I did not really quite understand how to be a man in the world. I found slightly misogynists, and so I just started exploring all that. And the reason for that really was my mum was a therapist and in the end I trained as a therapist as well as do math statistics, which sort of makes for, I think, a very creative mix, but then unusual mix anyway,


Steve Rush: So that creative mixture you now have, has smudged that psychotherapy and your statistician background together to create what you do now. The last 12-15 years of your life. You have been really focusing on the whole principle of happiness and how we can be more focused and understand some of the metrics and numbers that sit behind happiness. Tell us a little bit. About how that came about?


Nic Marks: Yeah, it started in about 2001. I was doing some other work with a think tank in London called New Economics Foundation. And the director then director said to me, Nic, there is this word called wellbeing coming into public policy and no one knows what it means. And can you help us, he said drive some meaning under the word? And I being a statistician, I said, well, I’d like to know how we could measure it because then, you know, policy makers might take it seriously. So we started a project which eventually became my whole work, and it became something called a centre for wellbeing, but we even started to create metrics around wellbeing that was useful for local, national, and international agencies about people’s experiences with life effectively. And some people in the field were already calling that happiness and I shy away from that for a while because it sounded a bit light for the government policy.


But I started to realize that it was a much more attractive word than wellbeing and also more relatable. Ultimately, you know, whether we enjoy our lives or not in whatever basis we want to do, there is kind of, what it is about, so you know, and you can talk to anyone about whether they’re happy or not. We can then discuss what that means and we can discuss, you know, whether we mean the same thing, but it makes a much more fruitful discussion, so that is kind of how I got into it. Yeah.


Steve Rush: It is really neat principle. The whole happiness thing that I have explored and there are a number of great authors that have written around the similar subject over the last sort of 10 or 15 years. It almost feels a little bit pink and fluffy and subjective, and I guess what you are seeking to do is to create some more objectivity so that leaders can be a bit more thoughtful of their personal impact around that. Would that be a kind of fair assumption?


Nic Marks: It is kind of fair, but I don’t like… it is not you, but I don’t like this sort of split between objective and subjective because our experience of life is sort of necessarily subjective. You know, we are the subject of that experience and actually, what a lot of statistics and data does is it objectifies things, so it will say we can measure your standard of life because we can see that and touch that. So we can touch your housing, your income, your whatever, we can measure that, but we don’t know what you’re feeling, so we can’t measure that and actually that’s not true. It is just a different type of measurement, and then you have to be careful about how you do it, but you can put numbers on it, and so there is a way we use the word subjective. Which makes it feel like it’s very loose and it would change for everybody, but actually, whether people enjoy their lives or not is sort of gradable.


Steve Rush: Yeah, that makes those a sense actually. If somebody was to ask you, what does happiness mean? How would you describe it?


Nic Marks: Yeah, I have had various descriptions over the years, but so I often say its feeling good and doing well. And by that, I mean that it got a feeling element, but it’s got a functional element to it and we use the word happiness very broadly in English language. So we use it as a sort of momentary feeling. I feel happy, but we also use it as what’s tends to be called a cognitive assessment. You know, I feel happy with, or I am happy with, so we are sort of reflecting on a sort of judgment about something. And then there’s a school of thought that thinks that happiness is a sort of capability that it’s, you know, that knowing or feeding that I can deal with, anything is a feeling of happiness. It is sort of like a perceived resilience going forward that, you know, I can cope with things. So in that sense, I think that there is a functional element to an actually purely from a psychological perspective or a nuisance perspective than our feelings and emotions actually help us acts in the world. So there is a sort of, they are not just there as sort of a nice sensation actually motivate us to behave in certain ways. So that is how I tend to think of it as a, you know, feeling good and doing well.


But then there’s another nuance, which I quite like, which goes actually right back to ancient Greek Philosophy, which is whether it’s about pleasure and meaning. And the hedonist talk about pleasure and Aristotle and people had talked about, eudemonia thought about it as sort of meaning and virtue. Justified this idea that you can only know if you’re happy when you’re at the end of your life and you’re looking back, which is quite harsh, but in a way I think it’s both in the sense that if we have a life which is meaningful, but no fun, then we run out of energy quite quickly. And if it’s all fun and pleasure and there’s no meaning, then we sort of lose our way and we kind of need both of those parts and, they work in different timeframes and so there’s a nice tension between them and a nice synergy between them. And obviously there are times when it get you in life, which, you know, you feel you’ve got lots of meaning, but no pleasure. And you can get yourself into a crisis about that. I mean, I been divorced and I have actually gotten a situation where my marriage was hugely meaningful to me, but I really did not enjoy it and that created a sort of crack in my life that I had to resolve. I think that way as well, so that’s sort of two different ways of feeling good and doing well and pleasure and meaning.


Steve Rush: I quite like the whole principle of it is quite an emotional response as well isn’t it. It is a personal response to what is going on around us, I guess.


Nic Mark: Yeah, Our feelings are very much about what is going on around us. They are sort of us, and our environment. In fact, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio don’t know, if you’ve ever read him. Have you read him?


Steve Rush: I have, I have.


Nic Marks: Have you read his most recent one? The strange order of things.


Steve Rush: Maybe give us a snippet from that.


Nic Marks: It is a funny title of a book, but basically he’s talking about feelings and emotions come before cognition come before central nervous systems in our evolutionary history.


Steve Rush: Right.


Nic Markss: And, that they actually help us do three things, feelings. They help us monitor our environments. They help motivate us to act and they help us adjust those actions over time. And that first one of monitoring is sort of, you know, our feelings are actually, I have to say our feelings are data that they actually give us information about what’s going on around us. And that’s not just our feelings become emotions, but, you know, do we feel hot or cold? Do we feel hungry? Do we feel thirsty? It’s basically telling us about, and it’s motivating us to act in some sort of ways, but you know, our feeling of feeling frightened is that it feels like there’s a danger out there and that we need to help avoid or get ourselves out of that threat. And we often have the feeling well before we have the cognition and that’s really his argument is that the feeding comes first. Then we apply our intelligence to that feeling and deciding how we are going to act.


Steve Rush: And the cognition of course prevents us from doing crazy things, which is why the executive part of our brain slows down and stops in some cases what we will deal with those emotional reactions, of course.


Nic Marks: Yeah, I am not a total expert on the absolute specifics in it, but they absolutely are interconnected. Actually, even if you think about something positive, like happiness, which is a little bit of a sort of gateway word to a whole range of positive emotions. We can use the word very broadly, but then actually gets specifics. You know, some people would say, even if I say what happiness, mean to you? They will say contentment and other people will say joy. Contentment and joy quite different. Yeah, one is very high energy and one’s quite low energy, and of course, there is actually a whole range of things in there. Like, you know, joy and enjoyment are different and amusement. And, you know, things like enjoyment, amusement, laughter are sort of very social and they are very about bonding with other people.


So when you’re having a laugh with people or mucking around, you actually slow down…you shut down your executive decision making and your full intelligence because you’re trying to bond, but it doesn’t pay you to be your brightest, most sort of challenging self at that moment. You better to conform, so, you know, so actually, there are times when we are happy when, we are probably less intelligent, but there are other times, you know if we think about other forms of happiness, such as curiosity or interest, which are very engaging parts, that sort of positive emotion when we are absolutely fully using our intelligence. And I think it’s sometimes why in business and organizations, people get worried about happiness. They try to think people be happy, clappy and not very bright. Well, there is certain forms of it, which that is true for, so they can point to it. But actually what they really want is people to be positive and safe, enthusiastic, and sometimes to have a laugh, but just maybe 5-10% of the time and other times we are doing other bits, so there’s really this whole myriad of different positive emotions and we want to be agile and moving around between them.


Steve Rush: Sure. Now society also plays a massive part in this doesn’t it? So over the last 10 or 15 years, if you think about it, societies describe happiness with good economies, wealth, good social wellbeing and obedience, having researched just that, all over the planet, what’s your take on how that plays out?


Nic Marks: Well, it is for certain that nations have different levels of average happiness and actually different distributions of happiness in them and some that both the averages and the distribution can be explained by economic and societal factors. And, and then there’s stuff more below that but you know, if we look at rank orders of nations on happiness, then Scandinavian countries tend to come top, and that’s a lot to do with their social safety net. Which is, it’s not really to do with the fact that that’s the sort of…I was going to say the average, but by the average, I mean the media and the person in the middle is not particularly happy and Scandinavia and say in the UK or the U.S. but where they are, they do much, much better. Is that the bottom half of the distribution or the lowest 25% in terms of income are match less unhappy in Scandinavia than they are in the UK, the U.S. and places like that, so it is more that they don’t have the tail of the distribution pulling the mean down. They have more equal distribution of happiness within it, and that’s kind of interesting if you, you know, because people often go, oh, well, you know, you could say the Swedes are happier, but, you know, don’t, they have high suicide rates, don’t they have this. And, you know, I don’t find the fins very extrovert, but, and that’s probably all true. I mean, but there are other factors also, which is if you live in a broadly happy society and you are unhappy, you probably take it more personally, and so actually countries with a higher happiness rate may possibly have a highest suicide rate. Whereas if you live in a country such as India or Pakistan, or somewhere where there is much lower levels, you know, suicide rates are probably lower because people feel more normalized about their happiness.


Steve Rush: Less highs and lows, is that how I am reading it?


Nic Marks: Yeah, sort of. You feel less personal; you know if everyone around you is happy and you are miserable, you feel it is very much your fault. And so therefore, you know, I’m a burden on other people. Then you get into this very difficult logic where you start thinking it is actually better for you to take your own life, which is tragically, how some people get. Whereas if everybody is, you just feel like, what does that mean to all of us? Which you know, which in the current situation with the anxiety around looked down and COVID because everybody feels in the same boat, we are not sort of; we are feeling more open about our anxiety because we kind of know it’s not about us feeling bad. It is about the environment, so that makes it easy to talk about.


Steve Rush: You also spent a significant amount of time pulling together, enormous research to create the Happy Planet Index. Just tell the listeners a little bit about what the Happy Planet Index is?


Nic Marks: Yeah, the Happy Planet Index is sort of a proposed alternative to GDP as a way of measuring the progress of nations. And I’ve always felt that GDP was a really bad measure of welfare, of the wellbeing of a nation. In fact, one of my first published bits of work is from 94 and it was an alternative to GDP, but it was very complicated. It was very objective. It was basically a huge cost benefit analysis of the economy and had a lot of assumptions in it. And I knew it was very complicated, but when I used to go talk to talks about it, rightly or wrongly, but it did show was that about the mid-seventies was about the highest in this index and it trading often. People go to me, that is how it feels to me, particularly older people would do.


Steve Rush: Right.

Nic Marks: And I always thought that is interesting. It does not say anything about what you feel. It is just a whole lot of economic data put together. That started me perhaps thinking about how you measure what you feel, but when it came to the Happy Planet Index, which was released in 2006, so like 12 years after that first bit of work, I want to do something very simple and easier to agree with. I sort of learned that complexity and indicators tends to put people off, or if they get interested, they then start looking at all the assumptions and the debate gets about the detail and not the bigger picture. And so what I did with the HPI was I said, well, you know, what’s the outcome you really want from a country, and I said, it’s to produce good lives that don’t cost the earth and the planet, but in there is the sustainability element of it.


And so I went, well, you could measure good lives by asking, by looking at the data on happiness, across nations, say the quality of people’s lives, you can then adjust that for the length of our life, so life expectancy, which is a very good, reliable piece of health statistics. You’ve got data on from around the world, but you’ve also got to think about the efficiency as a nation. Like how much resources does it use to get there? So the Happy Planet Index became a, you know, environmental efficiency of delivering wellbeing, a sort of bang for your buck indicator and that is what it is. It rank ordered nations across the world and basically you have some countries which have got high wellbeing, but high environmental impact and that will be typically Western rich countries. You’ve got countries which have got low wellbeing, but low environmental impact, so those are sub Saharan Africa and other nations, which are really struggling. Then you’ve got countries which are interesting, which I’ve got pretty good levels of wellbeing and much lower resource use and typically they were central Latin America and, some of the islands of the world, or some of the Asian countries, which were doing well. And that became interesting to think, you know, okay, how can we create a sustainable future, which is also a good future. Because the problem with the environmental movement, which, you know, I certainly have been a part of and absolutely bought into. I think they sell very negative visions of the future with the idea that you can scare people into changing their behaviour and I think we can all see over the last 25 years that has not worked.


So, you know, how do we do it in a way which we actually say to people, actually, this could be a better future. And in some ways, some of that is going on right now with COVID in that people are thinking about, oh, I’m staying at home, I’m traveling much less. It is actually less stressful for me, and it is about identifying those positives, you know, as we come out of COVID. It would be a shame if we don’t take some benefits in reducing carbon emissions and other things. I mean, that would be disappointing having had this forced on us to not, gets some positives out and not everyone welcomes COVID; we could still get some positives out of it.


Steve Rush: Almost the planet’s opportunity, if you just start giving back, isn’t it at this time?


Nic Marks: Yeah, I mean, there are people that go all that way and say it’s in a guy’s feedback and I don’t go quite to that level, but it’s an opportunity, isn’t it? I think like any setback is an opportunity to learn, even if you didn’t want to get into it.


Steve Rush: We are going to start to talk a little bit about what you’re doing at the moment with Friday Pulse, but just before we do, what is the happiest place statistically on earth?


Nic Marks: Well, last year’s data showed Finland as the happiest nation. Then I, the only within country data that I know very well is the UK. And the regions of the UK, and I think it always surprises people, but actually London is the least happy region because it’s urban because inequalities are high there and things of that, and people are very close together. Whereas the happiest region of the UK is Northern Ireland, which is much more rural and of course, recent memories of troubles, so they’ve actually got sort of point to go back to.


So there’s sort of different things, but at the national level, it’s Finland at the moment, but it has been Norway previously and Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark have done well. Costa Rica is a very surprising one that comes through that is particularly happy compared to its GDP. So yeah, that is the way it is sort of is.


Steve Rush: Cool, and what would be the kind of one or two things that are consistent across those higher ranking, happier places?


Nic Marks: So there is income distribution, which they basically tend to be more equal countries which is what Scandinavia is, and actually even Costa Rica is more equal than such of neighbours around it, you know, Nicaragua, Guatemala and all those other places around there. So it does very well in that and there’s also high levels of literacy. Gender equality in Costa Rico, which of course are things that Scandinavia is particularly good at, so equality tends to come out stronger than people think, but of course, you know, richer countries are happier. That is sort of undeniable. They are just not becoming any happier with the extra amounts of wealth we have. We are not seeing those countries on a trajectory to become happier. The countries that are on a trajectory to become happier are some of the developing countries because they are reducing poverty. They are reducing, you know, early deaths, so you know that obviously is a positive.


Steve Rush: And I wonder, is it more visible to them at the same time?


Nic Marks: Yes, it probably is. I mean, there are differences between them, like South Korea has been studied quite a lot because they have obviously been one of the Asian tigers and, you know, their happiness levels have gone up, but they are very, very materialistic there. And they haven’t gone up as much as say a country like Vietnam or something like that who is slightly less so, so there were interesting differences between them. And some of them have to do with density of population as well, but there’s not just sort of one straight pathway, there are differences.


Steve Rush: Makes lots of sense. Thank you very much, Nic. So the organization you lead now, Friday Pulse. Seeks to take that distillation of happiness data, but from the colleagues and customers of the organizations that you work with. To create something that leadership and other colleagues can actually use as a lens to get a sense check of how their workforce feels, how happy they are almost. Tell us a little bit, about how Friday Pulse was created?


Nic Marks: Yeah, I did my Ted talk on the Happy Planet Index and other work I have done in 2010. And obviously that’s quite an honour, and I sort of came out of it, thinking it sort of allowed an opportunity to sort of bookend that part of my work and I accidentally got into policy and I done it for 10-12 years then. When you are working on something like climate change, it is quite slow moving and, you know, I thought when I have got something in and maybe do something and I was always interested in business, my dad was a businessman. He led an organization and I thought, well, this is very applicable there. You know, if leaders knew how happy you are not, teams were, that would get them useful information. So I started creating a happiness at work survey, which was a one off survey to begin with and learned a lot about how the data worked in organizations started to get my own opinion about what I thought the drivers of happiness at work were and how we could measure them. But actually hadn’t created a tool that was exceptionally responsive. You know, it’s like a one off survey, like most other surveys are, but started to think, well actually, what really an organization needs to know is how it’s moving through time.


And so start thinking, there is a way of measurement of happiness we call. There is three ways of measuring happiness really, We can do, what is called a cognitive assessment, which is what most surveys are, which is we ask people to look overall and reflect on it. You can do something which is called experience sampling, where you basically bleed people during the day or text them or whatever. Say, how do you feel right now? It gives really nice data, but it’s really annoying. So the one in between is called episodal, measurements and you get to the end of an episode, you ask people to reflect back on it. And I decided to go for that way of measuring it and started off asking people various cadences, so a month, how has the last month been. A day, how has your day been? and settled on a week because daily was a little bit too annoying.


And also you could only just ask people how happy were you or not, and nothing more. If you ask them monthly, it was not very responsive. You so much can happen in a month. As we have learned recently and weekly is the sort of sprint of work. We go; we tend to work too, so we ask people on a Friday that is why we called Friday Pulse. You know, how was your week? How did you feel this week? And that creates a very responsive, we call it happiness KPI, but a very responsive metric, which when you group at a team level, there’s effectively a measure of team morale. When you group at an organizational level, it is people’s experience of the culture of the organization, experience of work right now. And so you can look at that, and I mean, the good thing about a question like that is you can ask, you know, truck driver, that question, you can ask a CEO with that question and they can give you an answer to it.


Whereas if you ask people how engaged were you this week, most people don’t even know how to answer that question. They have an idea of what the top of the scale is particularly. They know if they are disengaged, they know where the top of the scale is. So when you ask people how you felt and were you happy or not? They can give you an answer that is very good, reliable data in that way.


Steve Rush: And what do you notice the themes are that contribute to a happy culture at work for leaders listening to this podcast?


Nic Marks: There are some general themes across an organization, and there are ways that you can articulate it. So the way that we do is we say there were five ways to happiness at work and, and they are connect, which is relationships are the most important. They are the cornerstone of creating good experiences or undermining experience for that case, for that matter.


The second one is to be fair, which is if people feel they are treated fairly, respectfully, then they can bring themselves to work much more. The third is to empower them sort of their autonomy delegating yet and use their strengths. The fourth is to challenge them, so this is sort of misunderstanding of happiness that people are happy doing nothing. It is actually not true they board and actually, people would like it when there is a bit of stretch. Not, if you stretch them too much, challenge them too much, they go and stress. If you under challenge them, they are going into apathy and boredom. You’ve got to get the right sweet spot, which has always tends to be the way anyway, and then the fifth one is to inspire, which is about meaning purpose, where they feel it doing is worthwhile.


So those five things connect be fair, impact, challenge, inspire are the big drivers, but then there is specific things that go on, which has really to do with the environment and what is going on around them very locally. Which is that some people, some teams will find them in a very stressful situation or their work environments are stressful. So with people moving remote at the moment and very quickly moved remote a few weeks ago, you know, that some people were happier working at home than others and lots to do their environments, whether they got children, whether they have the right equipment at home, where they had a quiet space, you know, whatever it was. So some of those things are very, very local and some of those bigger, broader cultural things. So yeah, those two effects really.


Steve Rush: And like any business and any part of any business it is feedback, data that I am getting an also alien to that is that leadership choices to what I do with that information as I receive it. Right?


Nic Marks: Totally and in fact, the whole of Friday Pulse is really a feedback loop. And actually it’s very similar to therapy in some ways, which is that in therapy. Therapist listens to their client, and they reflect back to them and then they work with them about the challenges that they are facing. And we listened to the population, the employees by asking them every Friday, how do they feel? We feed that back to them and the team leaders, and then senior leaders, you stack the data up in nice reporting, and that enables people to then work together to make better experiences. So one of the things I am very keen on this, people don’t just focus on the negatives. Don’t just focus on the deficits. They actually appreciate the assets and the positives going on, and so on a Friday, we don’t only ask people how they felt. We also asked them, what was success for you this week? Have you got anyone you want to thank because appreciating each other, is really important for both sides of that equation. Then we give people the opportunity to share a frustration or an idea to make things better. But actually most of our clients really, really work on accentuating the positive because in lots of ways, businesses tend to focus on how do you solve problems? What comes up? And actually probably often don’t take the time to go, yes, good job, and to actually get that human appreciation, which actually we all really respond well to.


Steve Rush: And hitting back to the neuroscience we talked on a little bit earlier; of course, it will release different neurotransmitters that create that self-fulfilling prophecy of getting additional positive outcomes from our thinking and our behaviours, which helps improve happiness of course.


Nic Marks: It certainly does. And I mean, all of this works together, you know, physically, but I always think about it as like, you know, if someone compliments you and your sort of head goes up and your shoulders go back and you sort of feel bigger because you’re feeling confident. Whereas when someone criticizes you, you can tend to sort of hunch up and pull your shell in, you know, and protect yourself. And we’re much better when we’re expensive and shoulders back, and actually other people like working with us more like that as well. So there is so much to be gained from being positive, but of course you have to be realistic. You know, it does not mean to say you let people travel down into a sort of fantasy world where everyone is doing a good job. No, it was a point is, you know, really differentiating and really understanding and helping people build on their positives.


Steve Rush: So this part of the show, we are going to turn away from you being a statistician, but look at you through your leadership lens of running an organization. And at this part of the show, we like to ask our guests to share their top leadership hacks or ideas. So if you could share based on your experience as a leader, your top leadership hacks, what would they be? Nic.


Nic Marks: I think that the big thing is listening to people, you know, I don’t employ people to tell them what to do. I employ people to work with them and, get the best out of them and actually learning to bring the best out of them. The main way is listening to them even when they disagree with you, so I think listening is probably the first one.


Second one is I think little and often, I think I’ve tried to where I’ve gone wrong previously would be when I’ve tried to do big interventions. And actually I think doing smaller ones, checking is a much better way. But consistently I definitely have had to learn that, you know, leadership is a, weekly process, maybe even a daily process, but a weekly one, you know, where you’re asking questions every week and you’re listening every week rather than just sort of going, right. These are our goals for the next quarter. Then checking in 2-3 months later, realizing people have gone down a different tangent or, something has emerged, maybe for good reasons, but you don’t know about them so I think little and often is probably.


The next one for me, definitely, I think inspiring people, which is that I hold the vision for the company. I don’t necessarily hold the solutions, but I hold the vision for where we’re going and why we’re doing it. And remembering to remind people about that, so reminding them of the why, but it’s actually, you know, bringing that into, your weekly work. I mean, particularly with all the adjustments we have made just recently and COVID and everyone going remote, you know, I sort of had to remind myself to remind everybody why we’re doing this. If that makes sense.


Steve Rush: It makes sense. One of those things that you set up a vision to start with and other things get in the way. And we, as leaders also need reminding that is our job to remind people and to make sure that, we continually talking about the journey and how are we going to get there and what’s going to get in the way and remove barriers. It’s part and parcel of that. Isn’t it?


Nic Marks: Yeah, it definitely is and it is actually a bit of the job I really like. Some of the detail bits, I am less good at it. I mean, it is funny; I am very good at details and stats. But I can sometimes of like, you know, I probably like many people not got the longest attention span and I sometimes sort of get stopped and I have to beat myself up for it, but the inspiring bit and the listening to how they feel and what they’re doing. I mean, I can do that for ages because I really liked people and I really believe in what we are doing. So those are the bits I find easier. It is keeping people on track and the detail that is always my learning edge.


Steve Rush: Thanks for being so honest and great hacks also. So when we start to think that this partnership we’ve really enjoyed getting into the heads of our leaders and our guests where they’ve maybe screwed up in the past or something’s gone catastrophic wrong, and indeed they are now using that experience as a positive in their life. We call this Hack to Attack. What would yours be?


Nic Marks: Hack to Attack? Well, I mean, in some ways I’ve sort of pointed to it with a little bit of those last bits, but I think that I have definitely been guilty of letting things run for too long cause I wasn’t confident enough to challenge people. And, and so, you know, previously had someone in the business and you know, she has some really strong qualities, but just sort of always going pear shapes. And, and I, kept on coming back to every three or four months, but really we should have partied companies at least a year before we eventually did. And that cost us a lot, and she wasn’t happy. She was not doing quite what she wanted. I was trying to, I guess, force her, so there was a role that needed doing and I was wanting her to do that role and she was not quite wanting to do it and she was definitely capable of it. But it just sort of ran on far too long, and in the end it all became very messy and angry. If I dealt with it much earlier. We would have had a lot less problems and it’s the same problem I had with my marriage actually, which was that, you know, I let things run too long and I should have been challenging about that earlier. I think that is my weaknesses tending to gloss over some of the negatives, my positivity overrides listening to negative feedback or negative signals. And I think that’s actually really important leadership is to be able to one, hear the negative signal and two, deal with it because it doesn’t go away.


Steve Rush: It is great learning, Nic and also think about the themes that you are now encouraging other leaders to talk about through Friday Pulse. There is a lot of synergies there in terms of what your learned behaviour. What you are encouraging others to learn from now, so that is super stuff. The last thing I wanted to talk to you about, and this is where we are going to ask you to do some time travel. I want you to think about if you were able to bump into Nic at 21; you are able to give him one bit of advice that would make the difference. What would it be?


Nic Marks: I quite like my life, even my mistakes. So, you know, that is not like something I would massively want to change. I mean, I think I was a little uptight as a 21. I was a little serious and I had the future weighed on me quite a lot. I sort of kind of had this feeling. I wanted to do something and I probably wanted to do it quicker than was possible. And you know, and I mean, I have actually done things which are interesting. I think I would just say, you know, relax. It will be okay. Follow what you are interested in, I mean, in some ways I have done that actually. So, but when I was 21, I was a little bit; I was a little bit still uptight, yeah.


Steve Rush: If only Nic would know the 21-year-old, Nic who might have been a little bit uptight. Still found is way to be where you are now, which is, you know, impacting the lives of many of the people, so that’s great advice.


Nic Marks: It is nice to think that. The 21-year-old Nic would be horrified at the thought that that 55-year-old Nic got divorced. He would not like that at all, but apart from that, he pretty much take the rest.


Steve Rush: Good stuff. Okay, as people have been listening to you, Nic. We will make sure that we encourage him to get over to Ted and have a look at the Happy Planet Index talk, which I think is really inspiring and I love that, but where else can they find out about the work that you do with Friday Pulse and indeed some of the things that you do now?


Nic Marks: Yeah. Friday Pulse is the name of the company, so it is and it is actually, we are offering it free for organizations up to a thousand people at the moment. So they can try it for three months and see how they go with it and see how they like the data and how they can work with it. I create blog articles and posts on LinkedIn most week. Connect with me on LinkedIn; I always like meeting new people there and I have a personal website, which is more my sort of speaking musing, which is Nic is no K a in that, so those are the main ways to find me.


Steve Rush: We will make sure there in the show notes to accompany this podcast as well Nic. So as people are finished listening, they can literally just click into those links and then hop over to find you.


Nic Marks: Fabulous, thank you.


Steve Rush: Nic, I just wanted to say I am incredibly happy that you have chosen to be with The Leadership Hacker Podcast. I have spoken to you a few times now and I have loved the conversations that we have had and as a result, I know we’re going to get a lot of happy hackers listening to you too. So thanks for being on, The Leadership Hacker Podcast.


Nic Marks: Thank so much for having me.





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