How happy are the Kua staff?

Posted by Darcy SmallOctober 5, 2021

In July 2020, Kua started collecting happiness data. A simple two-question survey was designed and built into our fortnightly meeting agenda. 

Employees are asked: “How has Kua contributed to your happiness this fortnight?” and answer using a number between 0 and 10 and a quick comment explaining why. This month, I teamed up with resident DoJo (short for Data Journalist) Brody Smith to unpack the results.

Why do we measure happiness? 

Kua’s vision is ‘happy days’. This simple phrase reminds us of a world and culture we'd like to be a part of. To make sure it’s a vision and not just a tagline, we measure progress across three important stakeholder groups: our growers, our drinkers and our employees. 

The latter group is arguably the most important. Hamish decides where Kua buys coffee from and Digby designs the drum in which Kua coffee is delivered … if either is down and demoralised, the quality of their work will drop and Kua will inevitably end up short-changing our growers or drinkers. 

By measuring happiness fortnightly (as subjective as that is) we build conversation around team and individual wellbeing into the fabric of our business, making it a genuine input to most decisions. By analysing the data every year, we can reflect on the moments of joy and drudgery to optimise the way we work for happiness.

When does Kua contribute to happiness and why?

On 16 December 2020, Kua recorded a record team happiness score of 31/40. It was close to Christmas and The Commons - a big national client - had just said yes. Three months later, on 24 March 2021, Kua copped its lowest score: 15/40. It was raining (thanks Digby for the insight), but it was also the last week of a busy quarter characterised by projects with multiple loose ends. 

Events and rhythm are big contributors to team happiness. Kua sets strategy quarterly, with individual projects assigned and carried out on three month timelines. The end of a cycle (23 Sep 2020, 24 Mar 2021) attracts lower scores, while the beginning (29 Jul 2020, 21 April 2021) is a high. However, a big win (19 May 2021, 15 June 2021) or loss (10 March 2021) will spark a spike or trough in team happiness, regardless of quarterly rhythm. 

At an individual level, purposeful tasks (Darcy on 26 August 2020 and Bri on 4 Nov 2020) bump scores up, while pointless ones drag scores down (Digby on 21 Oct 2020 and Hamish on 30 Jun 2021). Holidays (Digby on 29 July and Hamish on 21 Oct 2020) are good for happiness, heavy workload (Bri on 24 Feb 2021 and Darcy on 24 Mar 2021) is not.

Does it depend on the role or the team? 

For the most part, individual scores correspond closely to Kua’s wins and losses. We’re a small team who are deeply passionate about our work and therefore feel emotionally connected to what’s happening at a company level. Beneath this rollercoaster, however, is ‘baseline happiness’, influenced by our roles and unique experience of work within the team. 

To better understand life in the shoes of other functions, I asked each team member to delegate me two hours worth of work. After contacting coffee reuse partners for Hamish, scoping Parramatta clients for Bri and managing Kua at Home for Digby, I was glad to get back to my own job. It’s not that building a financial model is inherently more fun, but tackling a self-assigned task - for which I intimately understand how it creates value for Kua - is infinitely more rewarding. 

Our quick video reveals that no one job is better than another (Digby would quit before swapping roles), but some offer a clearer connection between the task and Kua’s big picture goals. In theory, if an employee is empowered to set their own goals and define how these link to Kua’s purpose, almost any job - be it cleaning coffee drums or submitting a tender - can bring happiness (see below). 

The differences in ‘baseline happiness’ are also influenced by happenings outside of work (Digby 26 Aug 2020 and Bri on 30 June 2021) and personalities (Bri generally describes herself as a happy person in the interviews). For this reason, finding space to talk candidly about individual wellbeing (for Kua, in fortnightly meetings) is key to ensuring we actually enable ‘happy days’ for all employees.

Image from the Kua CameraSwap: Strategy meetings, Darcy and Bri.

So what? 

Four recommendations, mainly for ourselves, but also for others wanting to do something similar:

1. Face up to the results.

For Kua, we see that strategic, creative and partnership-based work tends to bring joy, whereas repetitive tasks do not (e.g. cleaning drums day in, day out). Sprints could be used to share the ‘fun’, even if that’s just bringing someone else along for an interesting external meeting or roping Darcy in for an afternoon of manual labour. We also see that the end of each quarter is stressful, when it should be cause for celebration. We’ll try implementing a week of recuperation before the start of next quarter, to help us tie loose ends and reflect on the wins.

2. Happiness not hierarchy. 

The whole process should be participatory. Involvement should be optional, the survey should be co-designed and analysis should be done by someone who’s genuinely interested in the outcomes. A top-down approach to happiness doesn’t allow people to speak openly … and for this reason, perhaps someone else in our team should do next year’s write up.

3. Internal first.

You’ll notice nothing here is anonymous. The audience for this blog was Kua’s core team - the participants. Co-benefits (marketing and recruitment jump to mind) must be incidental and pursued only with the support of everyone involved. The main reason we decided to publish externally was to spark conversations for the betterment of our own and others’ practices … and because the video has a nice soundtrack (check out Kua Classic on Spotify)

4. Start somewhere. 

We started measurement on a whim. It took a few hours to settle on the question and just five minutes to answer it, every fortnight. This analysis - two days’ work - created value for our team, with tangible actionables. Measuring happiness among growers and drinkers is much more daunting, but this experience has taught us to dive in. We’ll have the process for our other stakeholder groups set by the end of the year. 

Image from the Kua CameraSwap. The long and winding road to happiness. Start somewhere.

If you’d like any additional info, reach out via our webform. We’re also very open to new ideas and opportunities to improve this process, so please share those with us as well!

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