I recently had the privilege of attending an Open University Business School ‘Business Perspectives’ Masterclass at which Ken Keir OBE, the Executive Vice President of Honda Motor Europe, talked about the way innovation, the lifeblood of the Honda company, drives its success.
Even though he focused on Honda’s R&D philosophy, explaining for example how, in recessionary times, the company goes against the tide and invests more in R&D rather than less, by the time we reached slide 5 of the presentation on the Honda strategy, vision, values, and behaviour, it was pretty clear to me that here is a company founded on positive psychology principles.
What intrigued me was that Ken Keir didn’t mention positive psychology once. For all I know, he has never even heard of it. However, if you look at how Honda operates strategically, how it works day-to-day as well as the kind of language it uses to describe the business, it’s pretty clear that it’s a strengths-based company through and through.
How did I reach this conclusion?
An Organization Based on Three Joys
Quite simply, Honda is a company which lives and breathes its values.
Back in 1951 the founder, Mr Soichiro Honda, outlined in a Management Policy document the principles on which the Honda Company is based.
It may surprise you to discover that these are:
- The joy of making
- The joy of selling
- The joy of buying
Now many corporate leaders might raise their eyebrows at this point and baulk slightly at the use of the word joy. If you’ve worked in the corporate environment you’ll know how pretty much any mention of emotions is unwelcome, especially positive ones like joy, kindness, and awe. The only time emotion really gets its foot over the corporate threshold is when we’re talking about that rather rational and sanitized topic, emotional intelligence. The difference here is that Honda brings these three values alive. It lives and breathes them in everything it does. You could say that the Three Joys are its raison d’être.
The Joy of Making
Take the joy of making. Ordinarily engineering isn’t a term which lights many fires, unless you happen to be an engineer. Engineers are not known for their people skills nor their positive emotion. In fact engineering tends to be perceived as a bit dull. Dry even. And definitely dusty. Engineering is a highly technical, specialized domain, dominated by deep-thinking, serious left-brainers.
But just read Soichiro Honda’s explanation of the first joy:
“the joy of producing…is a joy known only to the engineer. Just as the Creator used an abundant will to create in making all the things that exist in the natural universe, so the engineer uses his own ideas to create products and contribute to society.”
So what does this tell us? Firstly, that the joy of making, the engineering that is at the heart of the Honda company, is its strength. Secondly that Honda encourages its engineers to embrace and play to their strengths, rather than try to be something they’re not. Thirdly, Soichiro Honda clearly saw that using this strength in the service of something greater was crucially important to the success of his company. More than half a century later positive psychology research tells us that this is the essence of finding meaning and a key to flourishing.
Mr Honda continued,
“This is a happiness that can hardly be compared to anything else. Furthermore, when that product is of superior quality so that society welcomes it, the engineer’s joy is absolutely not to be surpassed. As an engineer myself, I am constantly working in the hope of making this kind of product.”
Not only does he refer to joy, but also to happiness and hope.
The Joy of Selling
The second joy, the joy of selling, arises naturally from the creation and manufacturing of high quality, high performing, reasonably priced products.
“…it goes without saying that the people who engage in selling it will experience joy… What sells well generates profits, as well as pride and happiness in handling those items…”
Students of positive psychology will have come across the study by Martin Seligman that suggests that optimistic sales people are more successful at selling. What sales people wouldn’t be passionate and optimistic about selling a product that they knew would delight their customer?
The Joy of Buying
The third joy, the joy of buying, is the sole preserve of the customer, the person who buys a Honda, whether that’s a motorbike, a lawnmower with a Honda engine, or a car. I’m currently driving my 4th Honda, so I can personally vouch for the joy of buying. The way Soichiro Honda describes this third value makes you believe that other people’s happiness is the sole reason the company exists:
“It is neither the manufacturer nor the dealer that best knows the value of the product and passes final judgment on it. Rather, it is none other than the purchaser who uses the product in his daily life. There is happiness in thinking, “Oh, I’m so glad I bought this.” This joy is the garland that is placed upon the product’s value. I am quietly confident that the value of our company’s products is well advertised by those products themselves. This is because I believe that they give joy to the people who buy them.”
So in these three, deceptively short and simple values, we have a whole positive psychology philosophy, culture, and way of doing business. As Soichiro Honda concluded,
“The Three Joys form our company’s motto. I am devoting all my strengths in order to bring them to reality’
Learning from Honda: Creating Your Own Company Joys?
So what can we learn from Honda’s Three Joys? I’d suggest the following:
- Stick to what you’re good at! Allow, encourage and facilitate all your employees to play to their unique strengths. This assumes that a) you know what their strengths are and b) you need these strengths in your company.
- Don’t shy away from positive emotions at work. They have a place in every successful company. If this seems a bit scary, you could start by looking at how to create a more healthy balance of right brain and left brain, feeling and thinking, intuition and analysis. Alternatively, if you had to suggest Three Joys for your company, what would they be and why?
- Make meaning important. People want to know how the work they do benefits others, especially customers, clients, patients and society generally. Help them make those connections and find ways to reinforce them.
When I heard Ken Keir speak I was expecting only to find out about Honda’s innovation and creativity. Instead I also discovered a company imbued with positive psychology principles. Every time I drive my Honda I’ll be thinking about the Three Joys. Every time I meet an engineer I’ll be reminded of why you should play to your strengths.
Honda, Soichiro (1951). The three joys. Honda Monthly #4.
Britton, K. (2009). Laugh-o-meters needed at work. Positive Psychology News Daily.
Seligman, M. E. P. & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 832-838.
- Honda the power of dreams courtesy of by S1m0nB3rry
- You meet the nicest people on a Honda courtesy of gingerbeardman
- My Honda keys courtesy of Ankur Gulati