6 Years With No Decisions at Happy

In: BlogDate: Jan 03, 2024By: Henry Stewart

It is now six years since I stopped, as a Founder, making decisions at Happy. And, no, I haven’t passed it onto anybody else. Decisions are made by those responsible or, if across the whole company, by everybody.

Read more about the thinking behind his decision in this blog by Happy's Chief Happiness Officer, Henry Stewart.

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In 2017 I spoke on a conference panel in Copenhagen alongside David Marquet, the author of Turn the Ship Around. He explained how, when he took over as Commander of the nuclear submarine Sante Fe, he didn’t know how it worked as he had been trained for a different submarine.

So instead of telling 135 crew what to do, he decided to let 135 crew members tell him what to do, based on competence and clarity. There was one decision he would make, if the missiles were fired that was his responsibility.

The submarine became the best performing submarine in US Navy history, with 11 of the crew going on to be Commanders of other submarines.

I decided there and then to stop making decisions at Happy. My equivalent of the missiles is if we need to let somebody go, as I feel that is my responsibility.

Before 2017 Happy sales had been flatlining. After 2017 they rose by 25% a year, up to the pandemic.


I thought that we already had a good culture at Happy, but this made a real difference with people taking real accountability and responsibility.

People are basically pre-approved to do whatever they want within their own area. Pre-approval is the idea that managers approve a solution before the person has come up with the solution, within guidelines.

That used to be the case at Happy, but as we now don’t have managers people are able to be preapproved for anything as long as it fits our values. As I often say "if you have great values, anybody can make a decision."

John explains: "When I started at Happy, I would email Henry the founder with every bit of expenditure. He soon wrote back: 'John, if it’s under £400 and you think we need it, buy it. If it’s over £400, check with someone, but no need to check with me.'"

What happens when it is across the whole company? Well, one example was pricing. John and Ben decided that we needed to raise our prices. They used the Advice Process, where they are responsible but they take advice from others. I gave my advice, which was for a lesser price increase.

They ignored it!

I realised afterwards that my pricing is based more in the 90s or 00s, whereas they are in close contact and more attuned to current market and customer dynamics. Front-line employees often have a deeper understanding of client needs than senior leadership.

I feel now that we would probably not have survived the pandemic under the old pricing.

If you are a CEO (or even a senior leader), could you stop making decisions? What would be the one decision you might be responsible for?

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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