Simplify: The Happy Manifesto — Henry Stewart

Most work culture is crap and hence the only solution is to become a freelancer, entrepreneur, or start-up …right?

Henry Stewart started a company called Happy that trains 20,000 people in the UK each year — think training for Office, Oracle, and so on. A company built on training people on excel sounds pretty drab and Henry Stewart recognized this. His view for being best in class is to have the best people around.

The best people only stay when they are happy. As such, Henry established some guidelines to keep people happy and have a business grow.

The book cover. Source:

The Manifesto

Here is the manifesto he defines:

  1. Trust your people
  2. Make sure your people feel good
  3. Give freedom within clear guidelines
  4. Be open and transparent
  5. Recruit for attitude, train for skill
  6. Celebrate mistakes
  7. Create mutual benefit
  8. Love work but get a life
  9. Select managers who are good at managing

1. Trust your people

Quite simple, so Henry Stewart suggests a challenge: pre-approve.

If you ask the team to by-pass any pre-approval, there is nowhere for them to hide. Politics are downplayed, ‘play-acting’ or pretend action is clearly redundant, and the team feels more trust and hence is more engaged. Also, approvers get back some time which they can then focus on people.

To do this there needs to be clear guidance — budget, enablers, constraints, goals, measures of success — and assurance. Also when you challenge them with pre-approval is key. It stretches your team. If they are already too stretched, then something will snap.

The author gives an example of a receptionist receiving a budget to re-do the reception area and I will give the example of Mark Holt from Trainline setting team targets and having an ‘anything goes’ type policy. It also makes me think of David Carboni’s blog about Pyramid and Dandelion structures

Henry Stewart also goes further stating ‘it is only human nature to try to add something and improve it — whether to justify your role or because you genuinely want to help’. He is saying the more people you include the more they will interject. Having approvals does exactly this.

2. Make sure your people feel good

If people work best when they feel good, what should the key role of management be?

Nando’s is a UK restaurant chain. Some restaurants were outperforming others and they found one key difference — the happier the staff, the better the performance. They changed all manager's bonuses so that 50% was solely focused on their staff survey results. They started in South Africa in 1987, opened a takeaway in Ealing London in 1992, and now have 1,000 stores in 35 countries (where a third are in the UK).

From Nando’s careers website — after 5 years get a paid month off. Source:

To do this, the author suggests some actions.

Don’t have rules to stop the poor performers. The result will be too many rules and distrust in enforcing them “just-in-case”. He provides an example of a reservoir that was free to all until some people almost drowned when drunk and hence the reservoir closed to the public (punishing the 99%), while not affecting those who caused it — the drunk people would simply climb whatever fence they have.

Don’t have inflexible rules. Abel and Cole do deliveries of food. Previously there was a complicated logistics expert that created routes to deliver too. Drivers were mandated to follow those routes. This inflexibility leads to wastage — traffic jams, multiple runs, sickness having a huge impact, fees for late delivery, etc. When trusted and left to their own devices, drivers organized themselves. Some got up early to do their work without traffic, some swapped locations to suit one another, some drivers teamed up to work on areas. The collaboration grew naturally, drivers spoke to one another and they enjoyed their work more.

If rules won’t work, remove them. The UK went through an MP expenses scandal where absurd things were claimed for which surpassed good judgement and hit lunacy. The common defense was that the purchases obeyed the rules for expenses. This defense is saying the multiple rules actually caused these issues. As such the rules were unhelpful. For example, if you had a rule to keep spending down to £50 per day for food and someone bought a meal deal and their weekly shop that passes the test. If there was no rule but instead an expectation of common sense that purchase would not be easily defendable.

Remove all the rules. Netflix has had no rules/quota for holidays and expenses. It simply says ‘Act in Netflix’s best interests’ and ‘Travel as you would if it were your own money’. There is a common bond. One Netflix manager said, “There is no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately”.

Managers should be there to coach and support — not dictate.

3. Give freedom within clear guidelines

Henry Stewart presenting the Pyramid of Management Needs. Source:

Quite simply these are the levels in which a manager should establish as part of their job. To do this you need to know who you manage and be able to respond in a way specific to them.

Managers should just assist— not direct. The managee should define their own targets — after all whose targets are more likely to achieve, and whose targets are most likely going to be stretching. The manager should track progress and hold them to it. Tiger Woods was quoted to say his Dad would ask him where he wants to hit the ball and let him work out how to get there — supporting him but not directing them on how.

Henry Stewart tried first making his staff do things like he would — “trying to create clones” of himself. When serving people, having clones aren’t helpful. If a customer doesn’t understand you, they won't understand the clone.

This doesn’t necessarily mean let all people free. Henry Stewart did build some core principles for his training teach — such as “Don’t tell when you can ask?”:

“What button looks like it creates bullet points?”

“How would you think to add an image?”

This to me is the perfect practice for talking to your users and a brilliant way to reflect and include learners in a more active training session.

The author finishes by stating that success should be measurable and that giving a value really helps.

4. Be open and transparent

“Without information, you cannot take responsibility. With information, you cannot avoid responsibility” Jan Carlzon, CEO SAS Airlines (1981–94)

If you are not open and transparent, people will not make choices to help and will think decisions are stupid — as they don’t have context. Yes this means more explanation, but without it will people respect and follow the decisions.

Good and bad news should be shared equally if you want positive action.

If contracts are falling through, let people know as early as possible. It allows two things:

  1. People understand and do more than they would as they are engaged.
  2. Allow your staff to start planning for a potential failure

The second point the author stresses is less likely to happen (as hiring is tiring) but shows openness and care to your staff.

Make salaries open

There are multiple pages dedicated to this. At the Happy company, all staff can see all individual's current and past salaries.

“When salaries are secret it is easy for rises to be based on arbitrary factors, such as whether someone asked or not”. Making this open forces objectivity on performance. In the Happy company, 94% of staff approved of it and the majority said it helped them understand their potential earnings future.

It is a cultural issue that has little founding. In Norway, it is public knowledge to know everyone's earnings.

If the fear is that salaries are unjustifiable to be public knowledge, then you have identified a problem. “Can you set a date in the future when you will make salaries open?” — that way you have a target.

5. Recruit for attitude, train for skill

This seems obvious, and truly it is, but the author does point out having simple clauses that seem innocuous are highly damaging, such as asking for degrees, relying on experience, and requiring qualifications. Sure some jobs need qualifications, but they are the minority.

He also highlights how it strongly restricts social mobility and is a barrier to the diversity of thought — something that really damages business.

So long as the person fits your companies mindset, get them.

He also suggests that hiring should be made easier. Don’t hope that the right candidate will see your advert at the right time — allow people to add themselves to a list to hear about your roles. They just ask for an email address. This is always accessible on their website — regardless if they are recruiting or not. ‘s automatic signup for hearing about roles.

Finally, if someone should leave, don’t be abrupt. Help them leave so that they at least have some good sentiment to the company. After the decision has been made to dismiss someone, the interests of the individual is paramount.

6. Celebrate mistakes

Essentially, if it is too easy to break it should be fixed and if you punish mistakes, no-one innovates.

Huntsman and the big red button

A petrol-chemical company called Huntsman had a large red button which was for use in an emergency. It would halt production and waste a lot of materials in shutting down. One day, a scaffolder walked by and accidentally hit it. Panicked, they quickly ran and told a manager.

The scaffolding company wanted to sack them. Huntsman had a company wide meeting — to praise them and to reinstate their job. This was because this honestly meant action was immediately taken and hence the error was limited. If they had kept quiet, it would have been much worse. Also it highlighted how fragile their system was and hence unveiled a box to sit around the button.

This culture allows fearless identification and solving of problems. A similar example I have read from the lean startup, involves new joiners being asked to merge to production on the first day. If someone can inadvertently break a production, then a new issue has been identified to be solved.

7. Create mutual benefit

Making a profit is a mutual benefit. Without profit, a business cannot grow, cannot innovate, will be overtaken, and will fail.

Businesses should have profit and social benefit.

The Happy Company has a mutual benefit program that sends their trainers out to African countries — training people on various IT skills. The social good is obvious. The company good is less so — it increases morale and talent retention. The staff love it. The trainers are training themselves to do new things and solve new challenges (such as explaining software in a power-cut).

They also give all their training materials away for free. Why? Because it has a social good, it publicizes their name and shows their thought leadership and skill!

When asked about the Happy companies philanthropy (“10% of profits given to the community”), Henry Stewart simply states it isn’t philanthropy, it makes their business better. There is a quota of days within the company and you can apply for those days to do social good by simply explaining how

  1. it helps the community
  2. it helps the Happy company
  3. will give significant impact / a real difference

If they didn’t do this, staff would likely have left, Happy would be less well known, and the community would have never benefitted. All staff wants their work to be beneficial and this simply enables it. Another example of this is Happy has done free training sessions with untrained trainers to help them get experience.

A litmus test Henry Stewart suggest to judge if your ‘philanthropy’ is meaningful is “Would anybody notice if this scheme was canceled?”. A 1% profit check to charity fails this. The staff wouldn’t know, and the charity would like not hugely notice.

8. Love work, but get a life

Henry Stewart identifies as a workaholic and his wife the same. When he had kids, he devotes time to them but didn’t feel like he was getting less done. Curious.

“The more hours you work, the less effective you can be.” He states this is true no matter the industry.

Flexible working

The author gives three scenarios of people asking for flexibility and how most companies would address them. Instead of passing judgment, he suggests that the team should self organise — the team decides what is reasonable, the team decides what is permitted. The direction of the business need can come: “We need two people here from 9–5.30 every weekday”. The team should decide and be flexible to accommodate each other.

People know what is practical and if you have hired people with the right mindset this will be second nature and a truly rewarding part of their career at your company. Your competitors would likely be more flexible if your staff applied to them, and the author gives many personal examples.

Finally, the author suggests me-time as your best ideas rarely come when you are at work. Having a break provides perspective and reflection.

9. Select managers who are good at managing

Management isn’t the way to go up. A brilliant developer should become a brilliant senior developer — not a manager. Put people in the roles that suit their skills.

There are two types of leadership:

  1. Role A: Strategy and decision making
  2. Role B: Supporting, challenging, and coaching

To be good at one doesn’t imply the second, yet our promotion approach does imply this.

Henry Stewart also suggests that managers shouldn’t be permanent. Role A people are elected by the people who work there. Role B people are there when people need them to be and chosen by people. There should be managers and experts. They are not the same people.


Henry Stewart has provided what I see as a future roadmap for how businesses should operate if they want to retain their people. People are precious and more and more we see companies being stung by this.

The book at its most simple:

  1. Trust your people — pre-approve them to act in the best interests
  2. Make sure your people feel good — A managers job is to make staff happy and a company can remove all rules and provide a mantra
  3. Give freedom within clear guidelines — have principles and allow individuals to set their own targets
  4. Be open and transparent — So people understand decisions and can help
  5. Recruit for attitude, train for skill — and don’t hope the right candidate will see you at the right time, have a signup list
  6. Celebrate mistakes — else no-one innovates
  7. Create mutual benefit — Businesses should have profit and social benefit.
  8. Love work but get a life — Some things go unmissed and work life needs to be flexible
  9. Select managers who are good at managing — Put people in the roles that suit their skills



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