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“We want someone that shares our core values and lives for digital”

Ljubljana, November 2nd, 2017

When looking to set up an agency or to hire new staff, a human resources manager has always been the way to go. Nevertheless, at Slovenia-based agency Madwise they decided to shake things up a bit and replace the role with a Chief Happiness Officer, a position now held by Sašo Palčič.

Madwise is an award-winning digital agency, focused on delivery of measurable results. It specializes in digital transformation, lead generation and website creation, with an holistic approach to digital marketing.

In an interview with TIA, Palčič gives an insight on the agency life, showing how his role has altered the company’s culture and work style.

A human resources manager is there mostly to protect the company. Meanwhile a happiness officers’job is to treat every person as a human being who matters and gives employees a voice and allows them freedom to express themselves. So, it’s not comparing apples and oranges but more like comparing apples and space travel,” Palčič highlights.

What’s the role of a happiness officer?

When we established our agency, we tried to distinguish ourselves from our competition. We did not want to only do business but we strived to delight our clients. Our whole focus was to make our customers happy. But eventually we found out that only happy coworkers can make happy clients. I switched my focus accordingly. My tasks vary from simple things such as buying plants that make our office more enjoyable or baking a cake for our weekly meeting to complicated processes that help ensure our company values are demonstrated and each employee has a voice. After all of the years I firmly believe that employee happiness is key to better work performance. My work is mostly focused in creating an environment, culture and processes that allow my coworkers to create better.

What’s the difference between a conventional human resources manager and a chief happiness officer?

A conventional human resources manager wears a suit or a dress, signs contracts and deals with the hirings and firings, while a happiness officer encourages coworkers to express themselves, helps them grow and achieve their goals. There is an old saying that boils down to HR is not your friend. A human resources manager is there mostly to protect the company. Meanwhile a happiness officers’ job is to treat every person as a human being who matters and gives employees a voice and allows them freedom to express themselves. So, it’s not comparing apples and oranges but more like comparing apples and space travel.

What skills and experiences would make an ideal candidate at your agency?

An ideal candidate is not looking for a 9-5 lifestyle, is proactive, resourceful and knows how to step in clients or coworkers shoes. We often overlook past experience. Skills can be taught, experience can be acquired, while attitude is hard to change. We are interested what potential new hires want to do with their lives and if we can offer them challenges that will develop them in their desired direction. We also want to hire someone that shares our core values. Someone that is interested in their work, not only for a couple of hours daily, but really lives for digital. We are also looking for people that are problem solvers, know how to take responsibility and want to grow. From experience I can tell you that this qualities, while seemingly common, are not always the easiest to find. But if you strive for greatness, you have to start with quality ingredients.

How would you describe your company culture?

Our culture is based on respect, open communication and common values. It is hard to describe it but you know it once you experience it. There is this feeling, when you start your day and nobody is rolling their eyes because there is work to do. And you feel the culture when coworkers help each other without asking. But mostly you know the culture when there are problems with something. There is never any finger pointing and blame switching, everybody tries to first contribute to a solution. So the key to our culture is our attitude towards mistakes. We all make them, we openly talk about them without hard feelings and we always try to learn something from them so we don’t repeat them. Another thing is, although we are a digital agency, we believe in power of personal touch. Emails and social networks don’t do businesspeople do.

How is that culture cultivated and maintained?

We decided long ago that our company culture will be one of our main market differentiations. We grew on this foundation and became the most wanted employer among agencies. But in practice culture maintenance starts with each new employee. We want people that share our values. This is a predisposition for everything else. We continue by trying to understand specifics of each coworker, his motivation and drive and focus it properly in the company ecosystem. We have to feel the company pulse each day and understand what is going on.

What does a great working environment look like for you?

I believe in a holistic approach to everything. Each space has a special energy and I want to work in one that suits me. I prefer places with a lot of windows and indoor vegetation. And some good background music is always nice to have. From a logistics perspective, it is always nice to have a large selection of restaurants nearby and you can not forget about accessibility. And the most important – coworkers. I always prefer working with people I can rely on, that are highly qualified in their area of expertise, and enjoy their work. If this is covered, we can create everything else together.

Could you tell us three essential/strategic questions in a job interview?

Three staples that a lot of hiring managers use and can still tell you a lot about a potential hire are:
Why did you choose us among all agencies that are currently hiring?
Why are you the best for this position? Why should we choose you?
– What was the biggest obstacle you overcame last week and how did you do it?

Some answers that we always try to get from people, no matter if we are hiring UX designer or a project manager, are related to prioritization of tasks. A workday only has so many hours. So three questions in this area are:
– A client doesn’t like your work, what do you do?
– What questions do you ask before you start a project?
What project of yours are you most proud of?

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Definitely professional mountaineering. It could still happen though

Thanks Sašo!

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