Discovering best practice in the least likely of places.
Previously titled: My learnings from the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Anyone I've caught up with over the past few months has been subjected to a genuine and positively charged sales pitch. And, I offer no apology.
At the end of last year I had the privilege of experiencing (what's best described as) a deep sense of humility, well-being and exhilaration all rolled into one. Juxtaposed grounding and euphoria perhaps comparable to near-nirvana or, in the context of this post, the last Shangri-La.
The Royal Kingdom of Bhutan is a small, landlocked country found in the Eastern Himalayas. Known locally as Drukyul, or Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan is located on the Tibetan Plateau — the highest region on Earth. Bhutan is surrounded by sacred Himalayan mountains, gifted with breathtaking natural beauty, and also has one of the richest eco-systems in the world; with more than 78 percent of total land cover under lush forest.
Buddhism influences every aspect of Bhutanese life and the people continue to practice traditions that have existed for centuries. Its people are fun-loving and generous, hospitable by nature and love to entertain family, friends and visiting guests. Which, on several occasions last year, and thanks to my tour guide Lhap Tshering, I was fortunate to experience first-hand.
Lhap, a government trained and regulated travel guide, has been conducting cultural tours and natural treks for more than a decade. As with every Bhutanese person I've met, Lhap believes that sustaining the pristine environment of his country is much more than moral obligation. Through the tours he organises, Lhap is committed to ensuring principles of Buddhism are maintained — striking a balance between helping preserve and promote all that is inherently Bhutanese, with perfectly planned and enjoyable eco-friendly tourism.
Lhap's excursions — while truly unique because of his smiley personality and quick-witted sense of humour — are a testament to a national preoccupation with conscientious consumption, socioeconomic and environmental responsibility. A collection of unmistakable and inherent qualities felt throughout each-and-every moment of interaction. To the people of Bhutan, achieving balanced development in all facets of life will ultimately bring about true happiness. A notion and belief beautifully captured in the Tourism Council's strapline: 'happiness is a place'.
Gross National Happiness.
Buddhist conscientiousness and its role in achieving national happiness has been firmly embedded into government policy via the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. The concept of GNH is clear, and implies '...that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing'. The GNH Index is designed to create policy incentives for the government, NGOs and businesses to follow; and is administrated, coordinated and championed by a dedicated Gross National Happiness Commission. Working closely with the public and private sector, the Commission makes sure all government plans and programmes comply to GNH principles, and also ensures proper implementation.
What I found to be truly remarkable is that this small, preserved and unspoilt, economically challenged country — with a population of 700,000 people, and that only installed a national power grid some 15 years ago — has managed to structure, plan and successfully put into effect a purpose-aligned, values-driven, measurable governance framework. An achievement many Multi National Corporations, who invest huge upfront capital into defining their brand, struggle to effectively execute.
It's really only been in the last 30 years that we've seen a significant shift in the role and utility of brand; where successful organisations can be easily identified as those who recognised their brand as a unique and powerful business alignment tool. With increased focus towards founding principle realignment and elevating the importance of purpose, i.e. your raison d'être — both of which have come more into play in the last 15 years due to transparency and tech — brand has grown to become a leadership imperative from which to guide and monitor efficient and effective decision-making and organisational alignment.
On reflection (since my last trip, there’s been a lot of) I struggle to find a more fitting example of “good brand governance” than with the management and implementation of GNH in Bhutan. Aligning the self-interests of each government ministry, department and commercial enterprise to an undisputed greater good, and ensuring that each and every interaction is mutually beneficial, consistent and meaningful, delivers nothing short of an amazing, valued and memorable experience for everyone.
By maintaining alignment to a very simple concept, and treating GNH as a strategic “brand lens”, if you will, Bhutan’s government are able to maintain its place with the wider socioeconomic context in which belongs. By staying true to a culturally representative, relevant and meaningful purpose, GNH pays homage to the spririt of human kindness and brand leadership foresight that dates back as far as 1629.
Until my next trip to Bhutan: Tashi Delek for now.