This is a talk with Jenn Lim on the 33 Voices podcast. Jenn is a a former consultant to Zappos and created the Zappos Culture Book. She later helped launch Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, and since transformed that concept into a company. Today, Jenn is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer at Delivering Happiness. Listen to the full podcast here and check out the excerpt below.
Misconceptions about Happiness
It’s not all about rainbows and unicorns. Some people think when they hear happiness, especially those who are skeptical about what we’re doing, just think that’s great for you guys if you have this culture that’s everyone doing whatever they want to do or wearing whatever they want to wear - if that means happiness for you.
The second misconception is happiness is fluffy. Now more than ever because of the science of happiness and cognitive psychology, we have more data and research that shows there are more ways to increase our happiness.
And this is not the short-term fleeting happiness that we all know about. Every day pleasures like going out and grabbing drinks with friends or buying a pair of shoes. Those are forms of happiness, but not sustainable ones.
Now with all this data we know that happiness can be defined in more meaningful ways. And that includes stuff like having more meaningful connections with people in your life, having a sense of control in your decisions, and having a sense of progress that you’re growing and developing. Having passions - your states of flow increase when you’re happy.
And ultimately what all the research shows it’s having a sense of higher purpose. That is really what sustains that long-term happiness.
Zappos Path to Happiness
So many people assume Zappos had it figured out from day one. And of course, that wasn’t the case. In fact, they didn’t start focusing on culture and core values to year five or year six.
What I saw working with Zappos was a tiny little startup. All it wanted to do was make money and sell a lot of shoes. That’s kind of endemic of all the startups at that time. But then Zappos kind of matured over the next couple years.
It decided, you know what, we don’t want to just be a shoe seller - we want to focus on customer service. And be the best at that.
And then it matured again a couple years later, and said you know what if we want to grow and sustain what we have today, it’s not actually about customer service. It’s about us.
It’s about company culture. It’s about employees. It’s about making sure that is solid first.
I think it’s because of the stages that Zappos went through that first, it was a startup. Bottom line - we’ve got to make money or we won’t be here and we can’t survive.
And then realizing we want to be bigger and better than that. It’s not just about shoes. It’s about customers.
I think there was a point, just a light bulb, hey if this is going to continue and we want to grow the team - knowing that most of the time when you grow the people the culture actually deteriorates, how do you address that in advance? So you can not just grow the team and scale the culture, but actually make it better in time with more people.
So that’s when all the core values and the culture book, the Zappos you see today, made that transition.
How to Start Culture and Happiness
Step one was defining core values. Going back further than that, first comes commitment. It’s sounds kind of simple, but until you commit to these values or culture as an organization, it’s not going to last. It’s not going to sustain itself.
It’s all too easy to say, when times get rough, and you’ve got to cut stuff out of the budget the first to go is usually always HR and culture. So number one is commitment.
But the second thing is defining those core values. It’s sounds like an easy thing to do. For some companies, it’s an offsite deal in the woods with senior management. And then come back, and say here’s our core values.
But for Zappos and Delivering Happiness, and now all of our clients, what we say is that take your time to do it. And for both the companies I just mentioned, it took a full year to do it.
Having a process for everyone in the company to submit their own personal core values and then refining them overtime to make sure they actually stand up to what is actually unique about your culture and your employees.
I know not everyone is able to define their core values. Because I know they might say, “hey that’s good for startups, but I’m actually a company that’s been around for awhile.” So what we say there is can you revisit your core values? Can you ask yourself if you’re actually living by your core values?
The culture book is asking everyone in the company to write a couple paragraphs as to what culture means to them. What we do is we print it. Totally unedited. The good and bad are both in there.
Another question to ask yourself as a company is would you be willing to print, unedited, what your employees think about your culture? I’d say 95 percent of the time the people I talk to would say no.
Those are the things I’d start with - those are the building blocks of where we start talking about culture.
What Happiness Means
Happiness is so subjective. What I boil it down to and what I see is the difference between someone who can sustain their happiness and someone who has highs and lows, what we call a rockstar happiness. Where someone is chasing the next high and usually says stuff like “I’ll be happy when I achieve this or when I get that raise.” Those are the people that have peaks or come down pretty quickly.
What I see is when people are truly, genuinely true to themselves. True to their weird self. In a sense that they are unique to who they are and they live it out. That’s step number one in understanding what your long-term happiness can be.
It’s really those people who are authentic to what is good and bad about them. That sort of kick starts the whole journey into what happiness can mean to them.
If you’re fearful that someone is going to see you as not smart or not serious because I’m smiling too much, than that’s already a natural roadblock into how happy that person can be.
If you look at different sort of leaders out there and which ones are effective and are leaders people respect, it’s those that are really true to who they are.
I think now more than ever, those people who are authentic to themselves, are ones that really shine.
How to Shift the Culture
At large institutions, it’s so crucial to have commitment at the leadership level. But not just by words. It has to come through actions too.
Because the biggest thing we’ve seen is this word culture - it’s such a buzzword all over now in the global workforce. But hardly any companies really get it. In terms of really wanting to sustain it overtime.
So the biggest thing on that level is don’t just talk about it. Actually do something about it too. Because that’s what’s really eroding the culture now.
It’s why 87 percent of the workforce is disengaged with their work. This is a study that Gallop did in 2012.
It’s because there is so much lip service being paid. Oh yeah, “we believe in you,” we want employees to be engaged. But then come the next quarter those programs that we supposedly going to help these kind of things fade away.
The biggest thing on that level is to do what you say you’re going to do. And lead by example.
Because only then will all the other managers and employees will get engaged and actually believe there will be real change.
How to Help People that are Unhappy
It’s just basic human understanding and basic human needs. I ask this question everywhere I go and I talk around the world about this subject.
And I ask how many people in the room believe they can sustain their own happiness? Predictably sustain it?
No matter what, one to five percent of the room raises their hand. No matter where in the world.
When you start thinking about how to address it, you start thinking about the very simple things of environment change. And these things that don’t require a huge amount of money.
It’s really about coming back to we know you have a lot of things going on in your life and it’s not just about work. So how can we as an organization help you think about your own personal happiness.
Because we know it all starts with the individual. We have a choice, based on the science, 40 to 90 percent of your happiness is based on your own control.
So as a leader of an organization, how do we embrace that and create an environment that says, “hey, you can be yourself.” We have a lot of goals that we need to make. We have a lot of work that we need to do.
But if we have this mutual understanding that we’re all in it together - it changes our whole intention and the way you inter-relate with each other and your work.
Happiness is contagious.