Inspiring Passion and Purpose for a Happier World

Tony Hsieh

Photo Credit: Charles Henry, Flickr – Altered with Quote

An Interview with Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness

Is happiness a driver of business results? How do you go about improving happiness in an organization? We discussed these and other subjects as part of a interview with Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness. She started Delivering Happiness with Tony Hsieh of Zappos after he wrote the best-selling book by the same name and they are building a community with the greater goal of nudging the world towards passion, purpose, and a happier place.

Happiness is reaching a tipping point
Jenn believes we are reaching a tipping point with people understanding the concept of happiness.  She believes it’s ironic considering it’s in the Declaration of Independence for the United States with “the pursuit of happiness” and even Aristotle in 200 B.C. said happiness is the “purpose of our existence and it’s dependent on ourselves.” She has traveled the world and starts most of her talks with a simple question: “How many people in the room feel that they understand how to sustain their personal happiness in their life?” She says it never fails that typically only 0-5% of the people in the room raise their hand.

We have all the benefits of “sacrifices made by our ancestors” but we still have a fundamentally unhappy global society. People are realizing there is more to life than money, title, and status and she says they want to do something about it.

Happiness as a business model
I watched a popular Ted Talk Jenn gave and found a reference she made to happiness as a business model. When asked about this connection, she referred to a simple equation: “We believe that if you have happier employees you will actually have happier customers and then you will have long term, more sustainable companies and brands.” Happiness increases productivity, creativity, and engagement.  It’s no longer a nice to have but “a necessary thing in order to keep innovating and to keep up with what’s happening in the marketplace.”

Insights on delivering happiness
She shared numerous insights on the subject of delivering happiness including:

  • It starts with core values – she called core values the DNA of an organization and shared an interesting story about the movement of birds, bees, and fish from Wired magazine.  The one big difference in movement was alignment.  When one bird moved the whole flock would move in the same direction.  In an organizational setting, individuals should be able to act on their own and display their “weird unique selves” while still “behaving as a single company all flying in the same direction toward the same goals.” Core values are the foundation that connects everyone together.
  • The art and science of core values – the Zappos focus on core values is well-know so I asked her to share a less visible, but yet very important, aspect of their focus on core values and she said it is “the art and science of core values.” It’s possible to “suck the fluffiness out of happiness” and make it real, measurable, and tangible. It’s important to measure the correlation between the happiness of employees and “the ultimate success of the company.” Delivering Happiness has partnered with Nic Marks to create the Happy Business Index to measure aspects of happiness. It’s also important realize there is an art of “letting things happen on their own – that’s when you really see the creativity and innovation of the people that see and do it every day.”
  • Happiness should be an integrated part of our strategy and business priorities – she said it should change the conversations and our perspective we have at high levels. It’s not about “a fridge full of Red Bull.” The secret to making it concrete is to “integrate it in a way that happiness doesn’t need to be in your face but it’s blended in with what you need to do from a day-to-day perspective” to reach your goals.
  • A commitment to happiness is needed – one of her greatest lessons learned at Delivering Happiness is that some organizations get off to a fast start and things deteriorate when they rest on their laurels. Her advice is that “it’s not easy” and it takes a commitment. You must be “committed to this notion of running a values-driven or culture-driven organization whether times are good or bad.  If economic tides go up or down, are you going to be committed to it? She thinks that’s the “number one lesson everyone can learn about how to make this successful and sustainable.”  Some companies see it as the “word of the day” but “it should be more about building a sustainable business and letting the data speak for itself.”
  • There are clear levers to increase a person’s happiness – these levers include:
    • Sense of progress – “is a person developing in their role or in their life?”
    • Sense of control – “is a person making decisions and are those decisions being executed on or at least considered?”
    • Connectedness – “the depth and breadth of relationships in your work and life.”
    • Having passion and flow – “flow is a psychological term that describes something you are so engaged in that it feels like minutes have gone by but in reality it’s actually been hours. How you create that sense of flow in the workplace is basically when you have the level of challenge meeting your level of skill.” We should think about how we can work together and “group teams of people to have that sense of flow so they really want to be engaged in their work.” 
    • Sense of higher purpose and meaning (ultimately the most important element) – “what are you doing that is greater than yourself? What is your personal higher purpose and is that aligned with your company higher purpose?”

 Would you be willing to print your unedited culture book?
Jenn emphasized the importance of understanding where you are at since each organization is at a different place.  “When a company has values already we say – well you have your values and your purpose but are you living by them?  We go through this exercise of asking how can you exemplify if you are living them?”  It may be time to revisit your purpose and values to see if your employees are really aligned with them.

She said most companies that come to them have values in some form but about 80% are not living by them. Every year Zappos asks their employees to submit two or three paragraphs about what the Zappos culture means to them. Those answers are published unedited, except for grammatical and spelling errors, in a Zappos Culture Book for everyone to see.  A question she asks companies is: “would you be willing to print, unedited, what your employees think of your culture?” She says nine times out of ten the answer is no. When they say yes, it’s usually a meek or quiet “maybe.” In the sense of how strong we feel we are living up to our values and our purpose, “the reality is that there’s really a minority of companies doing it.”

The Good News
Jenn said “if you don’t know what you are doing, you are not alone. It’s on everyone’s mind and everyone is figuring it out at the same time.”  Her final advice: “you need to figure out your unique DNA, your unique purpose, and vision and values that are true to yourself as a company.”

Should happiness be a part of your business model? What approaches have you seen that support happiness? Please share your comments below.

This post covers only a fraction of the full interview content:

Interview podcast: Listen to the complete 35 minute interview
Interview transcript: Download the complete transcript
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Tim Kuppler is the founder of and Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, a 40+ year pioneer in the workplace culture field with the mission of Changing the World—One Organization at a Time®. He leads collaboration and partnering efforts with culture experts, consulting firms, industry organizations and other groups interested in making a meaningful difference in their organization, those they support, and, ultimately, society.

Human Synergistics is home of the Organizational Culture Inventory, the most widely used and thoroughly researched culture assessment in the world, the 90 Day Ultimate Culture and Performance Quick Start Program, and the Annual Ultimate Culture Conference, the premier organizational culture event.

He authored Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed which was endorsed as the "go-to" resource for building a performance culture. He previously led major culture transformations as a senior executive with case studies featured as part of the 2012 best-selling book – Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations. He was also President of Denison Consulting, a culture assessment and consulting firm. He is an accomplished speaker and recognized as a Top 100 leadership conferences speaker on

His 20 years of culture and performance improvement experience includes the rare mix of executive leadership, coaching, and consulting knowledge necessary to help leaders quickly improve team effectiveness and results as they focus on their top performance priorities, challenges, and/or goals. He networks extensively in the workplace culture field in order to learn and apply the latest insights from many experts. Email him to learn more about options to help you understand and evolve your culture with a direct and sustainable impact on performance.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Norman Jentner


    I keep encountering interesting blogs by you. Here is yet another one.

    You ask if “happiness” should be a part of one’s business model. If so, what approaches have I seen that support happiness?

    Ooooie! You could really get me going here.

    Yes, happiness is important. But we are not so much talking about fleeting happiness, although fleeting happiness is great, too. What I think Jenn and you are talking about is happiness that is a result of doing things individually and collectively “in flow.” (I often prefer to refer to this kind of happiness as “amidst joy.”)

    Your “clear levers to increase a person’s happiness” are consistent with what I’ve also blogged recently concerning how, per Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, there are distinct conditions characteristic of and required for the experience of flow. These conditions include:
    • Rules, requiring the learning of skills.
    • Goals are pursued, requiring effort, for which performance feedback is available.
    • Personal control is possible, facilitating concentration.
    • Engagement is high, with an “ordered state of mind” that is highly enjoyable.
    • Flow goes beyond the boundaries of normal experience, to stretch one’s skills, reach awareness, etc.
    • A sense of discovery into a new reality of increased complexity of self.

    Flow is highly satisfying; people will seek to repeat the experience if they can learn how, because it is so intrinsically satisfying — often much more personally important than immediate external rewards, per se, such as money.

    Our STEM-informed human performance findings suggest that “sustained and engaging happiness” or “joy” is the outcome of experiencing some version of flow.

    Happiness is not the cause of high performance, but rather an effect.

    A more primary variable, I have come to understand, is peace of mind.

    Did you know our Central Nervous System (CNS) is comprised to two very different memory centers?

    Related to this, you will find “peace of mind” popping up increasingly in my own blogs. Peace of Mind + Flow => Happiness.

    For me, it is a joy to see so many emerging best practice “fundamentals” converging with our multi-disciplinary (STEM) sciences and with so many “timeless truths” of realistic optimism, such as I see here at CultureU.

    The results are speaking for themselves.

    I look forward to more.