Happiness Is ...

Recently, one of my clients suggested that I read a recently released book by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, entitled “Delivering Happiness”. I found it to be an intriguing read offering many lessons. How many of us truly live our lives at both work and outside of work feeling that we are fully engaged in our passion and our life purpose? The more that we can align ourselves around our passion and life purpose the closer we get to sustained happiness.

Many of us could name a number of things that make us happy that depend on correcting certain situations in our lives: the unemployed want that job, the overweight want to lose the excess, etc. Unfortunately, we all are quite familiar with the effect that once we achieve our goal, we’re not happy any longer. We need another goal. Hsieh does a great job of outlining the “science of happiness” using 3 different frameworks. All of them can be applied to both our business and personal lives.

So, how do you translate happiness to a business? Hsieh talks a lot about company culture and how important it is in creating a sustainable business that can exist for generations. Two of the key ingredients to culture are vision and values. One of the first things we do in creating a strategic plan with our clients is to develop a vision and core values for the business, if they don’t already exist. While these ingredients are relatively easy to create, they are much more difficult to ingrain into a corporate culture.

You see, the vision and values must be much more than words. Even well-displayed words on framed wall plaques or on a corporate website don’t do much in the way of creating a company culture. A vision and values need to represent a way of life for the company and be generated by the passion inside the company. At Zappos they created a Culture Book which describes the culture they have and want to maintain as they grow.

The Culture Book starts with the Core Values of the company, and relates the stories that emerge during the company’s life. By writing the core values in a book and reinforcing them with stories from many different employees, they build the tribal knowledge about what is the passion of the company and how do people live inside the company. The values and the culture book become the reinforcing behavior mechanism by which all processes and interactions both inside and outside the company are measured.

How do you hire the right people? The Zappos HR department used the culture book and created ways by which interview questions and situations uncovered the right people to fit the culture. For example, they use a “speed-interviewing party” to determine which candidates fit the company culture.

What about training? Look at the core values and develop and deploy the training that will sustain those values.

How do you take care of customers? Zappos’ first core value is “Deliver WOW through service”. For example, they offer free shipping for the initial purchase and any returns. One story involves helping a customer order a pizza when they called one of the Customer Loyalty Reps.

How do you be happy? Create and sustain a company culture that allows you to engage your passions and work toward a higher purpose every day.

Zappos is an on-line retail shoe company. They were recently acquired by Amazon, but were allowed to keep their brand and culture as an independent entity after the acquisition. Who could imagine that an on-line retailer, especially one that sells shoes, would be the source of happiness for thousands of its employees, vendors and customers? Yet, that is what they achieved.

“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”