It’s no surprise that the 20 employees of Delivering Happiness at Work (DHW) compiled this list and toss around the data any chance they get. The startup brainchild of Zappos’ Tony Hsieh and business partner Jenn Lim emerged after the publication of Delivering Happiness a book that waxes on the benefits of value-based management and work, life balance.
To drive the point home, the consulting firm’s even set up a return-on-investment calculator that allows any company to determine how much malcontent could cost them based on the number of employees on staff. So far, over 200 companies have signed up, and DHW workshops have garnered rave reviews from clients as diverse as HP, former Lost producer Ra’uf Glasgow, and RealTruck.
But dispensing delight doesn’t stop at the end of a workshop. After all, DHW couldn’t exactly deliver if its own staff was disengaged. And an individuals’ pursuit of happiness is serious business for the consultancy. According to culture and brand boss (aptly named) Sunny Grosso, "We walk our own talk." Everyone at DHW practices what they call Purpose + Vision in order to be the change their clients wish to find in their own companies. For this, the two-year-old DHW has garnered a spot on the WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Companies for 2013.
Although Grosso regales anyone who will listen with anecdotes about their new/old Airstream mobile office and cowbell ringing for staff achievements, he warns against equating these feel-good initiatives with the free puppies, keggers, and back rubs that have become the lingua franca of culture at most startups. Like the "vibe managers" at Heroku, the team at DHW are committed to a set of core values that drive every communication and decision. "A lot of people think [happiness] is fluffy," Grosso admits, but it's what built Zappos into a $2 billion business.
With that in mind, Fast Company asked Grosso to give us a peek inside DHW’s happy hive. Here are a few of their best practices:
Draw Your Own Culture Target The premise is simple: Draw a bull’s-eye with three concentric rings. The center spot is the "me." Grosso explains that this represents, "The idea that happiness at work and in life starts with you." The next circle is "we," which could be your family, friends, and coworkers. The outer ring is for community, or all the people you affect in your job such as partners and vendors.
By putting yourself in the middle, Grosso says, you begin to see how much your own personal values influence those around you. Aligning those things that are most important to you with your "we" and "community," will make your work more fulfilling, your partnerships stronger, and your impact on the world greater, she asserts.
Birds of a Cultural Feather Every person on the DHW staff has a poster of the organization’s 10 core values up on their wall. Grosso even has a small copy stuck to the back of her phone. Referring to a speech made by Delivering Happiness CEO Jenn Lim, Grosso says, "Our core values are the code, the DNA," that allows the team to fly together as seamlessly as a flock of geese in formation.
Bring Your Weird Self to Work That’s not to say that everyone needs to share the exact same personal values in order for the organization’s values to unite the team and strengthen the business. DHW team members are encouraged to bring their whole self to work, with all the attendant weirdness that may involve.
"I used to do gymnastics," recalls Grosso, so the time she spontaneously did a handstand at work sparked a colleague to begin showing off his facility with contortions. "Our work environment allows you to be you more," she contends, and is less about work/life balance and more about how work mixes with life.
Scaling Individual Happiness to Strengthen the Organization It may sound like a simple recipe for a small startup, but Grosso points out that Zappos does the same with some 2,000 employees who are an eclectic bunch. Bringing your weird self to work is okay if you can exist—happily—within the company’s 10 core values.
Grosso says that Zappos’ IT department is an example of a team that has a different micro-culture within the parent company. "They are less about sharing and interacting and having Jello shots," she notes, laughing, "But they still adhere to the core values. Some [values] are stronger than others, but that’s okay."
Happier Collaboration Through Video Conferencing Though small, the DHW team is spread across several offices in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Atlanta, and across three business units (including the DH clothing line and community-focused efforts) so collaboration doesn’t happen as seamlessly as it would in one open office. Nonetheless, Grosso says they make a "huge effort" to bring everyone together via video conference once a week. In addition to quarterly in-person meetings, every Friday at 11 a.m., everyone on staff is required to stop what they are doing and join the call, no excuses. "Connection is one of the pieces of the science of happiness that we teach companies, so it’s something we take very seriously," she says.
To energize the assembled crew, the call starts with something fun such as Grosso or Lim sharing photos of their travels to speaking engagements or workshops. This week for instance, Grosso proudly shared a pic she took of a billboard in the Gates Foundation’s offices that asked, "Does happiness matter at work?" in anticipation of a presentation she was doing there. The visuals, she contends, make more of an impact than reciting a laundry list of the week’s appointments.
Talk to the CEO The video conferences also have an "Ask Jenn" component in which the entire team has the opportunity to quiz Lim about anything from how many hours she put in on a given week to which magazine’s cover she’d like to grace. Questions are emailed in advance from each team member. "It’s important to make sure people have a connection to her because she’s on the road so much," says Grosso.
The Path to Happiness is Paved With (Well-Placed) Praise and More Cowbell Then the conversation moves to "snout outs" which Grosso likens to the way a dog pushes its nose out of a car window. The premise again is to share accomplishments. "Did someone impress you this week?" or "Did you appreciate the way someone collaborated?" are just some of the items thrown out for praise.
And just to add a little extra encouragement for those who don’t like to toot horns, good ideas are celebrated with ringing of cowbells.
Use Constructive Honesty Not every person or idea is a good fit at any company and DHW is no exception. Grosso admits that even after putting some employees through the rigor of interviewing, they just weren’t right for the team once they were hired. Like the founders of Asana, Grosso credits the company’s tenet of extreme transparency to weed out potential trouble.
She also cites the research of Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina that illustrates how a ratio of three positive emotions to one negative is minimum optimum for high functioning teams. So if someone or some initiative isn’t working out, Grosso says the team will share their thoughts in a positive way.
Collaborate Right Now The final component of the conference is to work on something together right away. Usually there are four items that require immediate attention and the team brainstorms solutions onto a whiteboard. Grosso says that allows the meeting to end on a note of inspiration and connects the team (once again) to the higher purpose of the organization.