How do you create a purpose-driven consulting business? By identifying your purpose and values. Michael Zipursky welcomes Jenn Lim, the CEO & Co-Founder of Delivering Happiness. Jenn talks with Michael that your long-term relationships grow when you stay true to who you are and are passionate about what you do. Creating an open dialogue environment is also vital because it creates healthier, transparent conversations that build resilience and growth. So tune in and discover how to create a purpose-driven consulting business!
Welcome back to another episode of the show. In this episode, I have Jenn Lim joining us. Jenn, I’m glad to have you here. Welcome.
I’m honored to be here. Thank you for having me.
You have such a soothing voice that this is going to be a wonderful experience for all of our audience joining us for this episode. For those of you that are not familiar with Jenn, she is the Cofounder and CEO of Delivering Happiness, a company that you started with the late Tony Hsieh of Zappos. You all help organizations create a culture that boosts employee satisfaction and retention. Your clients include some of the best-known organizations in the world like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chase, and so many others. You are also the author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller, Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact.
I want to dig into so many of these topics with you. I have been on a bit of a tear and quest myself to develop my leadership skills as we have been building our team. I will be a little bit selfish in asking some of these questions on so many of these topics, but I will do it with the goal of serving all of our community of consultants here around the world joining. I do want everyone to learn from you how we can build more profitable businesses while also tying in and connecting to purpose, but before we get into that, you have the title of Chief Happiness Officer. How do you use that title? What does that mean to you? What is your role at the company?
Chief Happiness Officer evolved very quickly when we launched the company. Tony and I launched the book Delivering Happiness in 2010, then quickly realized there was a demand for happiness in the world, so we created the company around it and then I became CEO. This is the luxury of us having small companies and being the owner of them, we get to create our own titles. Chief Happiness Officer was my intentional decision to say this sustainable happiness topic deserves a seat at the C-level. Me being CEO is one thing, but me being CHO is another because that is interwoven into everything that I do and the company does.
You are wearing a hat so I can’t help but ask, do you wear those different hats? Not physically wear the hats but in terms of the mindset of CEO versus CHO. How do you look at those two acronyms and apply them to your actual work and daily life?
I love it when I don’t get questions that I have ever heard, and this is one question I have never heard in terms of literal hats and metaphorical hats. For me, I feel that we all have a lot of hats to wear, and the fact that the more authentic we can be to ourselves, the more hats we can wear at one time instead of feeling like having to, “I got to drop this hat and put this on,” but there is a more integrated and holistic approach as to what hat we wear. For me, I want to be aligned with my purpose and values, aligned with what I want to do in life, how I want to make an impact, and be there for the people I love and serve. This one has been the most common one since COVID hit.What’s most important in life is being true to yourself and living independently so people don’t control your decisions. Click To Tweet
You had a role as a consultant in organizations like KPMG and Zappos. Take us back to the early timeline of how did you get to where you are. What were the early chapters or progression of Jenn 1.0 or 0.5? What did that look like in terms of education to different roles that you had that led you to where you are now?
What I thought about when you asked that question is that what are the biggest pivot points or highs and lows in my life? I was a dot-com baby. That was in the late-‘90s or early-2000s. I graduated shortly before that, and I had an Asian-American Studies Degree. As you can imagine, my immigrant parents were saying, “Why the hell would you want to do that?”
I loved going to UC Berkeley. It opened my doors and my life in terms of perspective. I was supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I chose not to do that. That was probably the first decision that I stood up for myself knowing I felt a lot of heaviness to help my immigrant parents and ancestors live up to what they had to do and be as successful as they were.
They fought hard and worked hard. They were making sure food was on the table, so it was hard for me to major in Asian-American Studies knowing that I was supposed to be something else, but I did it, and graduated. I didn’t have a job and I realized all the things that they were talking about. Luckily for me, dot-com or the internet was born, and I became a KPMG consultant. All of a sudden, the money title status fell in my lap overnight. I thought it was like, “Life is easy. This is cool,” but as we know, dot-com busted and I lost everything. I didn’t only lose my job, 9/11 happened here in the US. Within one year, I also found out my dad had stage three colon cancer, and that changed my trajectory.
I realized the values I had and the money title status didn’t mean anything at all, especially after his passing. I said to myself, “What is most important?” Without saying these are my values, I said to myself, “What is the most important?” People in my life, being true to myself and living in an independent way so that people are not controlling my decisions but I’m controlling mine. That is the next segue into my next chapter of being a consultant.
I was an independent consultant because I didn’t want to get fired by someone that I worked really hard for. I became an independent consultant and then I met Tony around that time. He just got the title of being the CEO of Zappos. As Zappos grew, I grew with them as a consultant, and that was regulatory for me because the things that we were geeking out on, we were like, “There is a science to happiness. There is positive psychology. There is all this academic research based on the real stuff.”
That, for me, as a cynic and existentialist in life, had these answers or at least data points that I could live by. Fast forward to 2010, I had been consulting for Zappos for a long time. That was when the book deal came out for Delivering Happiness, and I helped Tony launch that book, and then the company started. Those pivotal points are what is most meaningful and what I have learned over the years.
When you were consulting with Zappos, what was the main focus of your work? What were you doing spending your time in that organization? It is not rare but it is certainly not so common to find consultants that work so closely with one organization for such a long period of time. Back to the main question, what were you doing and then the second part of that question would be in terms of for those that want to create long-term relationships with their clients, what do you think was the game changer or the key to creating that long engagement together?
It is very odd and weird when projects for consultants last a long time, and I consider Zappos to be a project. Back in the early days, it was just Tony passing on these projects. He was like, “Can you look at this marketing strategy? Can you look at this and that?” Eventually, it went to culture and culture books, and that is where the launch of the culture book came about. It was a new idea. I had never worked on a book before and he gave me that project. I took it on because I thought like, “This is cool. How do you capture a culture within a book that represents the company and that made its mark in its own way?”
The second part of the question that is most important is that by being super aligned with who I was and asking the questions within myself of, “What is important?” At that point, after a certain time, I realized my time is worthwhile. Back in the day, it was super easy to get jobs and get paid. I get paid really great amounts of money, but it wasn’t necessarily tapping into myself. That is the experience I had at KPMG. No offense to them at all but I realized I needed to do something meaningful myself.
Answering your question in a long-term way, as long as we are aligned with who and what we are in a very fundamental way with our purpose and values, that is where the long-term relationship grows because they can sense your passion and purpose and they would want to be working with you for a long time. That has been the trajectory of where I have been.
Much of what you are saying in terms of your own self-exploration and pursuit can also apply to employees and for everyone joining us, whether they have an existing team or they are planning to build a team. One challenge is how do you motivate your employees? How do you keep retention high? It is hard to make a really big impact in the world all by yourself.
The quest of so many consulting business owners is to get to the point where they don’t need to be doing all of the delivery themselves. They have a team that can execute. They can spend more time on strategy and the higher-valued areas where they can create, so having a team in place is central to doing that. What have you found works best to identify what your employees and your team want so that you can begin to create that culture that attracts that type of talent but also retains it?
What you said is exactly what I did with Delivering Happiness and knowing the initial book launch. I was like, “That is really exciting. What am I going to do from here?” They were like, “We are going to build a business out of it.” I thought, “What does that business look like?” I was drinking my own champagne of belief, purpose, and values. I then took it upon myself to say, “What does happiness as a business look like?”Your long-term relationship grows when you’re aligned with your purpose and values. Click To Tweet
Even before figuring out the business model, I was like, “What are our purpose and values?” I think that is the most important thing, especially when you are growing and starting anew. Of course, down the line of many years, it is to at least get that ground and put that line in the sand. What is it that this company is here for and what are the values, especially behaviors that we live by to be succinct about what that means?
For companies, entrepreneurs, and consultants that want to grow their own company, that has been time and time again the most important and sometimes hard way to go about it because you have to live by it knowing that like, “Do I take this revenue because of XYZ reasons because I need to make money or do I not take it because it is not aligned?” That is the most foundational thing to create for yourself as an entrepreneur or a consultant as you grow the company.
I want to get as tangible for everybody joining us. I understand that at the high level, you want to get clear on what is our purpose, our mission, our values and have a conversation with team members or employees about that and get everybody involved if you want to better understand what drives your team so that you can support them or create the culture and the environment where they want to stay because they feel like they are doing what they should be doing or what they want to be doing deep down inside. What have you personally found that works well? Is it sitting over a coffee or a drink and asking a specific question or is it a survey? What have you found that works best to identify what your team cares about so that you can support them to do more of the work that they love to do?
There are very practical exercises to this, and then it also depends on where you are in your continuum of just starting, already mature, or trying to grow. At the very beginning, I would always recommend having these exercises of having everyone identify their values and purpose as individuals and then bring that together, and it becomes a synthesis of what things are aligned here. It becomes very clear that there are a lot of values that are aligned, and there are some that are not, but by going through that synthesis of the values, behaviors, and of course, purpose, then you have that grounding in the ground or line in the sand. That is so important.
It then becomes a constant journey in the sense of happiness and then it becomes revisiting what that looks like. It has been several years since I have been doing Delivering Happiness. What is most monumental now with the Great Resignation AKA the Great Awakening or the Great Reset on humanity is to be able to still, uphold those purposes and values, and say, “This is where we started from. We all had ownership in this because we all created it together. Where are we now?”
It has to be more holistic in asking people the next layer-down of not just skills, responsibilities, culture, and values, but also where you are mentally, emotionally, relationally, and financially. It is a tough time. It has been a few years since we have been through a very tough time economically, emotionally, and relationally.
It is so interesting because what you are mentioning is you get a bit of a benchmarker or a lay of the land in terms of where everybody is. I’m interested in terms of, let’s say, for the smaller firms or even your own organization, what is the best way or an effective way to make sure that you are checking in on these? It is assigned that you recommend the people do with their team each quarter? Is it weekly or monthly? How often should you be doing this and what does that look like? Is it getting everybody around a table? Is it you, as the leader, doing one-to-one with each of your direct reports? What does that structure look like and how often do you do it?
I would definitely recommend quarterly at the very least. To answer from an operational standpoint, it depends on how big your team is because, for the owner of a company that is the consultant that is driving this through, it is the most important part of the role to uphold these relationships and feeling of a meaningful connection.
At the same time, the bigger you get, the more toll it takes on your own health and well-being. I would say it depends on how big it is and making sure that you have your organizational structure in a good way. If it is 100 people versus 10 people, that is a very different conversation, but if it is ten people, then, of course, those one-on-ones are so important and quarterly is very important.
I would also remind you what has been very apparent to me. It is the importance of having a mutual dialogue so that it is not like, “I’m the leader. Therefore, this is what needs to happen.” It is being able to say, “Contractor or consultant, you also have equal part onus and responsibility to provide your input too,” making sure that dialogue is open. It is what creates healthier conversations and very transparent ones that build towards resilience and growth. We need to be able to pivot and adapt now more than ever.
You said you have been doing this at Delivering Happiness for a couple of years. You have a lot of experience. You have seen a lot of different situations at what works and what doesn’t work. Are there 1 or 2 things that you feel maybe you have either personally applied it in your own company or using clients apply it with great success where it is a question, conversation, or something that they do or a way to reward?
For people who really want to have team members that feel like they are part of the company or they are doing the work that they should be doing to create that higher level of retention in the business so that everybody is moving along together, are there 1 or 2 exercises, activities, or things you haven’t yet mentioned that you had just found like, “When we did this, when I asked this one question, or when we took everyone through this one exercise, it was such a game-changer.” Does anything stand out to you that you feel is a powerful tool?
Yes. There are many exercises and it depends on where everyone is at in their own way. One of the reasons why I wrote this book, Beyond Happiness, is that as leaders, we have to be as authentic as we can to ourselves. What that means is sometimes, people as leaders assume they know who they are, but it takes work to dig a little bit deeper and ask ourselves whether or not we are truly being authentic to who we are. To your question, are you willing to do the extra work in understanding yourself as a leader first? There are exercises in the book about highs and lows, heartbeat exercises, extrapolating, and knowing that happiness is not always from the highs. It is actually understanding our lows.
For the few years, everyone has gone through some pain, loss, or grief. That is why I called the book Beyond Happiness. It is being able to understand the gamut or the spectrum of when we know our highs, it is because we know our lows, and that expands when we get more real with ourselves. That is number one. Once we experience that as leaders, then sharing that exercise with the people that we lead, the people that were colleagues with, or our clients even, they will appreciate that much more because we are being real. Brené Brown talks about this very well that in addition to the grit of what Angela Duckworth talked about is where we are right now. Can we be true to that? Can we be vulnerable to that? Therefore, ask the people that we work with and clients included if they are willing to be that vulnerable too.Open dialogue creates healthier, transparent conversations that build towards resilience and growth. Click To Tweet
My mind is racing by thinking of a lot of the different points you are making. Let’s say I go through that own assessment myself and I’m trying to get clear on everything that is meaningful to me or my North Star. You are saying that you should be open enough to go and share that with all of your team members and even with your clients. What would that look like? Is it like an email to a client like, “Joe and Jenn, I went through this process. Here is what I have discovered about myself. What do you think?” How would you suggest that people introduce that or bring up their findings with their team and with clients?
With teams, I think it is easier because you are working with them. Part and parcel with the whole question of when do you commit to people and to what your purpose is? That first exercise within ourselves is identifying our own purpose in a way and revisiting it, because even though if we had one and if you had a set of values before the pandemic, it is very important to revisit it now and then being able to say, “Team, this is what I have been seeing as to what can be more connected in terms of what we are doing.”
Especially we are all remote, hybrid, or future work is here. It is being able to say, “I know this is a very difficult time. It still will be for an unknown time to come, but this is what I would like to introduce as to what I have known or seen.” That is like this part of the stories that I share in the book of how this can all work because we are in it together. That is with your team.
HBR had a study that showed that companies that explicitly stated their purpose are growing in revenue and are more stable than ever than those that don’t. To me, especially during a pandemic or recession, there is something to be said about that because the reset on everything, including humanity, people want to be people, want to be heard and understood. That is what we can do as leaders to initiate that conversation.
One thing that stood out for me on your website is you have done a really good job of capturing data points. You have one, for example, that says going through our process or applying these principles. Our clients, on average, have a 41% improvement in retention. Many consultants have trouble gathering data when their work is not as focused, let’s say, on marketing or sales. People initially feel they might be intangible. What has been your process? Have you all gone about capturing these data points that support the power and efficacy of what you do in your work?
It is two-fold. There are a lot more data these days. The one I mentioned about HBR talking about purpose and it was revelatory for them was like, “In the last few years, this is tied to revenue.” When was the last time you saw profit tied to revenue? You can point to those studies and research of notable and respectable research entities.
The other point that is probably more relevant to this audience and conversation is that as consultants, ask them what data they are collecting right now. What is important to them? If you get that sense of like, “This is important,” is it retention, attraction, or the fact that people are not really engaged or productive right now? Ask them the questions of what is most important to you from a data perspective, and then use that as lines in the sand of what we are going to build on. You would be like, “If this is most important to you, retention sucks, then let’s focus on that.” That is what I would recommend.
Do you establish in your engagements a baseline once you identify what metrics matter to them most? Are you doing any assessment or survey to establish like, “Here is where you are right now. You are at 30%,” and then partway through? You do another assessment to see if they are now up to 50%. Is there any tracking like that in place or not so much? How do you guys approach that?
The most recommendable approach is to keep it consistent. If they say, “We already have data points and survey. Let’s keep using that. We don’t have a survey because we are not capturing what it means to be sustainably happy.” We are agnostic, but in general, we have tools where we say like, “You can use this. You can use that.” In the very bare minimum, you just have to keep tracking it because if you don’t keep tracking it and don’t keep measuring in a way that even the CFO would say, “That makes sense,” then it is not going to go on for a long time.
That makes sense. Your company has a lot of different services. You do virtual training, in-person stuff, and eLearning. There are a lot of different services and products that you all put out there. How did you get to where you are now? Is the majority of your revenue in business centered around 1 or 2 of those offerings? Are you trying new things? I would love to get a better picture of what does the business model looks like and how did you get to where you are because you do have several different options that people can choose from.
As you have seen in my background, drinking my own champagne is important because it has been such a moving target. Everything you are seeing on our site now is too much. When I look at it, I’m like, “We needed to still this.” For the people that are reading this, their attention span is almost nil. They have got a lot of stuff on their plate.
For me, what we have been doing over the years is keeping on testing and seeing what comes out of that, but being able to iterate that in a quicker fashion and not fear failure. Fail forward is a big thing that we talk about at DH, and that is how we keep on getting to a different place. I would recommend simplifying everything.
That is a powerful message because so often, it is easy to say, “I can do this and that. I can help these people.” Complexity grows on that. I don’t know who originally coined this, but the saying complexity doesn’t scale always resonated with me, and the other one is that typically, growth doesn’t happen through addition.
That happens through subtraction. What can you remove to be able to grow more? There are many great examples of that with very successful businesses. You wrote the original book, Delivering Happiness, with Tony. You have your book, Beyond Happiness. With the new book coming out, why write that now? Why not just keep doing what you are doing? Where did that come from?Leadership is investing in people who believe they have something worthy to say. Click To Tweet
This is such a fresh story because I’m still experiencing it now. Tony and I launched Delivering Happiness in 2010, and then the company came about. In February of 2020, I had signed a contract with the same publisher to write the next book. We had a very concrete idea as to what the content was, which are all the stats and the stories of what has happened in the last couple of years. Of course, 2020 happened, which every headline was from COVID, recession, to social unrest, and then for me. I know everyone had the experience of loss and pain. Tony passed away at the end of 2020.
I kept on throwing away the first page because every headline said, “This is not big enough,” because it is not about happiness anymore. There is something more to what we are talking about. That is what every headline inspired me and ultimately, towards the end and Tony’s passing, I wanted to open up the conversation more. When people normally hear happiness, in their head, there is a perception of what happiness is but it is important for all of us to revisit what that means in more fundamental, meaningful, and sustainable ways.
Going back to the core of who we are and the science of it, it is about being true to our inherent disposition or our authentic self. It is having our pleasures in life, but knowing that the greater sustainable happiness is purpose. It kept on expanding during that whole process of writing in a way that I wanted to honor all of the people that had experienced all these things and make sure everyone understood, like “We can do this.” There are very concrete examples in the book of companies and organizations like hospitals and governments that did this stuff. It is so awesome to see. At the same time, it is being real with who we are with our highs and lows and our strengths and shadows.
For many people, writing a book is sharing intellectual property ideas, giving value, and educating. It also can be a very powerful marketing tool. At your company, what would you say are the main drivers of new business? Aside from referrals, is there anything that you all are doing that you have found to work well even in nowadays environment?
I would say that the consistency of what we have seen over the last couple of years is that our biggest drivers have been word of mouth and keynotes on talking head-on about what you believe in. I don’t believe that that is going to be the next year, 2 or 5 years of growth because I think we are all tired of hearing talking heads.
I will give them the scenario. The client reaches out to us and says, “We would love Jenn to talk.” I would say, “I’m more than happy to, but I would like at least 1 or 2 leadership people to be part of that conversation,” because then, it is not me being hired on to tell people what to do. It is like, “Leadership is actually investing in this person because he or she believes that there is something worthy to say for us.” When that conversation opens up becomes a truly interactive dialogue because leadership is asking the questions that they want to know based on what they are hearing from the audience or their employees.
Is it almost like a panel type of environment?
It is like a panel fireside chat.
It is a conversation as opposed to just you up there talking. Before I wrap up, I have a few more questions for you. One is when you look at your daily habits and how you spend your time, are there 1 or maybe 2 things that you do consistently every day that you feel powers your performance and allows you to be excellent as you are?
I’m into spontaneous meditation and dance parties these days.
You have to elaborate and give us an example because my mind is running wild now, trying to imagine you walking down the street, sitting, and meditating at the side of the road. What does that look like?
Sometimes, when we put something in our mind like, “We have to meditate.” It feels daunting. For me, being more spontaneous about it is capturing that moment when I am walking down the street or sitting around my house and having that moment of purity, emptiness, clarity, and then I will take it. I’m like, “I’m going to ride that moment.” I will put everything aside and meditate at that moment. It is the same thing with dance parties. If I hear good music, I’m like, “I got to do this.” Oftentimes now, because of COVID, it has been by myself, but when I’m with my family, I will do that too. There is something about being present in that moment and capturing it.
That is very well said. I had my wife and two kids overseas because my wife’s mother was ill, so I was living a bit of a bachelor’s lifestyle. I found myself making dinner for myself, sitting down, and eating that meal while listening to some jazz music or whatever it might be. I didn’t have kids in the background and noise. I was savoring each bite and the flavors. I was like, “This is like a bit of a meditative experience.”
I posted this on social media, but how often these days do we listen to music while not doing anything else? You are not driving or reading something on your phone, but just listening to music and being in that moment. There are probably many examples like what you shared and other examples as well where these days, we are also busy that we don’t take the time to truly enjoy and savor the things that we are doing, whether it is dancing, meditating, eating, music, or something else. There is a lot of opportunity for all of us to be more present.
I love that. I’m glad you are savoring the music.
I’m trying to. It is not always successful. Now that everyone is back in the city, it is certainly less so, but I do need to make more time for that. I have two questions before we wrap up. In the last couple of months, what is the best book that you have read or listened to? It can be fiction or nonfiction. It is anything that has resonated with you.
There are so many books out there. Everyone had time to write a book. I’m going to go back to this one that is a simple one. It is called Inward by a poet named Yung Pueblo. That book of poems is such a nice one to have next to your bedside or on your coffee table to flip through and be like, “That was so simple and amazing.” To know that this Yung Pueblo is young people has been a refreshing reminder of how young people and old people can get back to that place of simplicity. It is a reminder every day of what is going on and what is less important.Be present in the moment and capture it. Click To Tweet
For those that want to learn more, I would highly encourage everybody to learn more about your new book, your content, and your resources. If they want to connect, where is the best place for people to go?
We launched JennLim.com for the book, and then there is DeliveringHappiness.com. On social, @ByJennLim. I would love to hear from anyone about all this stuff. I also want to share that we did a cool event at the end of December 2021 for the book launch. We invited a lot of amazing speakers to have a conversation about what beyond happiness means, which included Adam Grant, Peter Diamandis, Jennifer Aaker, Angela Duckworth, and CEO of Burning Man. I wanted to invite people to have the next conversation on what happiness could mean. That is a resource for everyone. It is all free content.
Are those talks or discussions available? What can people get access to there?
Yeah, the talks.
Where do they go to get that?
Thanks so much for coming to the show. I enjoyed the conversation.
Likewise. Thank you for having me.