A few years ago I was sitting on a plane bound for Chicago when I found myself in conversation with my seatmate. He was the CEO of a midsize company, so of course our conversation turned to business. He asked me why I was headed to Chicago and I explained I was off to give a speech to a group of CEOs. He asked me what my topic was.

“Happiness,” I answered, explaining that my work was about helping companies understand and activate the link between employee happiness and customer happiness so that customers would come back, buy more and bring friends with money.

The time flew by as we had a nice conversation about the importance of the customer experience and how it affected loyalty and buying behavior. Just before we got off the plane he said he wanted to leave me with “a little piece of advice.”

He said, “Don’t use that word.”

“What word?”

“Happiness,” he replied. “CEOs don’t care about happiness; they care about bottom line results.”

I chuckled and smiled as he packed up to leave. “Well I’m off to teach them that when they start caring about happiness they will see better bottom line results.It would be great if you could join us!”

I wish I could remember who he was – I would send him a copy of this month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR). The cover story reads


We’ve come a long way, baby.

HBR’s spotlight on the “Happiness Factor” has five articles just on that topic. Two decades of research from the fields of psychology, neuroscience and economics have finally converged, giving us a broader and more detailed picture than ever before about the power of emotions – how feelings trigger specific responses in the brain and impact what a person values. Wouldn’t you know, the collective results of years of studies now definitively link a happy thriving work culture to better business performance.

Some notable findings: People are happier when they feel valued and appreciated, and when they feel that their work makes a difference – both in the overall success of the company and in the world. People are happiest when they’re given the opportunity to play to their strengths at work and use them to grow. (This won’t be new to you. You’ve read it here before.)

They are happiest when they are appropriately challenged with stretch goals that take them into their “stretch zone,” but not into the “panic zone.” Science has proven that people blossom when challenged and wither when threatened. Isn’t it about time we “get it” – that fear as a motivator works only in the short term? In the long term, fear-based cultures wear people down and disengage them.

Happy employees are more productive and perform better than unhappy ones over the long term. Period.

Happiness as a business strategy has proven incredibly profitable for retailer ZAPPOS. CEO Tony Hsieh’s evolving business model combines three faces of happiness – pleasure, passion and purpose, as he explains it – and has created a culture of committed “Zapponians” who come to work each day driven to “Deliver Happiness.” They’ve gotten so good at it that they now teach other companies to do it!

To get on board and create the kind of happiness in your business that engages employees and keeps customers, here are three things for you to do. I suggest you do them in the first quarter of this year:

Identify your core values. What values lie at the “heart and soul” of your company? What fuels the culture? Are people connected to the values? What do you do to activate that connection on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? (We have a great report to help you uncover those values: Making The Tangible Intangible)

Identify your story. Stories build your brand. What stories do you retell over and over? What memories do you create? What do your customers remember and retell? What emotions do you evoke when customers do business with you? What important role do you play in their lives? Is it time to change your story?

Identify pockets of “Positive Deviance” that exist in your company. Every company has a department, a division or a group that seems to do things a little differently, a little better than the rest. Who’s doing great things in your culture? What group is most optimistic? Who does the breakthrough work? Who’s the healthiest or the happiest? Take a look at what they are doing and figure out how to make their positivity contagious in other areas of the organization. No one fits the bill on the inside of the organization? Then look at who’s doing a great job in your industry, category, or neighborhood. Who is getting positive results? What can you learn from them and bring back to your organization?

Take your values, your story and your potential and use them to change the conversation in your company. Nothing changes until the language and the conversation changes. I know my clients are starting to assimilate the knowledge I bring when I hear changes in their language and the topics of conversation. When I see the shift from problems to possibilities, I know I am getting somewhere.

Happy companies are productive companies. There is a clear connection between how your employees feel about coming to work and how well they treat your customers. It’s a new year! Start asking yourself, “How can I create a company (or department, or division) that’s great to work for and great to do business with? How can I create a culture that THRIVES?”

If you need a little help with that, call me. I’m happy to teach you everything I’ve studied and know about the power of happiness as a profitable business strategy.

Make it a Happy New Year!


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