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Delivering Happiness: An Interview With Jenn Lim, CEO

February 2022

By Catherine Saez, WIPO

Jenn Lim is the enthusiastic CEO of Delivering Happiness, the world’s first culture coach|sulting® [coaching + consulting] company. She tells about her personal path, her experience being a woman in the workplace, and her passion for Delivering Happiness and its aim to bring more meaning, purpose in workplaces, and ultimately creating a happier world, starting with a more fulfilling life. She describes the importance of intellectual property for the company, and all about her new book: “Beyond Happiness”.

(Photo: Courtesy of Delivering Happiness)

WIPO: Who is Jenn Lim?

I was one of those kids who did not have a specific idea of what they wanted to do when they were growing up. I knew what I was supposed to do, being from an immigrant family from the city of Hong Kong.: I was supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer, make use of my studies, and keep away from the worries and life-and-death sacrifices that my ancestors experienced. 

I started down that path at the University of California Berkeley. I was pre-med, so my parents were happy, but I was not. I realized that was not the path for me, so I explored my options, found Asian-American studies, and was so passionate about the topic that I decided to major in it. Of course, that completely freaked out my parents. But in hindsight, it was the first time I stood up for myself, and not do what others expected of me. So I’m not sure who was more freaked out — them or me. 

After graduating, I understood my parents’ concern because finding a job was hard but after some cold-calling (literally picking up a land-line phone and dialing numbers to see if someone picked up), I miraculously found a job at KPMG as a consultant. I think that was called desperation at the time, but now it’s called resilience. I forgot the name of the person that hired me, but I’ll never forget how she gave me a chance. As the Internet grew, I became a consultant, then an internet strategist.

WIPO: Where did the idea of Delivering Happiness come from?

When the internet bubble popped, I was laid off, and within the same year, my father was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. That was a huge, fundamental shift in my life that I could never reverse. I was in my late 20s, and I realized that I was prioritizing all the wrong things. I started looking for my purpose in life and the values I wanted to live by. It was around then that I knew I wanted to prioritize people, relationships, freedom, and authenticity. 

That is when I met Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, and started consulting for the company. This was the start of the experimentation around the science of happiness and positive psychology in the workplace. Zappos tested what a company could do to get people to want to show up and be themselves while building a profitable company. I was amazed at how people would share their stories of calling their “Zappos family” first when they wanted to celebrate an engagement or mourn the loss of a loved one.  

A few years later, Tony and I collaborated on the book “Delivering Happiness”, which was launched in 2010. We realized that there was a demand for happiness in the world, in particular in the workplace, and we decided to build a company around it. I have been running that company since.

WIPO: Do you feel you brought some Asian culture into Delivering Happiness?

I think I did, but not by design. I did it by being me. Having studied Asian-American studies, I had a passion within me to make sure our history is understood and known. I wanted the company to be more diverse, inclusive and to create a sense of belonging by having values, such as how you can be true and authentic to yourself at work.

WIPO: What is Delivering Happiness, its services, its aims?

We call ourselves Coach|sultants(™), knowing that answers generally lie with the client. We have scientific approaches, practical frameworks, and we always bring it back to stats and stories to show why investing in people always brings a return to the company. I share our message through speaking engagements, and we organize programs from workshops to large-scale projects to help build sustainably happier, more profitable cultures. We take a snapshot of the current state of a company, define what is working well, to identify what should be celebrated, and what is not working well to uncover gaps while making sure people feel heard.

We know it’s essential that companies are grounded with a foundation of purpose and values. Even for companies that have already defined purpose and values, it’s so important to revisit them now, to make sure they are truly being lived and are still applicable to the current organization. I would say that nine times out of ten they are not being lived out in the day-to-day. For the companies that have not yet defined their purpose and values, we help them to create and define authentic values with actionable behaviors. 

The greater aim of Delivering Happiness has not evolved much from the initial charter, which was to create more meaning and purpose in our workplaces and ultimately create a happier world, starting with a more fulfilling life. The difference today is that we’re in a brave new world. So the “how” in what we do has adapted too.

WIPO: How many people are working for Delivering Happiness?

We have an interesting structure, as most of us are contractors. Depending on how you count it, we have 30-90 people around the world. Some are the “core” team, others are trained to deliver when projects are sold. We have amazing partnerships in countries like Spain, Russia, Egypt, Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam. We have been working with them to adapt the content, the IP, the frameworks, so they can tailor it to their local needs since they know their market best.

WIPO: How did Covid-19 affect your work?

The Covid-19 situation has brought to light issues such as burnout, disengagement, and lack of psychological safety. We help companies prioritize what is most urgent, and work around those specific priorities.

I believe the true character of a person comes out in times of chaos and tragedy, and that also applies to companies. Since the pandemic hit, some companies went back to a scarcity mindset of laying off people without thinking about how they could be more human in the process, like laying off hundreds of people via a Zoom call, when employees thought they were showing up for a status update. At the other end of the spectrum, there were leaders that put a mirror to themselves and said, what is the right thing to do for our people, even as our profits are hemorrhaging?

WIPO: How important intellectual property protection is for your company?

IP is super important for us. We are very strong in our brand. We launched the company as a book, eventually with 25+ translations. That was the core of our existence, and a lot depended on IP. The company registered at the same time the book was launched because we knew Amazon was about to acquire Zappos so we wanted separate entities for the book and the company so we have control over the name Delivering Happiness, and the brand.

IP has always been a huge core of our business. We have a trademark, logos, copyright on the books and the translations, and IP related to our methodology. It has been crucial for us as a differentiator and to stay unique.

WIPO: You just published a new book “Beyond Happiness”, what is it about?

When we launched Delivering Happiness, some people felt that this concept of happiness in the workplace would never work for their company. I took it as a personal challenge to prove them wrong and show how these concepts work because they are based on science, data and research. They can (and do) positively impact our companies, both from the profit side, people’s side, and the higher purpose side. It has been amazing to see how the frameworks that we developed around scientific happiness have helped organizations around the world, no matter what size, or industry.

Over the last decade, I have witnessed the impact of Delivering Happiness in so many organizations that I wanted to share these stories. I had already started writing the book in early 2020. But, with Tony’s passing in late 2020, and the pandemic, recession, and social unrest raging in the world, I realized that we were all experiencing loss, whether it was loved ones, safety, control, hope, or expectations. I wanted to try and capture that fact in a way that shows there is still a lot of inspiration and fulfilling lives to live out there. I wanted to share that happiness is important, but there is more to that, such as restoring a sense of humanity at work, while at the same time growing our greenhouses — our Selves — as we grow others.

WIPO: What is in the future for Delivering Happiness?

Beyond Happiness was published at the end of 2021, so I am still promoting the book and applying the concept of the book to what we are doing, looking at the broader context, which will help meaningful changes happen. The world is becoming more complex but at the end of the day, we are just humans who want to be heard, understood, and loved. These kinds of words used to be taboo five or ten years ago in a lunchroom or a boardroom, now they are embraced. I hope Delivering Happiness and Beyond Happiness can be coupled in a way that addresses the changing environments for happiness and humanity. 

WIPO: Did you experience particular challenges being a woman in the workplace, and then becoming a CEO?

Back when I was younger, at school, university, in my first job, I refused to admit there was a difference between men and women. I used to define myself as a human being and my skills and values should speak for themselves. As years wore on, I realized I was not being honest with the realities of the world and the workplace. I did not feel the discrimination directly, it was more underlying.

To address issues related to inclusion, equity, diversity, and belonging, we have to speak the unspoken. This is a challenging conversation that needs to take place. 

In our work, gender issues are a part of the broader diversity issues, such as race and sexuality. Over the last few years, the conversation became more public, no longer swept under the rug. It’s now impossible to ignore the subjects with movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Being able to talk about these things more openly in the workplace makes it promising. It was almost impossible 10 years ago so as leaders, we need to take it upon ourselves to keep opening and growing the dialog.

We use the concept of greenhouses, as leaders growing greenhouses in companies. A big lesson that I have learned is that women (or anyone that was born with these traits of a generous heart with empathy and tendency to nurture others) forget to nurture their own greenhouses. So just as a reminder, don’t forget to nurture your own greenhouse as you grow others. That’s when we all bloom.