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  • Published Sep 12, 2023

Changing the World One Orange Coffee Cup at a Time

Happy is dedicated to empowering people—to improve how every team works together.

James Lawrence
James Lawrence

Happy CEO & CoFounder

Orange coffee cup of Happy Companies

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of helping people flourish at work. My father, Dr. Ernest Lawrence, was a world-renowned psychologist, and dinner-table conversations in my family revolved around people and their journey to a meaningful life. I dropped out of college in my early 20s to start my first company, and I soon fell in love with being an entrepreneur.

Not long after, I discovered learning to manage people is really hard. It’s equally as hard to be an individual contributor. The pathway to become better at work contains a lot of ah-ha moments, mixed with the necessary pain of self-discovery.

Childhood photograph of Happy's CEO James with his father

My personal experience as a young CEO bore this out twenty years ago, as I found myself leading a team of twenty-five people. I assumed my authority came from simply being the boss. So I started telling people what to do, based on my position at the top of the organization. Trouble was, I didn’t realize I was spending most of my time talking “at” my team, not listening to them, and even less time attempting to understand them or their perspectives.

It took one of our more seasoned people at the time, Scott Sparrow, to pull me aside and say, “James, you’re usually correct, but your approach and timing are way off, and therefore nobody wants to listen or work with you.”

Ouch. Apparently, in addition to being a very poor listener, I had mastered the art of ‘saying just the wrong thing at just the wrong time.’

Great job, James. Welcome to leadership.

Quote that reads "Ouch. Apparently, in addition to being a very poor listener, I had mastered the art of saying just the wrong thing at just the wrong time"

The Golden Rule

Left to their own devices, people generally lean on the ‘golden rule’ they learned in Kindergarten (”Treat others as you would like to be treated”). Myself—I want people to be direct with me. To the point. Brutally candid. And do it quickly so as not to waste time. Well, I followed the golden rule. With. Every. Single. Person.

Sounds great at first, but it's a flawed principle. People don't want to be treated in the same ways. They yearn to be treated in a way that resonates with them, their priorities, and values. So treating others the way I wanted to be treated doesn't always work. Unfortunately, most of us are not born with the uncanny ability to deftly and precisely read people, and especially not in the daily-flow of our work projects.

Eventually, I found an executive coach that helped me understand how to read people better and discover what each of our team uniquely needed from me. Using behavioral assessment tools, I learned how to ask better questions and employ curiosity with direct reports and in my meetings. And I also learned to adapt to my team’s needs, and I unlocked the ability to ask questions and make intentional decisions about how I interact with people based on what I learned.

This was invaluable.

Fast forward 25 years, many hundred learning lessons, and several companies later, my cofounder Megan and I have a shared passion for cultivating great workplaces and helping people work better, together. Yet, any leader worth their salt knows that this is no easy feat, even with a concerted, daily commitment to fostering a positive culture.

That, combined with my earliest leadership lessons, created Happy’s first source of truth: the cornerstones of engagement – effective teamwork, healthy communication, and genuine connections – all are contingent on first understanding each other.

It made me more effective - as an individual and as a leader. As a result I could help our team achieve better outcomes. It wasn't just about people feeling good about our interactions, we were actually performing better as a result. I felt if I could share this "big win" with our team we could build on this exponentially. But how would I be able to pass this down to them effectively?

Board with a quote of the week that reads "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up" by Babe Ruth

The Value of Coaching

Executive coaching was cost prohibitive for our entire company at scale. I intuitively knew that if everyone received the individualized insights and coaching I did as CEO, we could really bridge the gap with engaging people and helping them discover each other. I struggled with taking many of the same ah-ha moments I received with John and carrying them deeper into the organization.

Our company then followed a traditional playbook, deploying survey diagnostics & assessments company-wide, followed with training seminars.

Does it work? Yes, but not in a long-lasting, impactful way. Four months after the last training session—the effects faded. Time-bound diagnostics and insights were helpful—but they were not a complete solution.

It’s because the majority of workplace friction occurs simply when two people don’t think the same, behave the same, or communicate the same way, especially under stress. Basically, they are uniquely human. And humans experience different situations, emotions, and stress throughout the course of every work day or week. What you learned on a behavioral assessment four months ago isn’t that helpful when you’re uber frustrated with Susan from accounting today. If you can even remember what Susan’s workstyle is, you very probably will not recall how you should best approach her.

Unlike waiting for the next scheduled coaching session, people doing the difficult work of collaboration everyday need feedback in real time for it to make a difference. Just like the steering wheel of your car feeds back to the driver what's happening on the road, employees at work need better ways to know how they are coming across to others. This is where Happy comes in...

With every employee now carrying a super computer in their pocket throughout their workday that can know who their most important relationships are at work, it can also provide them with the key relational insights they need just at the right moment as they are walking into a difficult conversation with Susan in Accounting.

Quote that reads "helping people understand each other, in real-time, with an always-on model, is transformative"

That became the second source of truth for Happy: that helping people understand each other, in real-time, with an always-on model, is transformative.

That’s not to take away the value of coaches. To the contrary, a leadership coach is a fantastic resource to have. It’s just that they aren’t generally available 24-7, and only a tiny percentage of coworkers have access to their own leadership coach inside an organization. So, if you don't have immediate access to a coach, who do you go to when Susan from accounting rejects your expense report for the fifth time?

Engaged People Create Happy Companies

I have seen all the research - when people feel a genuine connection with their team, when they're truly engaged, they do their best work. The most successful and profitable companies on the planet? They have always been fueled by the most engaged, passionate people. But where are the tools that can effectively foster activation at scale? They're scarce. That's the gap we're aiming to bridge at Happy.

It was not until the shift towards the #futureofwork, heightened by the post-pandemic era, that leaders and CEOs fully grasped the essence of company culture and engagement.

Looking at the landscape of existing software tools, the majority are in the diagnostic segment, in the human resources domain. Most were created with HR professionals in mind rather than the end user - the coworker. Often built by engineers and behavioral scientists, they lack a user experience that will capture the attention of the next generation of the workforce. In short—most are not easy to use, are burdened with complexity, or use complicated language. I’ve consistently heard from leadership coaches that even they don’t like most of them.

So here was revelation number three - we are not here to create another HR tool. We wanted to build something for real people, real humans. Over an almost year long period of research and focus groups, we learned people wanted something intuitive, easy-to-use, and genuinely useful, and available in real-time. Staying engaged at work, where most of us spend the majority of our time over the course of our lives, through building genuine connections with our coworkers should be just as easy as hailing a ride on Lyft, buying a house on Zillow, or ordering a Domino's pizza. We spend too much time at work to fail at this. It shouldn’t be easier for my 11-year old to build a city on Roblox than it is for my employees to get along with each other.

A How-To Guide, Coming to Life

Screenshot of a Happy Profile

The underlying concept for the Happy platform is simple.

Happy’s People Engagement Platform helps individuals and teams work better, together, accelerating organizational performance by activating employee engagement and interpersonal understanding.

Happy starts by helping you craft a practical 'how-to' guide to working with you. In other words—a personal user manual, which improves work relationships and helps people learn how to understand you better.

In your Happy profile—you can share your story at work with your team, including your motivations, values, and preferences. You can let your coworkers know what you love, or even what drives you nuts! It’s the perfect tool to encourage understanding as an employee and as a team member. Ultimately, it’s a safe place within your organization where you can explore & explain how you do your best work. But Happy is much more.

Powering the Happy People Platform is NxtGen DISC—a modern, science-powered behavioral assessment that draws inspiration from more than 80 years of EQ research. In under 10 minutes, Happy NxtGen will help you learn your workstyle and gain valuable insights into your interactions with others.

With the combination of your Happy Profile and NxtGen workstyle, you unlock the potential of the Happy Coach—completely confidential and secure. Happy Coach learns you and your team, and can offer you personalized and individualized guidance curated by top leadership coaches and AI, ranging from leadership development to key insights on how to improve your relationships with your coworker and managers. Coach is always ready to help resolve work conflicts, or provide you helpful guidance & nudges inside the apps and workplace tools you already use.

Together, Happy Profiles, Workstyles and Coach fuel a transformative space for teams to enhance engagement, understanding, and connection. Happy’s scalable, accessible, intuitive user experience can spark meaningful culture improvement and unlock the potential of your people—whether your team is remote, in the office, or somewhere in between.

I’d love to talk more about what Happy can do, but it’s important to tell you what our team believes.

  • People are the cornerstone of every organization.
  • Helping people better understand each other unlocks their ability to create beautiful and meaningful work, together.
  • Investing in people is always worth it.

Helping people love their work, and get connected with their teams, is good for the world. It’s something worth getting behind.

We believe we've created something useful.

At Happy Companies, we believe in elevating human connection and productivity. By making Happy the focused of improving and unlocking workplace engagement and collaboration, we're hoping to empowering teams to come together and learn each other.

Our mission is nothing short of making Happy the gold standard for fostering exceptional teamwork—because when people work better, we all win, together.

With love,

Happy CEO James Lawrence's signature

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