Back in March - before the global pandemic that took over our lives – our co-Founder Leon chatted to Chris Hyland on our #AdamAsks podcast to discuss why last 4 years has been a whirlwind of change, both personally and professionally, for Chris.
Chris is the co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer of The Happiness Index, a company driven by the passion to make the working world a healthier and happier place to be, and helping companies create strong, successful cultures and improve staff retention.
Building an agency… and selling up.
He shares about his incredible growth journey from a marketing graduate to seeking investors to purchase his thriving agency, 4Ps Marketing. He founded 4Ps Marketing in 2008, at the age of just 26, with his business partner Matthew Phelan. After growing it into a successful business, Chris and Matt decided that it was time for a change. After 8 years, they sold 4Ps Marketing to French PLC, NetBooster.
On the 10th anniversary of the business, Chris and Matt left to focus on The Happiness Index – a passion project that they had started whilst still running 4Ps Marketing. In the podcast, he reveals the ‘crazy’, intense, and unforgiving process of selling his agency as he reflects on the lengthy transition process.
‘Are you happy?’
Driven by a passion to tackle the corporate ‘monsters,’ Chris explains why he launched The Happiness Index to improve society. The concept began within 4Ps, when Chris wanted to know if his clients were happy with them. “When you speak to your family or your wife at the weekend, you don’t ask ‘are you engaged at work?’, you ask ‘are you happy?’ And you always get a truthful response when you ask about happiness.”
They decided to ‘spin it out’ and approached another business partner to join them in their venture. “And it’s been a crazy five years since then!”, Chris proclaims.
‘The emotions were huge.’
Chris then discusses how the process of selling 4Ps Marketing impacted him personally. “The emotions were just huge.” From the ‘euphoria’ of finalising the deal, to the realisation that his staff may not have been happy. “The moment that you announce it, you see that there’s uncertainty about change. It was just shock.”
“You have these visions of doing the deal and then enjoying it, and in fact I probably didn’t enjoy it until 6 months after because I was working harder than ever before.” He touches on how scrutinising questions can lead to self-doubt, revealing the candid reality of selling for entrepreneurs at the start of the process and the emptiness that is left behind when the euphoria subsides.
“You learn a lot about yourself, going through these deals, because I took for granted being my own boss for so long. No one drives us as hard as we drive ourselves, but when you start being questioned by people for stuff… it’s not that nice.”
‘I was desperate to get back into something… I had to do something more.’
After taking some time off, Chris channelled his passion for working with people and his love of seeing people thrive and flourish into The Happiness Index. “I saw first-hand in my business that if you treat people with respect and you empower them, then you can achieve amazing things. And I wanted to help other businesses do that.”
Chris talks about his aims for The Happiness Index. “We wanted to inspire other companies that you can achieve growth by doing the things the right way. We’re trying to turn things upside down.” They created an app where their employees could provide real-time feedback from anywhere, and they encouraged their staff to use it as much as possible. They then took all feedback on board and tried to focus on what would make the biggest impact for the team.
Chris recognises that establishing a thriving culture is a journey and you should spend time getting your leadership team onboard. He elaborates on how the ‘freedom to be human’ can empower employees to be themselves. “We adapt to our people, rather than making our people adapt to us,” he states.
“Every single company is on their own journey with regards to culture,” Chris says. Some companies may be well-known for having a fantastic culture and they need to work to keep that up, and some companies have a terrible reputation and need to build trust back with their employees. The Happiness Index use data collected from employees to present facts to leadership teams, to help them make the changes required to build a better culture.
“If you want to attract and retain the best people, then you need to put how they feel at the heart of your business. That's it.. that's the key.”
‘Always On’ Culture
Chris also talked about the ‘always on’ culture that the business world is prone to. Technology greatly helps us in our lives, but it also hinders us. For this reason, Chris is strict with himself when it comes to technology and turns his phone off as soon as he gets home. “One of the important things to learn is that, as a human being, you have to switch off to thrive. You bring your best self to work, but if you keep going day and night then it will lead to burnout.”
“What people don’t realise is that they’ll feel fine. But things catch up to you. And this isn’t just my belief – we’ve seen it, we’ve studied it.” When Chris did research within his own company, he noticed that people weren’t taking enough sustained time off. They would take the odd day, but not a longer period to recharge and reset, and get a fresh perspective.
He began telling his staff to switch off when they leave work and enjoy their time off, reasoning that if his employees were happier outside of work, then they would be happier and more productive when they came back into work. He was right.
For more fantastic insights from Chris and Leon, we recommend listening to the full podcast. Listeners will finish by reflecting on their own work-life balance and be reminded that “unless you stop – you will break”.