What if work, didn’t need to feel like work? What if the way you earn your living brought you true joy… and happiness? What if you could inspire a workplace culture that measured happiness along with revenue and earnings?
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business as 2020 draws to a close amid a raging pandemic and economic turmoil, I wanted to share again the story of an inspiring entrepreneur who has made it her mission to be the Chief Joy Officer.
Shani (shawny) Godwin is the founder and CJO (that is, Chief Joy officer) of Communiqué USA, a high-growth marketing agency where her focus is all about ensuring her team members enjoy their work. Today we’re going to learn from this accomplished entrepreneur, author blogger, podcaster and speaker why workplace happiness translates into higher productivity and success. First…
Shani Godwin says she’s passionate about what she calls work/life integration, and she’s built her team at marketing agency Communiqué USA around flexible work hours and a sense of playfulness. She and her team are keen to spread the joy, so they focus on providing marketing project relief and support to stressed out, overworked marketing departments around the country including Chick-fil-A, Inc., Cox Enterprises, Communicorp, Party City of Atlanta, Inc., Georgia Power and Safeco Insurance Companies, among others. She is also an expert at helping small businesses take the guesswork out of marketing, telling their story and growing their businesses the right way, and during the Coronavirus Pandemic, helping some 5,000 small businesses.
Under Shani’s leadership, Communiqué created Joy EconomicsSM, a corporate platform for helping its key stakeholders and communities find better ways to live, work and play by using joy as its currency. This approach has helped Communiqué grow by nearly 300 percent and includes company policies and programs that free its staff to enjoy life as much as work.
She’s created a platform called “Joy Economics: Creating Better Way to Life Work and Play” to focus what she calls expert marketing relief teams to make a positive impact as they help clients hone and share their messages with the world. She also started a Joy Economics national speaker series to empower others to transact joy.
As many of us reinvent new ways of working amid all the stress and uncertainty swirling around us – it’s vital to keep our creativity, positivity and joy vibration high and help our teams to do the same. That’s why Shani’s journey and her insights are so important to share once more to help you inspire joy in your workplace.
Go ahead, take out your phone and download the free podopolo app … follow Wings… and join the conversation. We’d love to hear your insights about this episode, how you will apply what you learned here in your own life, plus any tips, experiences or advice you want to share.
Shani Godwin and her unique approach to Joy Economics and measuring the impact of happiness at work has been featured in media nationwide including Essence Magazine, Forbes.com and The Huffington Post. She’s a graduate of Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Leadership Atlanta Class of 2016 and Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business’s High Performing Minority Business Program, and earned her MBA in Marketing from Mercer University. She hosts the podcast Joy Economics, and wrote the book The Love Project.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Shani Godwin.
Melinda Wittstock: Shani, welcome to Wings.
Shani Godwin: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I am really excited to talk about all that you’re up to in the world, but also I’m so intrigued by your title. You are a Chief Joy Officer. What a wonderful concept. Tell me how you arrived at that and how that manifests in your company?
Shani Godwin: So my company is Communiqué USA. It is an 18 year old marketing firm that I started 18 years ago. And we have really… So in order to understand the chief joy officer title and role, I have to take you back to when I started a company and I was 27 years old, I was married, I was working in corporate America, dreaming like most newlyweds about a family that I’d have. And I could not figure out how someone thought I was supposed to be a present engaged mom with only two weeks of vacation. So I really had the entrepreneurial itch, a whole long story later, I ended up leaving my corporate job, which was in advertising at BellSouth, which was one of the Bell companies prior to those going away and becoming AT&T and ended up starting Communiqué.
And the marriage unfortunately did not work out, five years into the company I divorced unexpectedly. And so my dreams of having a family kind of dissipated with the marriage, but what remained was this commitment to really create a workspace for women, for men, for people who wanted to have a life outside of work and have balance in their lives.
And so as the company grew and as we started adding staff and the more I poured myself into the business, the more it grew. And we started working with major corporations and clients. I really stayed committed to this course, on top of that, because of the divorce, 18 months after my divorce, my dad died unexpectedly. I also personally having to live through real life trauma, compounded trauma, and it exposed an underlying mental health condition, which was a form of depression that I wasn’t even aware that I had or had been living with or functioning with. And this funny thing about depression, because Melinda, I’m convinced that most of the people in my circle are functioning, depressed people. I do believe that birds of a feather flock together. And when you have a lot of depression around you, it can make it even more invisible you to recognize it in yourself. And I came to realize that all of the working and the doing was a function of really masking and keeping myself out of touch with my emotions. So [crosstalk 00:03:11]
Melinda Wittstock: Oh yeah. Workaholism is a “holism” for a reason. Right?
Shani Godwin: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Because we can really fall into that to mask what’s really going on inside. So it’s very perceptive of you. I think it’s really rife among entrepreneurs too, because we live this kind of roller coaster, there’s a lot of stuff beyond our control. There’s so much going on and especially for women, all of us struggling, so many things as well. But how astute of you to really kind of understand that. So then through your own journey, and this is an assumption I guess, so correct me if I’m wrong, but through your own journey, you started to see this in yourself and then you started to see it in other people?
Shani Godwin: Yes and no. It really all came to a head when the company scaled in 2015, we finally went over the million dollar mark and everyone around me was like, “Oh my gosh, Shani, you should be so happy.” And I was miserable. It was a lot of work to scale. We did it very quickly and the adage, more money, more problems. That’s exactly what I find found at the top of the mountain that we’ve been trying to scale and get to. And it took me being in the middle of a growth program with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. I at the time was in a program to grow even more and couldn’t manage the growth that the company had and literally found myself at 3:00 AM in the morning, crying about being successful, believe it or not. And wondering why I was chasing success and money.
And really, I kind of just came up to this place where I realized money doesn’t make me happy, success doesn’t make me happy, being happy just with what I have and whatever it looks like is the most important thing. And I, in that moment committed to measure my success by being happy and birthed this concept, an idea called Joy Economics. And so the marketer in me was like, “Ding, that’s an amazing idea, kind of check to see if the URL was available.” I began the trademarking process and we completely reinvented our culture, put a label on it and began to really dig into the business case that businesses need to really understand why joy matters in the workplace. We found, and this was pre-pandemic that stress was costing companies $300 billion a year [crosstalk 00:05:50]. And I just was like, “What would it look like if we let employees show up happy whole and able to pursue the work that they loved and pursue the currency of joy in the company, how would our businesses grow?” And with that, I was like, “And I want to be the chief joy officer. I don’t want to be the chief executive officer anymore.” And that’s how that came to be.
Melinda Wittstock: I love this. I think there’s so much, when we look at our economy and its short-term nature, everything really, on your revenue and earnings and you’re supposed to be happy at these destinations. The truth of it is it’s really the journey. It’s not the destination.
Shani Godwin: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, you’re so right, that when people are really happy and they’re doing something that makes their hearts sing, not only are they going to be more productive, but they’re going to be more effective.
Shani Godwin: They’re going to be more effective in what… It’s funny because I have to tell people, I am not anti-capitalism, but I do recognize an illness that I think we have in our country, which is just this churn and burn to make more, more, more, it’s like, there’s never enough. As soon as you hit a goal, you’re onto the next goal, you’re onto the next goal. And so if you work your way from the top back down, then at the top of the corporate totem pole are a lot of people who make a lot of money. And then those people rely on small businesses to help them in their supply chain. And the small businesses then begin to make a lot of money and they want to keep the corporate guys happy. So they start churning and burning their employees and then employees are trying to keep their jobs, so they’re turning and burning and everyone’s burning the midnight night oil. We’re connected like 24/7 because of all of these great devices that ding and ping in the middle of the night that we never put down.
And it’s, if you don’t have good clean boundaries and if you’re not allowed by your employer to set and preserve those boundaries, then it creates a lot of burnout. It creates mental health issues for employees. It creates family illness and divorce and a lot of ill, bad things that then walk back into your door every single day, sit down at their desk and give you half-parted work product. And we’ve got to figure out a way to break the cycle, do better by ourselves and our employees. And so we do a lot of creative things to give people space and time away from work. And we found out we have higher retention rates, people are happy, they are fulfilled and they work really, really hard for the business because they know we’re going to let them go hard for their families when they’re away from work.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that. So how does that manifest in practice?
Shani Godwin: In practice, so one of the things we’re most known for is our… I hate calling it the email ban, but it’s notoriously known as our email ban and so about… Gosh, now I can’t even remember. And I have to be honest, the boundary was set because of my own mental health needs, where if I didn’t create boundaries, clients would have been emailing me and employees emailing me and calling me around the clock. And in order to take care of myself and be emotionally well, I need space, time, sleep things like that.
So we have a no email after 7:00 PM and on weekends policy and we all commit to it. It is a written policy. We do ask people to shut off their devices, unplug. I cannot monitor people in their homes, but the commitment is that you will not engage with other employees and clients. So if you just have to work at 10:00 PM, and you’re not talking to anyone, then that’s on you. But the moment I send an email to Melinda at 10:00 PM, while she’s watching Moana with her family and she hears the ping, now I’ve disrupted a family moment and your focuses on me and not your family. So it’s a policy, if people infringe on it, they get a couple of warnings and it is a fireable offense, unfortunately, luckily we haven’t gotten that far where we’ve had to terminate, but some people have gotten written up in reviews about it, and it’s just a commitment that we make across the board and our clients know. And that’s just how it is.
Melinda Wittstock: What a wonderful inspiration for other companies. A lot of entrepreneurs and business owners listen to this podcast and it’s really top of mind for me too in my fifth business to just really create that culture from the get-go. Just in terms of even things like flexible hours and being much more focused on… Like I care more about people getting it done and done well rather than how they do it.
Shani Godwin: Right. Right [crosstalk 00:11:21].
Melinda Wittstock: It doesn’t really matter as long as they’re doing it. And as long as they’re inspired by their work and enjoying their work.
Shani Godwin: Right. Well, and people respect that autonomy too. So if I have a mom, for example, we’re known for hiring moms who have left corporate, went to go start a family, sat out for a while, four or five years and are ready to come back to work. And those people have a hard time finding jobs a lot of times. And so we will take them on, we will find work for them that aligns with their lifestyle, if they need to be at work and then gone so that they can pick their kids up from the bus stop at three o’clock, then we’re going to put them on an assignment or assign them to a client who is okay with that flexible type of arrangement. And when you can do that kind of thing, for someone who needs that kind of space in their lives, they’re some of the hardest working people I’m ever able to find.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. So how do you measure happiness? Like when we look at a company and we think of like valuation growth or sort of the metrics of success, and you were talking about measuring happiness, how do you do that? Do you have like a way of doing that? I’m so curious. This is fascinating.
Shani Godwin: Yeah. It’s like a question we’ve been noodling around. We’ve been working on creating a happiness metric score that we can then work with corporate clients to help them really track and measure when the needle moves. Some of the metrics behind the math though, are you should start to see over time… And I won’t even attempt to assign the number of years, but over time you should start seeing numbers move in a positive direction. So you obviously can ask people, you can kind of track before you get started. And then once you implement policies, you can check in and ask on just job, assign a score or metric to just job fulfillment, how happy people are in their job.
That’s a very subjective number, but you can also look at things like employee health and wellness scores. You can look at things like your insurance in what your insurance costs are over time. Again, it would take a little while for that trend to show up. But in theory, if people are more balanced, they’re emotionally well because of the mind-body-spirit connection, then hopefully in time, that’s fewer visits to the doctor’s office. Premiums become a little bit more affordable, your insurance costs should bear it out. You can look at things like absenteeism. You can look at vacation time. It’s a weird little thing, but are people leaving a lot of vacation on the table? If they’re leaving a lot of vacation on the table, you’re probably burning and turning them and they don’t really feel allowed to take a break. And I don’t know about you Melinda, but I know I need my breaks to be creative. I can’t create when I’m burnt out and tired and there’s no break.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Into my work schedule on, it took me a while to get consistent with this, but just taking frequent breaks and sometimes just taking like a walk around the block or meditating, or just even getting up, stretching, doing something. But having these pauses, there’ve been some studies that show that it’s really difficult to be productive on anything beyond an hour at a time. And so I find now, it’s a little bit counterintuitive, but the less I do, the more I accomplish.
Shani Godwin: You get done. Exactly. So it’s funny you say that because when I went through that divorce and when my dad died, I was like, “I need a break. I am about to be no good.” I could see that I was forgetting simple stuff. Just my quality of work was not there because my mind was so full of these events and this trauma that was happening. And so I talked to my clients and I didn’t want to take a leave of absence.
So I, at the time was working with a client, a big corporate client and I was doing about four days on site in their office. I actually was going out there every day. And I said, “Hey, if I can pull back on my hours, give you a little bit more time during the week, I kind of need Friday to myself.” And I birthed this thing called fun Fridays. And I just was like, “No schedule, no agenda, wake up on Friday and wherever spirit leads me is what I’m doing and where I’m going.” It was, Oh my God, fun Fridays were, when I was doing that, that was the best. And I got so much done in those four days. And then to have a three-day weekend waiting on me, that was like the best. There are people legitimately now who think I don’t work Fridays anymore. And that ended a long, long time ago, but it was really good. And it taught me, you don’t have to be always on to be productive. Some of the best productivity comes when you are taking purposeful breaks. And if you’re working on vacation, then you’re not on vacation, you’re at the beach, you got to unplug.
Melinda Wittstock: So I’m curious too whether all of this is rubbing off on your clients, when you work with these major corporations and all the small businesses and all the different folks, are they kind of taken some of this from you as well?
Shani Godwin: Yes and no. I think in this space, I definitely see myself as a visionary and more of a pioneer of this type of movement. The community of work-life balance, live, work, play enthusiast is out there, I’m not the one creating it. But this is kind of the purpose and vision behind Joy Economics for us as a company, our company Communiqué USA is committed to healing the world by helping create more joy in the workplace.
So honestly, some clients get it and some clients don’t like it. And the ones that don’t like it, we have to kind of ultimately either come to an agreement that this is the culture that we have. And when we are present, we are completely present, we work hard, go above and beyond, but really make the case to them that they’d benefit by our employees taking a break, and they give them better product results and quality when they are on. And so I will be remiss if I’ve sat here and said, no one ever gets upset about it. But also as the CEO, as the Chief Joy Officer, it’s my job to be purposeful about what kinds of clients we take on, because ultimately I want that fit and match to be there before we even get going.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, because I can imagine the alignment is really important, if you have a client that is expecting everyone to be at their beck and call instantaneously and is violating all the things that you’re doing to set up your employees for success and happiness, then that couldn’t work exactly. I’m curious, how do you qualify your clients to figure out if it’s going to be a good fit?
Shani Godwin: Honestly, it’s just a lot of, we present our joy economics philosophy when we do any new capabilities and new business pitches. And so it’s baked into the fabric of our new business development process. We have a podcast Joy Economics; Creating Better Ways to Live, Work, and Play, we bring clients onto that podcast to share their stories. It’s in our contracts about the hours that we’re available and when we’re not available. And I kind of really make the case a lot of times by saying, “We’re marketers, we are not saving lives. And if you can call your doctor’s office after hours and get the answering service and have to wait. Then I think it’s much more about intention and just being consistent with it more than anything.”
So a lot of our clients don’t give us pushback, they get it, they understand it, but again, we’ve never not done it either. So as soon as we break our rule, then we set our whole selves, set everyone up for the whole thing to fail. So it takes a more of a commitment from everyone to just abide by it. And once you do that, then there’s no expectation that you’re getting a response after 7:00 PM. And so they’re not really expecting to hear from us until the morning, but they hear from us right away in the morning. So it’s just creating the guard rails, but being consistent and following through. And that beyond, whether it’s joy economics or anything else, if you say you’re going to do something, as soon as you do the opposite or break the rule, then people don’t believe it’s a thing and they’re going to violate the rules. So we have to be just really, really consistent and follow through.
And then there could be those times where, we haven’t run into it, but at the end of the day, it came to just, this is not a fit, that’s always an option to part ways and wish [inaudible 00:20:59].
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. So I want to switch over to talking about coronavirus and the impact that that’s had. It’s had much greater an impact generally on women than men, in the sense that the lion’s share of the homeschooling and the cleaning, you can’t have cleaner… Like all those different things that women rely on for support. If those things get taken away and you have kids and you have your partner and you have friends and you have household things and you have a business and, and, and, and… It’s been quite an impact. So how have things changed? How have you managed through the coronavirus pandemic so far?
Shani Godwin: It’s been challenging. It’s caused me… I’m a very introspective, intuitive kind of person. And so in that way, I don’t have a lot of the demands that most women have on their lives. Like I have a couple of businesses and those businesses are where my time and attention goes. So what’s been hard for me has been managing a business that is changing every day, because we’ve pivoted about five times this year, no joke. But I don’t have a partner, I don’t have anyone who lives with me. I have my furry friend in London who keeps me company and I live in Atlanta, even though my family is here, I have a physician sister and mom with an underlying health condition. We don’t really see each other much. The being alone has been my hardest struggle because I don’t have kids.
I definitely have empathy for the moms doing that struggle. I have a sister who is a single mom and having to go between banking environment, Zoom calls all day and first grade and sixth grade work and keep her house clean. So I see it and I observe it, but that’s not really my experience. Right now, my experience is really having to pivot and completely turned my business around and help others turn their business around and really not having anyone to talk to or process with except through a computer all the time. And that being socially isolated, physically isolated it’s been really hard because I’m not really that girl, so. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:23:32] tabs in my head of stuff to explore and think about. And after a while, that gets old too, so.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So presumably with COVID, people kind of working from home, that transition too, most of your employees working from home now, or how has that all going?
Shani Godwin: [crosstalk 00:23:53] pretty early, March 12th was our first day going virtual. We laugh because we made a decision to go before our clients. And we work with some major brands. We work with Chick-fil-A Corporate, we work with Cox Enterprises, Focus Brands. Those are just a few of the clients, Georgia Power, and we made our decision to go virtual before they did, which was a little tricky, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I will be honest, we made that decision because we have a really small leadership team. And we decided if one of us went down, we were the heartbeat of the organization and so we all needed to really protect ourselves and be healthy.
At the time we made the decision, I didn’t think it would be more than a month or two. And then when we got into the early stages of lockdown, I was like, “Okay, definitely by 4th of July, we’ll be out of here.” I never imagined like into the Fall, we’d still be sitting alone and everyone would be apart, but we’ve been virtual the whole time. And it was not hard for us to go virtual. We run a creative services business that depends on creative talent. And we do staffing work for stressed out marketing departments and corporate communications teams. We just tell everyone, take your computers home and keep on plugging along. So the harder part of pandemic for us was a lot of our corporates cut their spending at the top of the year [crosstalk 00:25:24] in March, losing 85% of your corporate contracts is kind of like, “Oh, oh.” And you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. So we’ve been doing well rebirth in the business. It’s all good.
Melinda Wittstock: You’re a marketing expert; obviously you’re running a marketing agency. So how has marketing really shifted or should it shift in the new environment? Because businesses are really struggling, the economy, the jobs numbers don’t look so good all this kind of stuff, and yet you still have to keep dollars flowing, yeah? People have to buy things, sell things, all that kind of stuff. So how that that impacted your clients and your strategies?
Shani Godwin: It’s impacted everything. As I said we’ve pivoted, I’ve said about five times, honestly, we’ve had about three or four pivots and we had an employee who had a major accident who’s down for the couch. She’s luckily going to be okay. But we were heavily dependent on her, which caused us to have to pivot again, to kind of pivot within the pivot.
But yeah, so some of the things, we do webinars for small businesses now, helping them rethink and figure out how to pivot. And that is the word of 2020 for business. If you’re not, and if you have not, I will say at this point, if you have not pivoted your business, then your business is dying. And that is because if you consider you created your business for an economy that no longer exists. And while we will emerge from the pandemic, the economy will return, it’s going to be a completely different economy. It already is a very different economy, we’re on the other side of this. So if you’re still trying to hug a tree and do business the way you were doing it, pre-pandemic and hoping you’re just going to wait this out, then I hate to tell you it’s going to be a different animal on the other side of this.
So what we’re really working to do is help save small businesses. We did the math and did the research, everything we do is backed in research and we read and learned back in April, if businesses did not start to pivot by July, by the end of the year 43 to 53% of small businesses would be out of business by the end of the year. So we rolled up our sleeves and really moved our ship more toward the small business industry and just said, “Hey, we’ve got all this corporate marketing expertise, let’s roll up our sleeves.” And we launched an initiative to begin helping save 5,000 small businesses.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So how are things in Atlanta right now? This country is a curious patchwork of different approaches to dealing with coronavirus and all of that. How are you guys feeling about where things are going and the future and how best to be of service as a business, in times like these?
Shani Godwin: Believe it or not, I’m really optimistic about 2021, and this is just a personal belief. I believe the worst… I just believe it’s more of a good feeling, the worst is behind us. And I feel that we are emerging. I can look even at our numbers now, we’ve been paddling hard and pivoting hard, but I can see in our P&L statements, our revenue starting to slowly creep back up and fourth quarter is looking really promising. Atlanta is a very entrepreneurial town, Melinda, so [crosstalk 00:29:12].
Melinda Wittstock: Well, you got Sara Blakely there and you got you. [crosstalk 00:29:14].
Shani Godwin: We’ve got a lot of good small business [crosstalk 00:29:17].
Melinda Wittstock: You do. You do. I was blessed to spend some time with her a couple of years ago because she mentors a lot of female entrepreneurs and she brought a bunch of other entrepreneurs in, myself included to mentor a cohort she had of 10 different female entrepreneurs at a fairly early stage of business. And it was just such a delight to see what she was doing, how she was paying it forward, for other businesses, and like check out her whole headquarters and all of that. But it seemed like a really dynamic entrepreneurial town, which we always think of Silicon Valley or New York or whatever.
Shani Godwin: [crosstalk 00:29:56] Atlanta’s got a big digital community growing. It’s kind of becoming the Silicon Valley of the South, but we’re an entrepreneurial town, the women’s business, small business community here, women owned businesses are a big deal in Atlanta. There are tons of us, our networks are strong. I happened to be part of a WBENC, which is the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and WBENC affiliate here, Greater Women’s Business Council. They have been awesome. Like every organization I’m a part of down here has pulled out all the stops and punches and are giving us good information, helping us figure out how to get funding and access to capital and figure out all of this. I could not have pivoted or done any of what we’ve been able to do without just the good resources and networks in the Atlanta community.
So we’re thriving. And I feel definitely sure that we’re coming out of this stronger in 2021. And once I leaned in and stopped fighting against it, it’s actually for me been oddly fun to reinvent myself in the middle of all of this and scrub out some of the things that weren’t working great in the business that I was holding on to that really needed to let go of, now that I see and go, “Okay, if I got to reinvent, let’s reinvent the whole thing, make it a bigger, better machine and something again, that’ll serve me and feel good and allow me to be happier, healthier, and more whole.”
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. This is wonderful, how inspiring. So Shani, how can people find you and work with you?
Shani Godwin: Absolutely. We have an amazing small business program that we created because of the pandemic. And if you want to be a part of the 5,000 small businesses that we are hoping to work with and save, I invite you to go to mycommunicationsplan.com. That is our special website, there you’ll see all the details. And we actually are happy to offer people even a free 30 minute coaching session, just so they can get to know us and we can hear more about what their specific problems are. But we deeply ,deeply discounted it. One of the things I saw pretty early on was a lot of people in the marketing space, giving away value intentionally, and really rolling up their sleeves and serving and opening up their resources and their networks. And so we’ve really taken that to heart.
And yeah, all the details of the program are there. You’ll get a brand story that’ll help you thrive and communicate clearly, three hours of SWAT analysis and strategizing with our team. And you’ll get a coach that will hold your hand for the next six months and help you really think through all the marketing moves you need to be making. So it’s been a lot, a lot of fun for us to work with all these small businesses that are coming our way.
Melinda Wittstock: I love it. Well, thank you so much Shani for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Shani Godwin: Thank you, Melinda. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.