As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Cho. Joy Cho is the Founder and Creative Director of Oh Joy! and has been running a successful business for over 13 years. She started her company in 2005 as a solo freelancer working at home and grew into a lifestyle brand with a team of her own. Oh Joy! creates a wide range of licensed products including home décor, baby & nursery, pet, and furniture collections with brands such as Target, Petco, and more. The brand also creates daily editorial content with a focus on fashion, home decor, and joyful moments from the everyday. Joy has given keynote speeches on entrepreneurship, leadership, and social media at dozens of conferences, and consulted for hundreds of small businesses over the years, helping to guide budding entrepreneurs through their growth and struggles. Joy and her company have been featured in: Time, Fast Company, Oprah Magazine, Domino, Good Morning America, Parents, People, InStyle, and more. Joy has written three books and has three more coming out in 2020. For two years in a row, Joy was named one of Time’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet and has the most followed account on Pinterest with almost 13 million followers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After working a couple design jobs in NYC, I moved back to Philly (where I am originally from) to live in the same city as my (then) boyfriend (now husband). In search of a new job, I had to freelance in the meantime to pay my bills while I was looking for my next design job. While in the job search, I started freelancing to make ends meet. And, a friend suggested I start a blog. Now this is back in 2005, when blogs were barely a thing. I had no idea what I was doing and simply uploaded photos of things I liked, things that inspired me, and some of my own design work. People started reading the blog, and it became a marketing tool for my freelance graphic design business. As my design work started ramping up, I realized I could turn it into a full-time design business and never looked back in my job search. Since then, Oh Joy! has evolved from a design studio that created branding for other companies to a lifestyle brand focusing on daily editorial content and products that bring joy to you every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My evolution has been very unexpected and organic and has completely ebbed and flowed with social media. I didn’t expect to have a social media-based company when I started but now we are heavily focused on it both as a way to share content we create and to sell the products we make. I didn’t hire a team until 8 years into my business because it seemed so overwhelming, risky, and honestly, just scary. In the current days of startups, it often feels like people get funded and then they hire a huge team right away. That’s great for them, but we have no outside investors and therefore, I had to grow slowly and organically as my company grew and I could afford to keep adding people to my team.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Over the past several years, I’d given tons of keynotes and spoken on panels about various business topics. I’ve also written a couple business-focused books and consulted for hundreds of small businesses. This year, I’ve been very focused on education and I recently launched the Oh Joy! Academy. It’s a place where my 13+ years of business experience culminates in tips, classes, and one-on-one business guidance from me to help small businesses grow. One of my classes, How to Grow a Dream Team, shares my secrets on how to grow and lead a team so that you have happy employees who not only love their job but want to work hard for you and stay at your company for a long time. It infuses company culture with passion and practical tips for the next generation of business owners.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Employees are often treated like numbers. Businesses look at them at how much they can help the company earn. While that might be a reason you need to justify hiring someone and paying their salary, employers need to focus on the happiness of their employee if they want to retain good people who are passionate about the work they do. Clear communication and flexibility is SO vital all the way from interviewing, hiring, on-boarding, and maintaining a healthy relationship with your employees and creating a great work environment. Every person and personality is different, and you have to be willing to treat each person like their own person to bring out their best performance at your company.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Disliking your job has got to be one of the worst feelings in the world. We spend SO much of our time at work. We see our co-workers more than we see our family during the work week. So loving your job is essential to being a happy person. When people aren’t happy at work, their passion drops, they lose motivation, they just go through the motions, and they are less likely to stay at a company long-term. Low retention rates are costly for employers from both a time and money perspective. It’s so much more worthwhile to spend the time to cultivate a great company culture within your business and everyone will be happier and more productive. Those happy employees will be happier people going home to their families at the end of every day.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Apply structure, but also offer flexibility where it makes sense. At my office, we have very normal hours from 8:30am-4:30pm. These hours are a tad earlier than most and were set based on my desire as a working mom to have a good chunk of time with my kids at the end of the day before they are off to bed. While most of my team sticks to these hours, I have a couple who have slightly deviated versions based on what makes sense for their work structure or personal life. One employee leaves an hour earlier every day to allow time for her to pick up her kids from daycare and school. This gave her the motivation to focus extra hard on her work during the day knowing she could get back to her kids at a reasonable hour. Another employee needs extra time to work in quiet (we have an open loft-like office), so she now works from 7am-3pm so that she can have a chunk of time in the morning before everyone else arrives to get some solo work time in. I don’t look at someone’s modification of a schedule as time or work lost. They are all internally motivated to make sure they still complete all of their work so they can stick to this modified schedule we’ve agreed upon.
- Be specific in your expectations, job assignments, and deadline. Also give clear and constructive feedback. Often, we find ourselves being too busy to clearly communicate our needs to an employee. That leaves them feeling unclear of what they are doing in a certain project or role. Then, they often go and do work that isn’t what was expected, and you find yourself frustrated over what might seem like misguided work. It’s worth it to spend a few extra minutes to outline an assignment or project to make sure everyone is on the same page. OR, if their work could use improvement, give clear and constructive feedback so they can better understand what you want next time and going forward.
- Say thank you. At some of my past jobs, I had no idea of my boss liked my work or not. It’s hard to know whether to improve or keep doing things the way you have been when you have no feedback on your work. It might sound obvious, but leaders are often so busy, they often forget to praise employees for a job well done. You don’t have to thank them 20 times a day, but make sure to call out when someone is doing an extra good job, and let them know you appreciate them. A little appreciation goes a long way. They will leave for the day feeling more confident and happier that their work is being noticed and appreciated.
- Don’t let things linger. If you’re having issues with an employee or you feel like they potentially might not work out, have a discussion with them about the issues sooner rather than later. Otherwise, you’ll get more resentful or more annoyed with their work if you don’t communicate it as soon as possible.
- Celebrate together. When you and your team accomplish milestones — the launch of a project, hitting a big sales goal, or growth in the company — celebrate them, yourself, and the team as a whole. Whether it’s as simple as high fives all around, a special lunch for the team, or a celebratory cake. Make it a big deal and celebrate your wins as a group!
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Don’t look at your employees as dollar signs. Yes, they cost money and yes, the justification of a new hire can be based on how much that person’s work can help a company grow. But you cannot look at people you hire solely in that way. In order to create a great working environment, there needs to be a mix of strong communication, inclusion, and respect for your team, no matter what level they are at in your company. Care about the people on your team, and they will care about the work they do for you.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
The best mix of fun and serious. While my company is very joyful and happy (as part of the brand and also the company culture), we also get a LOT of work done in any given day. We are very busy all the time, and everyone is constantly working. Since we work a very normal 8-hour day (and we have lunch all together between 12–1pm everyday), everyone is efficient and motivated. I stay in constant communication with my team both individually and in a group so that people are always aware of what’s going on as well as what they need to be doing on any given day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Right around the time that my company was growing and I was feeling ready to expand but didn’t know how, a mentor named Jane came into my life. She found me on social media and wanted to help me figure out how to grow my business. WHO does that? I didn’t take her seriously at first but once I realized she knew what she was talking about, I ended up taking her on as my mentor for several years. She connected me with an agent, helped me pitch my 3rd book, helped me hire my first employees, and encouraged me to take the risk to get an office outside of my home. She was literally a business angel who came into my life just when I needed it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Because of Jane and because of the feeling that every new business owner has when they are trying to grow in some way, teaching others what I can about entrepreneurship has been a passion of mine for over a decade. From books I’ve written to talks I give several times a year to podcasts I’m on talking about a variety of topics that I’ve learned from and can help others with as well. I recently launched the Oh Joy! Academy to offer services and courses for small business owners in a more official way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was just starting my business, my brother in law was living with us temporarily. I was feeling frustrated with getting my business off the ground and the unknowingness of it all. When I was telling him all the things I wanted to do, he said to me, “Who says you can’t?” That one line has resonated with me ever since. And, whenever I am feeling scared of taking a leap or trying something new with my business, I try and ask myself that question. Because the answer is always, “No one. There is no one telling you that you can’t do it. It’s up to you to take that first step.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Honestly, I want people to love their jobs. I feel very lucky to love what I do and have a team of employees who are happy, but that’s not the reality everywhere. Some people go to work just for the paycheck, and they hate every minute of it. I want people to go to work (yes, we all need a paycheck) but to also really LOVE the work they do. We spend so much time at work that the quality of your life truly improves when you enjoy your job as well.