Not Just a Career
While at BYU, Joseph Grenny (BA ’91) learned an important philosophy: “See life as a mission, not a career.” Inspired by the BYU motto—Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve—Grenny has made his life’s mission to change other people’s lives, both on a micro and macro level. He currently divides his time between two jobs: his company VitalSmarts, focused on making behavioral changes within the workplace, and The Other Side Academy, a personal venture devoted to rehabilitating struggling individuals with heavy jail sentences.
Joseph’s company VitalSmarts is founded on the principles of healthy workplace dialogue, universal accountability, and progressive behavioral change leading to increased individual effectiveness within the team setting. VitalSmarts has trained millions of individuals and companies and is known as a Top 20 Leadership Training Company providing award-winning courses for various organizations. His time at BYU, interacting with inspirational professors taught him important business principles and motivated him to act on spiritual promptings to serve others.
The Other Side Academy was inspired by the Delancey Street Foundation, a program in San Francisco that Grenny discovered several years ago. In order to help young people prepare to lead full lives, the Delancey Street Foundation offered students the opportunity to run local businesses. Grenny saw that the businesses run by the Delancey Street Foundation youth, including a restaurant, a digital print shop, and a moving company, were some of the highest rated businesses in the area.
To his surprise, however, Grenny discovered there was no indication that the foundation intended to expand past their facility in San Francisco. Inspired by their work, Grenny eventually started The Other Side Academy in Salt Lake City. Essentially, this non-profit organization offers an alternative to jail time, allowing adults who have been in and out of prison to stay at The Other Side Academy. There, individuals take classes and work at one of several businesses offered by the academy, in order to learn the skills necessary for rejoining society. They now have over 100 students who, if not at the academy, would have a collective jail sentence of over 600 years. Instead, these individuals help run several successful businesses within The Other Side Academy, including a moving company and what Grenny refers to as “The Nordstrom of thrift stores.”
Besides wanting to help the community, Grenny had a personal motivation for starting The Other Side Academy. “I have two children who have struggled,” Grenny says, explaining how hard it was to watch his loved ones fall into addiction and, eventually, jail. Watching them suffer was excruciating, but Grenny learned several important lessons from the experience. First, as much as he wanted to fix things, he had to learn to accept that he couldn’t. “They have free agency,” Grenny explains, which meant for better or worse, they ultimately decided how to act. Though Grenny is still outspoken in his beliefs, he’s also learned that his job is simply to be there for his children, even if they stray. Loving them is the most important part of his job as a father. This love and patience helped push Grenny to start The Other Side Academy, and has provided him with the opportunity to help “hundreds more sons and daughters.”
For Grenny, The Other Side Academy isn’t a personal accomplishment, but an opportunity offered by the Lord. “I feel like I was invited,” Grenny says, insisting this work wasn’t something he accomplished on his own. Through his work, Grenny has been able to experience what he calls “a microcosm of the Atonement” on a daily basis. Whether it’s seeing change occur in individuals who arrived only weeks before, or celebrating as a judge forgives one of his students a jail sentence, Grenny has witnessed many people find light and hope.
In the future, Grenny hopes to continue using VitalSmarts to influence behavioral change in various organizations while expanding The Other Side Academy to as many cities as will accept it. He’s optimistic. Several cities are already starting to raise the necessary start-up funds, and Grenny hopes to watch the organization spread across the United States.