Here’s proof that Work = Joy.
CEO and author, Rich Sheridan honored my request to speak with him after I wrote about his book in my newsletter. His book is titled Joy, Inc. How We Built a Workplace People Love. It’s a wonderful read for anyone interested in the potential for business as a positive force.
First of all, just having Mr. Sheridan agree to talk with me was pretty joyful since I don’t have a connection to him except a shared belief that work can be blissful and that it’s mostly our responsibility to create it. His making time to share with me shows how deeply Rich believes in his work.
Rich talked about their physical space to start. When he first brought this up I was a little disappointed—seems sort of boring and I remembered his discussions from the book. But my disappointment was short lived as he communicated his passion about sharing a physical space where the energy can flow and mingle. At his company Menlo Innovations everyone works in one large, open space. That’s key.
More important is how that energy flow encourages open behavior. People not only CAN move furniture and machines and decorations, they are encouraged to do so. Since our surroundings impact how we work, which impacts how we define ourselves, this encouragement to change one’s environment creatively leads to more creative work.
Having one open working space also means that the playing field is level, and stays that way. I have not visited Menlo Innovations (yet) so can only envision this—I see an environment where even the most shy people get creative and messy once in a while. Since doing things outside of our usual patterns is pretty joyful for most of us once we get past the discomfort, I love this idea.
Seeking to codify his work, I asked Rich about how he specifically shows his team that it’s okay to take the reins. He replied that he is always working to reinforce these principles, and continued, “Take the tours at Menlo, they are an interesting example. First, anyone can give a tour from the founders to the newest intern. I was leading a tour one day and our group approached the Work Authorization Board (a paper overview of all their projects on a wall open to everyone). In explaining how the board works I skipped over the new orange dots in addition to our standard red, yellow and green ones that indicated project status. A person from the tour asked me about the orange dots since I did not describe them. I responded that we probably ran out of red dots and then heard some team members giggling behind me.”
It turns out that the orange dots have a specific function; the team had decided to add them to their process and not yet updated Rich. This is notable for several reasons:
- The team decided on their own
- They did not seek “management approval”, even after the fact, though the work authorization board is one of the most important tools in their company and impacts every single person’s work
- The company leaders understand that the people involved in the daily work also understand what works well
The orange dot practice is still in use today, but many of their experiments are not. This speaks to other important practices at Menlo: “Make more mistakes faster”, and “Let’s run the experiment.” These practices support a culture of trying-new-things and learning, plus elevate product quality and loyalty from team-members and clients alike.
These practices also support a core value for a joyful workplace–respect. The culture at Menlo Innovations says that every person is worthy of working their way, or at least trying it out. When respect flows in all directions in this fashion, business becomes a place where people can grow and develop–joyfully.
Rich summarized this point beautifully in saying, “I cant tell you how comforting it is to know that the team cares about the process as much as I do”, while the emotion in his voice made it clear how important this is to him.
He continued, “When the team knows they can do something to make it better, rather than complain, they are more engaged. We all want to work on something bigger than ourselves. When that is absent, then mundane things become important—like computers and offices. Work becomes about the false joys. Or complaining becomes the joy.”
Discussing leadership, Rich believes that a strong leader is very different than a boss and we all want leadership, not management. He’s really happy that he was able to go away to write a book and work on all the other things that go with writing a book and his team kept going. He also sees the role of a leader is as a compassionate teacher with high expectation for themselves and others.
Rich told a story from grade school when he was acting in a simple class play. A prop was out of place and rather than get nervous or stop, he just adlibbed and asked someone to pass it to him. The teacher was impressed and went out of her way to tell him his actions were amazing, and congratulate him on his adlibbing. He responded, “What’s adlibbing?” Yet to this day he remembers the teacher caring enough to let him know and take time to encourage him. Rich brings that attention to being a leader at Menlo Innovations, and also to his work of educating others that business can be a hero in our culture.
I believe that respect is key to creating a joyful workplace, for ourselves and for others. Rich responded to my inquiry about respect by saying, “As a leader you have to respect people enough to trust them. How often do we demonstrate lack of respect?”
Like all humans he is constantly working to grow and fight against the negatives, thus respecting himself and others. He mentioned a couple of practices:
Being mindful of his own emotions and noticing certain things like adrenalin pumping. He knows this means it’s time to step away, or perhaps not be the leader for a moment.
He works to create a circle of accountability partners who he trusts to tell him the truth.
Rich also showed another characteristic of a good leader by sharing his vulnerability with me. He is feeling a bit overwhelmed with activities associated with launching the book, plus Coca Cola Inc. is coming for a tour. He reached out to his team for support and was touched by their strong response. They surrounded him with caring and respect so he can be his best in the events coming up.
What a great reminder of how we are all human and there is a limit to our abilities. And, how great it is to work as a team. I could hear the relief and renewed strength in Rich’s voice as he talked about the support from his team.
I gained even more respect for Rich when he told me that in the early days of his company he would come to the office on weekends to clean because he wanted his team to feel good about their environment. It reminded me of a Zen story about Buddha cleaning toilets on his journey to enlightenment, and that he could only move to the next level when he experienced transcendence while cleaning.
I would say that Mr. Sheridan has moved on very well and I so appreciate his book, his taking the time to talk with me, and his outlook on life. Thank you Rich, I am indeed honored.