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The Business Value of Joy—a Maverick Hangout with Richard Sheridan

by Polly LaBarre on November 26, 2013


polly-labarre's picture

The Business Value of Joy—a Maverick Hangout with Richard Sheridan

Watch our Maverick Hangout with Richard Sheridan, co-founder & CEO of Menlo Innovations—and learn more about Menlo's original, audacious, and powerful design for work.

Continue the conversation around the Hangout on Twitter: #JoyInc.

One of the questions that drives us at the MIX is: why can’t our organizations be as human as the human beings who work inside them?

So much of organizational life goes against the grain of human nature. For too long, the ruling ideology of too many organizations has been control—controlling people, controlling information, controlling deviations from the norm. Of course, that kind of high fear, low trust culture is exactly the wrong design for unleashing and mobilizing the full potential—the full imagination, initiative, passion—of every single person, every single day.

But what is the right design? What kind of environment, systems for work, practices invite that level of contribution? What would it take to build an organization that inspires, engages, even elevates people (and produces extraordinary performance in the process)?

For Richard Sheridan and his colleagues at Menlo Innovations, a fast-growing software company based in Ann Arbor, MI, the answer to all of the above is one little word: joy. Yes, joy. As Sheridan puts it, “it’s a concept that has no place in the corporate world. It certainly doesn’t sound profitable.” Yet, “joy is the core belief of our workplace. . . It defines what we do and how we do it. It’s the single shared belief of our entire team.”

And it’s the propulsive force behind an intensely focused, remarkably productive, profitable, and inventive team of colleagues who have been engaged in a twelve-year experiment to overturn the entrenched and corrosive management assumptions and practices that rule too many workers’ lives. In the process, they’ve made a powerful case for what Sheridan calls “the business value of joy.”

Menlo Innovations has flipped the most slavishly followed tenets of “modern” organization and turned itself into a laboratory for churning out clever alternatives. There is no chain of command at Menlo. There are no bosses, no managers, no secrets, no rules, no walls, and no fear. What they have instead are a series of clever mechanisms and radically practical approaches to cultivating collaboration, collective decision-making, focus, and performance—from working in pairs (and rotating partners on a weekly basis), to a strict (and strictly humane) 40-hour work week, to a peer-led approach to hiring called “Extreme Interviewing,” to a wholly original (and refreshingly analog) paper-based approach to planning and setting priorities, to daily 13-minute all-hands meetings and weekly “show & tell” sessions with customers.

There is so much to unpack when it comes to Menlo’s relentlessly clever and deeply human approach to work. Which is why we’re delighted to be hosting a Maverick Hangout with Menlo Innovations co-founder and CEO, Richard Sheridan on Thursday, December 5th at 11am ET. We’ll dive into the principles behind building a joy-based culture, talk about what it means to unleash so much freedom, experimentation, openness and amp up productivity, ingenuity, and alignment at the same time. And we’ll get into the details of Menlo’s redesign of so many core management practices. Hangout participants will get a sneak peek into the themes and insights in Rich’s soon-to-be-published book, Joy, Inc.

Participating in the Hangout is as easy as coming back to this link on Thursday, December 5th at 11am ET. Rich will be answering your questions, so please tee them up in the comments section here (and via Twitter during the Hangout #joyinc). In the meantime, be sure to check out Rich’s winning Leaders Everywhere Challenge entry.

And if you’re inspired by the ideas behind Menlo Innovations’ original design for work, share your own story or bold idea in the Digital Freedom Challenge. Learn more here.


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carlos-jorge-morais-loures's picture

I would like begin by apologizing for my poor English; honestly I used the Google translate to help me.

Joy it is a great Word. Means feeling of great happiness, Oxford Advanced Learner´s; life without joy is not life; work is life; at work the main word is “leadership “; and the university does not teach people to be leaders.

the true leader helps others to be free in thought with joy; and above all he teaches the others to be equal to themselves without fears of any kind; in particular he does things with "lower profile" .

He will never be notice.

How is this possible? Read Plato, Ralph Emerson and the Priest António Vieira among others.

This world will be better when a leader has power at work. Leadership means Absolute Respect For The others.

Joy is one of the salts of the Respect.

At the limit I believe that a large number of humans are leaders; take this to the light only depends on our point of view, courage, skills and strength to provoke or promote them.

jeanne-carboni's picture

I watched part of this, but got called away to another meeting. Will there be a replay? What I saw/heard was really insightful.

polly-admin's picture

Hi Jeanne, You'll see that the replay is already posted above. You can watch the whole thing at your leisure. And I'll be writing up a blog with the big themes from the conversation to be posted here and on Fortune. Thanks for your interest--so much to learn from Rich and Menlo Innovations! Polly

olivier-lambel's picture

Hi Richard, you have created a similar planet than we have...a flat one. Check this out and let me know what you think:
I'm please to see that we are not alone!

natalie-yount's picture

I recently did an organizational 360 for a totally flat organization of 300 moving to 500 associates as they were changing business strategy. Strong, values based founders, five functional expertise leaders and everyone else. No managers or structure, open communication and transparency. As they moved beyond the magical Dunbar number, fissures had begun to form and decision making was painfully slow. It will be no surprise that the missing elements were the same as in any organization: clarity, order (priorities), feedback. We found that people loved the spirit of a flat organization but not always the work required to make the larger organization function well. (We had to interview so many people because in this flat organization, everyone got a chance to participate - and they did!)

Today I am working with a 30 person technical startup which insists on a management structure. Mostly engineers who just want to code and don't want to deal with organizational "complexity"

My question: Its not just corporate structure - managers, bosses that hold back organizations. It takes the commitment of everyone working in those organizations to make this all work. How do we get all partners, associates or employees signed up?

WLGore is the best example I have seen of a large organization who is able, on the surface, to be simultaneously flat and structured. But, they are very clear - its not for the faint of heart!

Sometimes even if

kevin-obrien's picture

Hi Natalie, I liked your comment. I happen to have worked for WL Gore and wanted to offer my thoughts. In order to get people signed up, they need to feel connected with the mission of the group. They chose to participate based on natural interests as opposed to only external rewards that participation provides. The larger the organization, the harder it is to align everyone's natural interests.

One way Gore makes this work is by being very deliberate in the hiring process to ensure people have the right mix of personal qualities, skills, and interests. Gore also helps this process along by strongly encouraging personal growth and development. One the guiding principals is freedom which is not personal freedom but the freedom to help another associate grow.

My guess is that in the 500 person organization you mentioned, not everyone was emotionally connected with the mission. This is not the fault of the leaders or the business strategy, it really about how honest people are being with themselves.

natalie-yount's picture

Thanks for these comments, Kevin. I am a huge fan of WLGore. I love that the website lays out the hiring process clearly. I spent the bulk of my career at Microsoft and in the early days we paid a lot of attention to "fit". I had a chance to interview a few people at WLGore when I was working on the project. Gore is flat but ordered. My 500 person organization believed that flat also meant no process. The deliberate processes and guiding principles at WLGore seem to be what makes it work. That, and leadership commitment (an understatement) to the model.

kevin-obrien's picture

That's a good point you bring up about process. Flat (or lattice) does not have to mean no processes. It is just that processes (or disciplines/practices) should be based upon the values that organization holds. The practices should change when it makes sense to change them. The leadership commitment is also huge. I suppose my question would be the same as yours, how to get more people interested in the model?

jim-smith_1's picture

Google leadership books: 458,0000
Google Management books: 1.2 billion

With all due respect, is another book the answer?

alison-fry's picture

Would so appreciate your thoughts on how to transform an existing corporate culture with lots of rules, structure and competing priorities to one of Joy. One that became successful by doing whatever the customer requested, even when that required big compromise, exhaustive hours and delaying other business critical initiatives. Beyond "buy in" from leadership, what would be first steps?

harrison-withers's picture

I've had the chance to work with Rich and Menlo on a project and I've been a fan ever since. Can't wait to grab the book!

naveen-khajanchi's picture

It's a path breaking achievement and fills me with Joy ! Could we explore extending it to our daily lives too.

brian-mc-carron's picture

Can you please tel me how I connectwith this hagout ? Many thanks, Brian Mc Carron

mix-administrator's picture

Hi Brian,
Just return to this page on 12/5 at 11 am ET.