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The Business Value of Joy

Dec 05 8am PST
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. and #MIXHangout

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 were delighted to spend time with Menlo Innovations co-founder and CEO, Richard Sheridan on the topic. We dove into the principles behind building a joy-based culture, talked about what it means to unleash so much freedom, experimentation, openness and amp up productivity, ingenuity, and alignment at the same time. And we got into the details of Menlo’s redesign of so many core management practices.

Be sure to check out Rich’s winning Leaders Everywhere Challenge entry.

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