Businesses should focus on a good culture in the workplace to boost their businesses by taking small steps to bring in joy.

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    Joy at work? Really?

    Joy is a funny word in a business context. We might use it in many other contexts of our lives, for example being full of joy when you become a grandparent. But joy at work? Joy in a business context? Is it possible?

    When people hear the kind of companies that perform well and have a good culture they always want to know if they can visit one and see a real life example.

    That’s why people are coming from all over the world to see Menlo, last year we had nearly 4,000 people came from every continent to come visit us.

    Imagine half of a team being joyful and the others not, which would you want to work for you?

    I’ve been challenged on the definition of joy. For me it is defined as service to others. What is it that we do for a living that serves other people?

    How might financial advisers see joy in their world?

    Advisers may be managing portfolios, trying to grow assets and increase their return on investments but the real joy I think is maybe the parents that come back to you because they can buy the second home they’ve been dreaming about their entire marriage or being able to put their kids through school.

    Our office is simply a reflection of our values. Be careful of change, don’t make change for change sake. Make them because they are consistent with your beliefs. We believe in openness and transparency so we made our office open and transparent with an open-plan office.

    Examples of creating a joyful workplace at Menlo

    Here are some ways in which we’ve learnt to bring joy into our workplace

    Create a learning organisation:

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    The majority of our learning occurs when we work. We connect our team emotionally, intellectually, and physically. We have two people working at the same computer at the same time on the same task, and then they get paired up with other people after five days. It’s amazing how much collaboration occurs from a simple construct of having two people working together, which produces more productivity than people working alone silently in cubicles.

    Change how we communicate

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    But if you are going to change the way the team is organised, you should also change how you communicate.

    Internally what we did was change the conversations we have with each other. We have a team of 60 and when we communicate we don’t use electronics, but rather High-speed Voice Technology (hardware pre-installed at birth…)

    Eliminate traditional meetings

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    When we want to call an all-company meeting at work, we hate meetings, we keep them short. If I want to call an all-company meeting I say “Hey Menlo!”and everyone says “Hey Rich” and we’re now in an all-company meeting, transact the business, everyone’s back to work –the whole meeting lasts about seven seconds no CC-ing all emails, no booking conference rooms, no checking of calendars.

    Change how we speak with our clients

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    That’s the conversation change inside. We also had to change the conversation outside, with our clients. We build software for other companies; we’re essentially a contract software development company. But of course they can go off-course, into the ditch, and crash and burn in flames at the bottom of the ravine.

    To avoid this outcome, we reconnect with our clients once a week, in a ‘show and tell’ meeting. If the client is nearby, they come into our office and see what we’re doing every five days. If they are not nearby, we connect with them electronically every five days. The client is showing us the work we did the previous five days, not us showing him. They know what we are supposed to have done so they can see our progress.

    We prefer to avoid making mistakes, but we know we will, so wouldn’t it be neat if we could work them out quickly while they’re small and easier to correct?

    Use simple paper-based tools for planning

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    We plan with paper, which is kind of strange, right? When people come from around the world and see this and they jokingly say we’re like the Amish of software development. We write down by hand what we’re going to work on. We estimate the card in hours, the size is dependent on the hours. And then we lay the client’s budget out on the table with the estimates. The client has all these hopes and dreams within the budget and we have to pick up these cards as soon as they fill the boxes [which replicates the budget] with the cards [the work]– it’s not all going to fit, and some things have to stay on the table, so it is clear for the client to see and understand.

    Run the Experiment

    You know when you discover something that you want to try, and you run back to the office and you grab the first person who you see and say “I’ve got this great idea!” and you describe it to them and they say “No, that won’t work here. HR will not approve.” Right there the idea gets killed. Because you are busy, you have 59,000 emails stacked up, and it’s often about racing to the next meeting and the ideas are forgotten.

    Look them in the eye and say “Yeah I know. But let’s run the experiment. Let’s try it. Let’s not defeat the idea before we’ve even given a chance to experience it to see if it works.” In that simple phrase you’ve disarmed the naysayer and discouragers at work.

    A famous Menlo experiment

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    Eight years ago one of our teammates Tracy had little Maggie. She was off three months on maternity leave. She came back into the office ready to come back to work. She had one problem; the daycare she planned to use was full, grandparents were too far away and both she and her husband didn’t know what to do. This was a leadership development moment for me.

    So I looked at Tracy and told her to bring her in. There was the greatest look of bewilderment on her face. She worried about many things, including baby noises disturbing the team.

    I said: ‘Tracy, you’re the mom, I trust you to do the right thing. We’ll work it out together; let’s run the experiment.’

    We’re now on Menlo baby number 13 in just the last eight years. This has been an awesome experiment. This was a great opportunity to build the culture of our team and remind ourselves how human we really are.

    Often at work we are expected to leave our personal lives at home and pretend we’re one person at work when we have a whole rich life somewhere else.

    We also have dogs at Menlo. One customer, Michael, called before his meeting and asked if he could bring his dog Buster, to his meeting. Sure, we said.

    I thought about this, Michael was choosing to behave like us, Michael chose to join our culture, he knew we had dogs and felt comfortable bringing his. Michael can’t bring his dog to his workplace, it wouldn’t be appropriate based on what they do. But he decided to participate in our culture.

    I wanted to tell you that if you create a culture that is so inviting that your clients want to be more like you that’s a very inviting culture. Think about the effects you can have.

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