Joy Inc.

MH3 —  June 6, 2017

I just finished an awesome book.

Credit for my hearing about it goes to an Ohio U MBA-MSA student I had in a recent workshop who was fortunate enough to be mentored by the author and his co-founder. As passionate as I am about entrepreneurship, the book intrigued me. Its title? Did you read my blog title? I borrowed it from their book.

The subtitle of the book, How We Built a Workplace People Love, is both accurate and misleading. There is no question that people love working at Menlo Innovations, his software company, according to the author. In fact, I suspect Thomas Edison himself would have loved working there. The book, however, is about more than love or Joy. It’s about an entrepreneur’s journey to build a workplace that he feels makes sense.

The stories about the sheer stupidity that culturally existed at many of his jobs sent shivers down my spine. It caused me to question how many times I have been that shortsighted with my teams. One of the shortcomings of most workplaces it represents is how invaluable we allow team members to become because nobody else understands how to do what they do. Inevitably, this backfires as the super important team member gets frustrated by the lack of internal mobility and leaves the company for new challenges. I know I have done that in my tenure as a business owner. Not intentionally.

You can hear the frustration in Sheridan’s voice and pen about companies he served that didn’t understand the ongoing museum of resources. How urgent projects constantly interrupted best laid plans. How fire after fire messed up any chance for work to be purposely throughout out. How fixing things becomes the norm versus the energy to build things. Sound familiar?

One of the most unique aspects of Menlo Innovations is the way every person is twinned. On every project. Every day. Two people work together, for a week. On one computer. They Ying, they yang. They sing, they sang. Then after a week, they split up and twin with somebody else. Menlo has proven that two heads are better than one and by standardizing their approach to software they can move people from project to project with no glitches. Many people don’t believe it, until the try it. Think about pairing everybody in your organization up. Would it work?

Another feature of the Menlo culture is safety. Not from falling beams or air pollution. No. The safety that exists in Menlo is the opportunity to be honest and candid about project estimating. Teams can freely express how long projects will take, without retribution from bosses. In fact, the role of the bosses is to educate the clients to understand why tasks take the time they do to be done right. By infusing a lack of fear in the organization, there is no fudging of time estimates to buy time. Project managers make the most accurate assessments they can and if they off, the conversation is focused on adjusting the schedule, not punishment. This process is widely enabled because all clients must participate in a resource planning exercise with Menlo throughout the project build. Using index cards and markers, the broader project team works together to prioritize what needs to be done and when. Safe to say I am envious of their ability to bring this to reality with their clients.

Midway through Joy Inc., I almost stopped reading it. Sometimes the author gets a bit preachy, sometimes a bit corny, often not super strategic, and a few times almost unbelievable. But I was glad I plotted through it. Candidly, the book isn’t just about Joy. It’s about taking the absurdity out of how many of us work.