Putting Joy To Work

September 10, 2014
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

“Deep down you know that there is a better way to run a business, a team, a company, a department. You’ve always known it.”

Richard Sheridan, Joy Inc.

Rich Sheridan is a truly human leader, he just happens to have another name for it. He calls it “instilling joy” in his team members. Sheridan is CEO of Menlo Innovations, a custom software design company in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Rich is one of a growing number of leaders who, like me, have realized that there’s a better way to lead: by creating workplace cultures that foster care, compassion and human connection. At Barry-Wehmiller, we like to shine a light on these kindred spirits, so we can all be the wick igniting flames of change around the world.

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend time with Rich. He lives and breathes “joy.” You can feel it in his presence and it’s on every page of his first book, Joy Inc.

Joy Inc. is a great story and how-to book about Rich’s journey to build a better information technology workplace. After years of working for large corporations, Rich went from being deeply unsatisfied to finding joy in his work. Part of that was in implementing a people-first culture alongside unique and innovative workplace practices at Menlo. Rich and Chief Architect James Goebel introduced techniques such as paired programming, an open and collaborative working environment, a culture of safety where team members can “make mistakes faster,” and deeper research and testing of user interaction with applications. These practices not only help create the culture of joy at Menlo, they fulfill the company’s mission of ending “human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.”

“This doesn’t just mean we’re trying only to end our suffering or that we believe only Menlo-designed technologies can ease human suffering,” Rich says in Joy, Inc. “We want everyone to have a better and more meaningful work life.”

But even after creating Menlo, Rich had yet to find his Why, a concept finally introduced to him through bestselling author and Why expert Simon Sinek.

Rich describes Menlo’s Why as bringing “Joy to the world through the software we would design and develop for others, and to teach others about the joyful practices and systems we had conceived.”

Simon’s influence led to Rich’s mission of spreading “the business value of joy,” how a culture of care impacts every aspect of work:

“We take the business value of joy at Menlo very seriously… When you work on projects that last years and consume hundreds of thousands of hours of effort, it would be foolish to approach this lightly. If we burn out our team two years into a seven-year project, they will still keep coming to work every day—they just won’t bring their brains with them.”

Earlier this year, Rich was “woven into the Barry-Wehmiller fabric,” as he put it, when he spoke at our New Project Development conference and toured our BW Papersystems plant in Phillips, Wisconsin. Afterward, he sent an email saying how impressed he was by our culture of caring and how much he believes in what we’re doing.

Leaders like Rich and me, we see a better way – a joyful way —to bring meaning and fulfillment to our team members. So we’ll keep carrying the wick, because the torches are out there and ready to be lit. As Rich says:

 “There is so much talk today about sustainability… I would like to bring a new sustainability topic to the table: sustaining the humans who work for us.”

And that is the essence of Truly Human Leadership.

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