Joy, Inc. – Cultural Transformation

Joy, Inc. – Cultural Transformation

Interview with Rich Sheridan, Author of Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love and CEO of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over 3,000 annual visitors flock to Ann Arbor to tour Menlo and be inspired by the unique Menlo way. Among them are Lean experts and companies like Toyota.

This conversation is part of an Interview series on Lean Transformation & Lean Culture, created by Noventa Consulting. The conversation with Rich is split into four parts.

Part 1: Joy, Inc. – Learning Organization

Part 2: Joy, Inc. – Business Value of Joy

Part 3: Joy, Inc. – Leadership Lessons and Inspirations

Part 4: Joy, Inc. – Cultural Transformation

What do you tell people when they say you can do it because you have your own company, it’s easy to do that, you know, this cultural transformation. What would you tell them and what are the core principles that you could apply in any organization?

I don’t let them off the hook on that one because I’ve done this twice now. Number one, I did it inside a thirty-year-old public company where I was still the new kid on the block. When I started, I did it not from the top perch of a CEO, but as a team leader. Ultimately, I transformed the culture of the company.

Number two, I’ve built a company from scratch. Many people that have never been entrepreneurs think that’s easier. I believe entrepreneurship is harder than a corporate job; I’ve never worked so hard in my life, nor have I had so much fun. There’s nothing easy about Menlo, we’ve taken such a radically different approach, that it’s paradoxical. Imagine, as the customer you see two people working on one computer; you will probably think, do I have to pay both of those people?” Everybody else is saying, send the project offshore for $5 an hour, and we’re doing it with high paid US-based programmers.

I get the idea that, starting something on a clean sheet of paper looks easy. Most startups mess that up because you don’t get the culture until you reach the profitability and once you get the profitability, the culture is already cemented.

The key message in my talks around the world is, think about your purpose, who do you serve, and look at what change you’re trying to make in the world, and for whom. By looking at the larger picture, you will create value for all your stakeholders; your investors, your customers and your employees. If you decide you want to make changes, how do you do that because change is hard? I encourage them with a straightforward message, run the experiment, and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, we can adjust and get to a better outcome, and if it does work, excellent. An experimentation-oriented organization is, in fact, a learning organization, because you’re not accepting the status quo.

Your kids are teaching you that every single day. Every skinned knee or worm in hand is an experiment, and that’s how they grow. We can build human organizations that way too. The fundamental concept of running the experiment diffuses a lot of the anxiety around change. With an experiment, we don’t have to form a policy, create a committee, have thirteen meetings, publish a paper, distribute it widely and have an all-company meeting. We just run the experiment. If you get into that mode of thinking, change can start to happen rapidly.

In an interview, I heard you talk about your ten-year vision exercise. Could you explain the process you went through?

We learned this from a company in town here called Zingerman’s. They’re a very famous delicatessen food empire now. Their founders are incredible leaders.

They teach how to do visioning. Many companies have a company vision, a mission statement, and company values. Zingerman’s teach a particular way of doing it with a, and they have a specific purpose. Their idea behind the vision is threefold. There is an old biblical passage that says, “without vision we perish.” Their view is that without an inspiring vision, you have no idea of where you’re going, and if you’re getting there. You have no idea if you made progress you know of or if you’ve ever reached the goal. A vision should be inspiring to push you past what you thought was possible, but realistic enough to be attainable. A vision needs to be written down, so we can’t change it every day.

We have gone through the inspiration, the attainment, and the writing down part, but we have not published it yet.

The way they teach is to pick a day in the future and describe it in detail. We picked February 11th of 2027, which is Thomas Edison’s 180th birthday. This date is of importance to us because we named Menlo in honor of Menlo Park New Jersey. We’re going to have a party.
In Ann Arbor, we are known for having big company parties at Menlo. We have many parties here in Menlo with hundreds of people who come because they love good food, drinks, and conversations.

The framing for our ten-year vision is our party. The details inside that party are all the things that have happened in the last ten years; conversations, customers, employees, community members, and people we have inspired.

It’s February 11th, 2027 at about 8 in the evening and the Menlo celebration of Edison’s 180th birthday is well underway. This is probably the most anticipated day in Menlo’s history as the planning for this day started way back in 2016. We had selected this party as the pivotal day in our ten year vision.  Of course, our vision didn’t turn exactly as we had thought it would, but when you squint your eyes and fuzz your vision you see the Menlo we had dreamed of so many years ago. [the first Paragraph of the ten year vision]

The idea is by making it that palpable and tangible; it almost is guaranteed to happen. It’s the strangest thing about human beings, once we can picture an outcome, we will pursue it without a care in the world about how challenging is, and how much the world might mock along the way. Finally, they will tell us whatever we did was obvious. Even though five years prior, it was considered the stupidest idea they have ever heard.

Thank you so much for the inspiration and keep your momentum. I hope many more companies will do the same as you do or many leaders do the same as you do.

Well, I like to say we are rare, but not unique. Many, many others think as we do in one fashion or another. If we spend enough time together, we might change the world. [Part four of four]