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How does a CEO create a culture of joy?

by Guest Writter
Richard Sheridan, CEO, Menlo Innovations

The pursuit of joy in my company started as a personally selfish but noble journey. First and foremost, I wished to create the place I wanted to work. In my early career, as I rose through the ranks in a successful public corporation, I found myself in a trough of disillusionment. All of the external measures said I was successful. My heart said otherwise.

One day I decided to change everything. I decided that the risk of change was far less than the risk of staying the same.

What did I decide to do?

Remove “manufactured fear” as a tool of management

This is harder than it sounds. It’s so easy to use your voice, your actions and your leadership to lead with fear. It can be as simple as a “how’s it going?” when you know it isn’t going well or “what are your plans for this weekend?” when you want to hear them say they are coming in on Saturday. It can be the slight grimace when a vacation request is submitted. These are the easy ones to catch.

The harder ones are the instilled practices, such as annual performance reviews, and Monday morning status meetings, or employee recognition awards that reward individual performance over that of the team.

We have eliminated annual performance reviews and actively pair each person on our team so that individual performance is no longer a measure that matters.

Get your organization into alignment

Every organization has at least three stories.

The first is the story they tell the outside world. Some might call this marketing, others branding. Whatever you call it, this story forms the world’s outside perception of your organization.

The second is the inside reality that everyone who works at the company experiences. What do the workers say about the company, to their loved ones and to each other?

The third story comes from the heart of the visionary leadership of the company.

Seldom are these three points in alignment. Lack of alignment produces cynicism, sarcasm, and a lack of trust. Customers sense it, employees live it and leadership lies about it.

We lead tours of our company every day. Hundreds of tours and thousands of visitors come from all over the world every year. While I lead many of these tours, anyone on the team can lead the tours. We make no assumptions about why people are visiting. They could be curious and looking for ideas, or perhaps they are potential clients, or prospective employees. Bigger tour groups will have a mix of all of these. The tours are the same regardless. We tell the same stories to everyone. We tell these stories within earshot of the team. It’s a great way to reinforce alignment. If your “inside reality” isn’t good enough to share with the world, get it there, then share it.

Don’t confuse happiness with joy

Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Joy is more meaningful and purposeful. Joy is about the team working on something bigger than themselves, and producing good in the world through their efforts. A focus on creating joy for others gets everyone working through the tough times together, through the times when we are not happy. Work is hard. Joy is meaningful.

Remind yourself and your team of your “why” through storytelling

Be honest with yourself and with your team about why you are there, why you want to lead the company, what you hope the company will accomplish in the world. For me, it is about “ending human suffering in the world as it relates to technology”. I felt exhilaration as a kid when I first learned to program computers. I still believe the creation of beautifully working software that is a delight to use is one of the most unique endeavors mankind has ever undertaken. I can imagine others feel that way about building a wonderful hospital, or an airline, or a deli. Discover your “why” and share that “why” with the world. As Simon Sinek so eloquently says,”people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

Step into joy

Take the first step. Read a book. Share a story. Find your own inspiration and then be that inspiration for others.

I wish you joy in your journey.


About the Author

Richard Sheridan is the CEO and cofounder of Menlo Innovations, which has won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for six straight years and five revenue awards from Inc. magazine. He speaks frequently at business conferences and to major corporations such as Mercedes Benz, Nike, and 3M. He has recently written a book called Joy, Inc. about how he created a joyful culture at Menlo Innovations.  He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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