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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Create An Intentionally Joyful Culture

"When the work of your heart, your hands, and your mind is done to serve others with delight, that is joy." That is the mantra of Rich Sheridan, Co-Founder of Menlo Innovations, a software development company that is known the world over for its intentionally joyful culture.

In this episode of The Sticky From The Inside Podcast your host, Andy Goram talks to the international speaker and best-selling author of Joy Inc., and Chief Joy Officer about what it takes to create an intentionally joyful culture. But don't be fooled by the word joy. This isn't a lesson in how to be more happy-clappy at work. Far from it. This is about working hard, as a team, with a clear sense of purpose and an empowering spirit of experimentation and trust.

This is a full transcript of the conversation, but you can listen to the full episode here.

Two men wearing glasses discuss how to create an intentionally joyful culture
Rich Sheridan (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss how to create an intentionally joyful culture

00:00:10 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside, the Employee Engagement Podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out.

I'm your host, Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tonnes more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others, because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK, there are times in life, where you just have to take the bull by the horns and make a dramatic change. And today we're going to hear the story of one such situation.

It's the story of a guy who, by not taking the easy route and signing up for an Exec position in a poorly run company, has found the secret to creating an empowering and enabling workplace culture, which leads to personal and business success. It's so successful people come from far and wide just to visit Menlo and see it all in action?

And in a dramatic change to the format of this show, well maybe dramatic with a very small “d”, I don't have a big introduction to set the episode up, because I want to use every minute I can to listen to his story and chat about all the things it throws up.

So today I'm delighted to have with me, Rich Sheridan. Rich is the co-founder of Menlo Innovations, a very different Detroit-based technology company (and more on that later) and the author of two best-selling books, Joy Inc. and the Chief Joy Officer.

And today we'll be talking about how to intentionally create a joyful workplace culture and reap the many benefits of doing so.

Welcome to the show Rich!

00:02:31 Rich Sheridan

Andy, great to be with you. I can't wait for this conversation.

00:02:34 Andy Goram

I know. I think, is it, what four months? Maybe even five months ago we all first got put into contact with each other from, Perry Timms, the inimitable, Perry Timms and I have been waiting for this conversation it feels like forever. So pleased to have you here today, my friend.

So pleased to have you here and look, I'm a bit of a Rich geek. I've kind of like, done my research and enjoy your stuff, but for just some of my listeners who don't know you and don't know Menlo, would you mind just giving us a brief introduction to both, please?

00:03:08 Rich Sheridan

You bet. So, as you said, I'm a co-founder, CEO, Chief Storyteller here, at Menlo Innovations. I'm guessing we'll have a few stories to share today and then talk about the importance of storytelling and creating that intentionally joyful culture, as we dive in.

My personal story is as a programmer. I started out when I was just a kid touching the computer for the first time when I was just 13, over 50 years ago so. Let's just say computers were a little different back in those days. But I got hooked early on and quickly. And I thought “This is going to be a cool profession. To be in writing software”, you know. And of course, back then, you know, I must have had some kind of weird crystal ball, because obviously software has become a huge deal these days. But you know, I just thought it'd be a great way to express my own creativity, and I eventually got into this business deep and hard.

I graduated with a couple of degrees in computer science, computer engineering, and launched a career that by all external measures, looked perfect. You know, every year with raises and promotions and stock options and greater title and greater authority and bigger teams to run, and all That kind of stuff. And you know my parents were very proud of me. My wife was very happy with the life I was providing for all of us and our family, and yet, there was this other line. And by my mid-30s, I looked ahead 30 years and I said,

I can't do this anymore. I certainly can't do it for another 3 decades and survive.”

Because while the world success looked great from the outside, what I was seeing on the inside was chaos, bureaucracy, blown budgets, missed deadlines, poorly run, poorly managed projects. Ones I was leading, so I mean this was, you know, me looking at me saying, “I'm maybe I'm not cut out for this. Maybe it's just not the right thing for me. Maybe I'm not smart enough.” But then, as I surveyed my industry, you know the software, technology industry, I found my story was a common one. And so, I faced an important juncture at that moment in my mid-30s, where I thought, hey, I really contemplated getting out. I just didn't want to be here anymore. But the road less travelled was,

But what if you could do things differently? What if you could change the way things do, and produce a different kind of result?”

And that became my all-consuming thought at that point in my life.

00:05:45 Andy Goram

And today the kernel of joy that was somewhere back in the recesses of your brain, has gone on to produce something quite incredible. Where in that whole kind of, almost despair that you describe, where was the kernel of thought that talked about joy, particularly, Rich? Where did that come from?

00:06:06 Rich Sheridan

Yeah, there were a few moments for me, Andy. One kind of frightening moment, actually, given the delta between the initial thought and where things actually happened. When I was still a student here at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, where we reside and our company is, just outside of Detroit, I had this dream, as a student. I was 20 years old, and I thought, “You know what? I know what I want in my career. I want to be in an energized team, with a in a big open space, with lots of human energy and camaraderie and teamwork and collaboration.” I could even picture it. Like right down to the kind of building we were going to be in. And I just, maybe boxed that up and put it on a shelf in the back of my mind while I pursued all the busyness of life, right? Getting married? Buying a house? Having three daughters, you know, building a career, going through everything all of us go through in life.

And there was this moment, walking into Menlo in about 2007. So, we're talking, you know, at this point now, almost 20 years gap between that initial thought of that young college student walking in Menlo and it was like,

“Boom! Congratulations! That dream you had as a 20-year-old has now manifested itself and you've done it. Way to go!”

And it was so crazy, 'cause I thought, “I haven't been like carefully pursuing this. There was like some silent driver in the back of my head that was pointing me in this direction.

The “joy” word came up a little later. It had always been in our mission statement. Really from like day one in Menlo. We started the company in 2001. So, we’ve just passed our 20th birthday which is remarkable.

00:07:54 Andy Goram

Hey, congratulations!

00:07:56 Rich Sheridan

Thank you. And I will tell you, given the last two years, it feels particularly remarkable.

00:08:01 Andy Goram

What a two years!

00:08:04 Rich Sheridan

But, in our mission where we talk about ending human suffering in the world as it relates to technology. Which I think, in the early days, it was a little bit tongue in cheek, but it was always seriously there. We sat down, and at the bottom of the mission statement, we want to return joy to one of the most unique endeavours mankind has ever undertaken - the invention of software. And we really believe that software is just different, right? It's intangible in some ways. But I didn't really focus on the word joy until about 10 years into Menlo, when somebody started poking at me about Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” message. And they said, “You know, what is your why?” And I realised our why was that joy piece.

We wanted to return joy, to an industry that had lost its joy.

00:08:51 Andy Goram

And when you were thinking around that joy concept, Rich, what's the definition of joy, for you? And for me, as a kind of guy who still can't get away from an old marketing hat, did the joy start with customer in mind, or did you start internally with your people? What's that journey like?

00:09:10 Rich Sheridan

Yes, well, the first time I started talking about joy, people would ask me that question,

Where does this joy come from for you?”

And I will tell you it's fairly easy for me to say, but I’ll tell you, there's two versions of this story too.

When I started digging deeper, I found that much more, uh, sort of existential part of the joy for me personally. But when I talk about joy at Menlo, it's fairly easy to define. We want to delight the people we intend to serve. That the joy for us comes from creating software that delights people. That, you know, is easy to use, works reliably every single day. And we give the team, our team, the chance to work with that kind of pride. And that's what I was missing, for me early on in my career, right?

So, those who don't know the software industry well, and think we're the shining city on the hill, which most people do think about that with the high-tech industry. We are not. We are full of turmoil on the inside. We work on things that never see the light of day. Some people spend years working on stuff that just gets pushed off the side of the boat into the ocean. And it's depressing. To work on, to spend years of your life working on something that never sees the light of day. And so, for me, I wanted to give our team a chance as Demming (W. Edwards Demming) you know, the famous quality guru, would say, we wanted to give our team a chance to work with pride. To work on things that actually got done, got delivered to the world and delighted the people they intended to serve, so much that people would come back later and say, “I love this software.” And we've been able to do that over 20 years. It's been remarkable.

But for me, personally, when I really started digging deeper, I got back to a much earlier version of me. And when I was ten, my parents went out for dinner and a movie. And my Mum had bought today's equivalent of an IKEA bookshelf, right? It was out in the garage, in a cardboard box. Mum wanted it in the living room. And my 10-year-old inner engineer kicked in, and I went out in the garage, and I built this 8-foot wide, 6-foot tall, 50 pieces of wood, 200 little nuts, bolts and screws, bookshelf for my Mum, right? And I was so proud of myself. And then it dawned on me.

No! Mum wants it in the Living Room. You built it in the garage!

And so, I inched that thing out of the front of the garage, down the sidewalk, into the house, right in the living room where Mom wanted it. I set up her Knick-knacks, set up my Dad's books, wired up the stereo. When they walked in the door, I had my Mum’s favourite album playing. And she cried.

00:11:47 Andy Goram


00:11:48 Rich Sheridan

And for me, that defines joy for a human being. Service to others. When the work of your heart, your hands and your minds is done to serve others with delight. And for me, that's where the joy comes from here at Menlo. The ability to delight others with the work that happens in the room behind me here.

00:12:09 Andy Goram

I just love that. I mean that's a beautiful answer to a simple enough question about customer or employee. And ones with the focus in mind, the others an outcome, right? The pleasure and the joy that you get from doing the thing that you do, that somebody else really enjoys and takes on and it helps them. And to your earlier purpose point, you know, changes their world for the better.

00:12:36 Rich Sheridan

Yep. And you know, and all of us have this opportunity. Like in everything we do, there is that service-oriented approach.

00:12:46 Andy Goram

And I wanted to dig into that because if I look at Joy Inc., and what people say about the book and why people come to Menlo, people can fall into the trap that thinking this is, you know another sort of Lean / Kaizen thing, and it's just for software developers. And if you don't understand tech, what are you doing? And I don't get the sense of that. For me personally, this is far more about, I guess leadership. Yes, there's the continuous incremental improvement pieces, but there's this respect for people. There's taking pride in your work. There's a much bigger ecosystem at play here, when we talk about Joy. Have I read that right, Rich or do you take another view?

00:13:27 Rich Sheridan

Absolutely. Yes, we did this in the context of a software company. But the principles underlying this, of teamwork and collaboration and trust and human relationships and human energy and empathy for those we serve. And you know and caring for each other. They're universal principles. They don't apply just to... we just happened to apply it in the context of a software company.

00:13:51 Andy Goram

And I think that's really interesting, because that word “human”, it just keeps on coming up so much. And I'm so pleased that it's far more in business parlance today. But if you look back to those 20 years ago, Rich, in the software industry, I mean was, was it a very human place or was it a real process-driven place?

00:14:10 Rich Sheridan

Oh God No! It wasn't. It was neither. It was chaos, right? I mean, the software industry is one... I mean... everybody so used to the term 24/7, right? It really makes sense, right, 24/7. That was a work schedule. That term actually came out of the software industry. You're working 24/7 and it wasn't three shifts. This was the same people. We were killing ourselves and producing incredibly bad quality while doing it.

Yeah, most people forget now because things have gotten so much better in the industry in general, the blue screen of death. Microsoft Operating Systems, right. Now, let me tell you where that led to for the rest of the industry, because Microsoft took off like a rocket. It was one of the biggest early high-tech stories there. And so, for all the rest of us who weren’t at Microsoft, when we would try and argue for,

Could we spend a little more time and make sure what we ship is actually going to work for people, and is actually going to work at all, and not going to have lots of errors that are going to cause people to call you know, upset and angry, and you know firefighting galore?”

The bosses, the executives, the shareholders, the investors would all be like, “Well, you know Microsoft has shipped stuff that doesn't work and look at how big they are.” And we're like, “OK. Number one, we're not Microsoft. Number 2, I don't think they like it either, right, that they're shipping crappy quality and it just screws up all the time. And quite frankly, software is way too important now.” Yes, it's in everything. Back then it just didn't matter as much if you lost your Word document. You could go back to the typewriter if you needed to. We can't do that anymore.

And so, it became this accepted norm, that chaos is the way. Ship stuff, we'll fix it later. Don't worry about screwups, don't worry about delivering stuff that doesn't, you know, isn't usable by regular human beings. We'll fix it later. Well, I'll tell you later, never ever came for most of us. And that became the norm in my industry. And that's why I was thinking of getting out in my 30s. 'Cause I thought, you know what, I'd come home after long days and my wife looked at tired me and say, “Honey, you look really tired. Did you get a lot done today?”

And I'd say, “No. I got nothing done today.”

And she’s like, “You don't look happy.”

And I'm like, “I'm not.”

She said, “What are you going to do about it?

And I said, “I don't know.”

And that was that was my mid-career. That was my sort of existential career crisis where I was thinking I got it just... if I'm going to keep me alive, I gotta get out and I chose this crazy change process. Now I'll tell you, one of the books I read way back in the early 80s, was “Megatrends” by John Nesbitt, OK? And one of his famous quotes that I just loved it then and I love it even more 'cause I think it's more meaningful today than it’s ever been is, “The greatest advancements that are going to occur in the 21st century” now, he was writing this back in the 80s, Ok? He's projecting. He's a futurist,

The greatest advances are going to occur in the 21st century are not going to occur because of technology, but because of a greater understanding of what it means to be human.”

00:17:28 Andy Goram

Wow! Wow!

00:17:30 Rich Sheridan

Well, and for me, that's what this is all about. That's why you and I are connected. That's why you and I are talking, because it's all about the humans.

00:17:41 Andy Goram

100% agree with that, my friend. And in the face of all that chaos in an industry, where did you start taking it apart and doing something different? I mean, 'cause... it starts with one day you walk in and do something different, right? What was that for you?

00:18:00 Rich Sheridan

Yeah, and for me it was this combination of a few things that all happened in close proximity and probably 15 years of just reading and preparing my mind for when this magical kind of two weeks happened.

Uhm, it was clear that I now understood where I was going. And so the three events were I met a guy. James Goebel, who is now my co-founder here at Menlo. He was a consultant at the time. I was bringing him in to do some fairly mundane things for my technical team. He was going to teach them this new way of working, he and his other consultants. But James was the lead consultant, he was going to teach my programmers how to do this technical, new thing called object-oriented software development. OK? That was all the rage back in the late 90s. So that's why I was bringing James in, to teach them a new way of technically working, 'cause I thought, hey, that's what we need. We needed just a new way of developing software that will make everything better, right? And then I saw a video on an industrial design firm in California called Ideal. And Nightline, one of the famous night-time television news shows, did an episode on Ideal. Watching them do design work, which was critical to my path forward because I knew, you know. Remember we are in an industry, still to this day that calls the people we serve, stupid users. And then we write dummies books for those poor people.

00:19:36 Andy Goram

That's so true, right?

00:19:38 Rich Sheridan

Right? And it's like... and my thought was it shouldn't be that way, you know? How many times have you heard anybody say, “Could you dumb that down for me?” You know, “I'm just a stupid user, could you dumb it down?” No! If we're going to make software work for humans, guess what? We need to smarten up the software. We don't need to dumb down the people using the software.

00:19:59 Andy Goram

Yeah, yeah.

00:20:00 Rich Sheridan

OK, so this video convinced me there was a better way of attaching to the humans through a design process, which now is called Design Thinking and we have a part of Menlo we call High Tech Anthropology, which is all about studying any humans. OK, so there was James Goebel. There was that Ideal video, and then I read a book by an equally frustrated programmer named Kent Beck, who started talking about a new way of approaching software work that he dubbed “Extreme Programming”. And it was just a different way of working. And one of the concepts in the book just blew my mind when I first got it. So much, like, “OK, I can't do that, but I could probably do the other stuff he's talking about.” He was talking about putting two people, together, on one computer. A technique now called paired programming, which we have used for the entire 20 years Menlo. But meeting James, seeing that video, reading that book, all happened within just a few weeks of one another. And James came back to me at some point, remember he's a consultant. I'm paying him lots of money. He's got programmers to do this one new thing. And he asked me the question that has defined our relationship ever since. He said,

What problem are you trying to solve?”

Like what? I said, “James, the problem is my programmers don't know how to do object orientated development.” He goes, “Rich. That might be a solution, but it is certainly not a problem.” And so, he and I got into this really interesting discussion. Almost a philosophical discussion about what I really wanted from my career, and he looked at me, says, “Well, the thing you hired me to do then, isn't going to solve that problem.” All the things I was just talking about, right, yeah? He and I began a journey back when I was VP of R&D at this tired old public company. And over the next two years, based on those discussions that happened in a very short period of time, James and I reinvented that tired old public company into something that looks like Menlo does today. It took six months, and then we got to run it for two years and then the whole thing fell apart when the .com bubble burst. And while I lost everything; stock options went to zero, paycheck went away, key didn’t work on the front door of the building anymore. They couldn't take away what James and I had learned in those two years. And we started Menlo with the learnings of those two years. It was like we got a chance, unlike most would ever have in their careers, to build the prototype for our company. And that's why we launched Menlo.

00:22:37 Andy Goram

And so, when, and we mentioned in the intro, people come from far and wide to take a tour, often you’re the tour guide, around Menlo, what are the principles, the characteristics that Menlo is built on today that people come and want to see for themselves?

00:22:54 Rich Sheridan

Yeah, I think what they're coming for, is some lessons around what it takes to build an intentionally joyful culture. And what they really want, and I think this is what they get when they come here is, you know you can listen to podcasts, you can attend conferences, you can read books, you can hear presentations at conferences by speakers like me, and you get excited. But every once in a while somebody wakes up and says, “I want to see an actual example of this at work. Could I see just one example?” And that's what we became. Not that we're the only example in the world where people can go and visit, but it's still rare to be able to get on an airplane, go spend a few days, step inside of a company and see everything. And see this living breathing example. Get a chance to interact. And I will tell you, when they walk in the front door that's just right over there, and I'm often walking in with them, the first word out of their mouth is, “Wow!”

Because even in our sort of COVID depleted people in the rooms, where most people are working at home, there is still a palpable, human energy in the room. And people feel it. And right from that moment of first stepping in the door. And there's a lot of visual stuff here, and they want to see how we manage stuff, they want to see how we, you know, how we run the team. They want to see everything we do and we're willing to share all that with them. But I think that what they're looking for right off the bat is, can I actually feel it? They do when they walk in the door. It is the most common word I hear when people walk in our front doors, “Wow!”

00:24:45 Andy Goram

It's such an easy thing to forget over the last two years. That feeling of being around other humans with a shared purpose in mind. And I can only liken it to getting back into training rooms or facilitation rooms, where I'm helping with some leadership development or I don’t know, Values Discovery. I thought that I was a pretty good empath, Rich, doing zoom calls and interacting with people and making them feel good. I almost burst into tears when I went back into the room with people again because you're right. That feeling that you get from being around others, it's like turning everything up full Technicolor on your TV, after only having black and white, right?

00:25:31 Rich Sheridan

Yes! That’s a great analogy.

00:25:32 Andy Goram

It's huge. And I guess, when people come to a place where they think there's going to be guys in pods, tapping on computers, writing software and deathly silent because they need to concentrate; they come to your place, with wide-open space, guys sat together, chatting, working stuff through. That's just not what they expect.

00:25:55 Rich Sheridan

Right, yes, I mean this is the antithesis. To be fair and I want to channel, you know, some amount of your audience, we have one of those vilified, open office environments, right? You know, Fast Company magazine described our kind of space as,

An idea born in the mind of Satan, in the deepest cavern of Hell.”

And if any of your audience says, I'd like to get the argument against open office spaces, then there's more of them today than there’ve ever been. I got all the books. I've got all the articles, but I would also say, then don't come and visit us, because your mind's going to do yet another flip.

And now, we went through pandemic just like everybody else did. We all went home and we had to figure out how do we keep all of those pieces and parts alive, even when we're all apart from one another? And what we realised very quickly, is while we did indeed need to be apart physically to be safe in health, we didn't need to be apart socially. Social distancing just didn't make sense to us. It's not the right term. Physical distancing? Absolutely. Being apart, being safe in our homes and offices so we are, you know, safe at home, away from the office is so we could remain healthy and not get this insidious virus, that was critical right. But we continued to modify and extend. And quite frankly the tours started up again very quickly after the Pandemic. But they were all virtual, right? And now we have thousands of people coming virtually from all over the world to see how we adjusted. How we adapted.

And we're now in this third phase of Menlo. If the first phase was the part we've been talking about. Second phase was Pandemic Menlo. The third phase is, what is it going to be like post-pandemic? Because there are things you and I and everybody have learned that we can't unlearn. There're things we've seen, we can't unsee. We will be a much more flexible workplace going forward than we've ever been.

00:27:59 Andy Goram

What does that look like for you, Rich? Have you and the guys sort of worked it through? Are you still trying to sort of get the best of both worlds?

00:28:07 Rich Sheridan

Just like everybody else right now, I mean, here we are in the middle of, you know, and then the big question on everybody's minds is, is this a dip before the next surge or are we really done? So, the way I've described this to the team is, our three-step plan, like many have, is right now we're in the phase of some people in the office some of the days, and who comes in and how many days, they get to decide. Roundabout early April we're going to be, most people are in the office some of the days. So setting up an expectation balance that says, “Hey, look, we want you to come in 1, 2, 3 days a week. You decide. We're not setting a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule. Nothing like that, just you decide. We can make it work both ways.”

There will come a point again, you know, without being able to predict the future, I will just say trends continue the way they are, we'll be at the point where most people will come in, most days. And again, the word “choices” is a careful one. We want to presume flexibility.

Somebody has to stay home for the cable guy. If we have a snowy day here in Ann Arbor, like we do in the wintertime, and kids are home from school and you want to work from home, you don't have to take a day off to do that, if you can make it work at home. You know my co-founder's off today because a family member needs some sort of in-person support, but he can still work. That's the way it's going to be going forward. We're going to have that flexibility. And I think will be healthier because of it.

00:29:39 Andy Goram

I'm sure you will be. I mean in your mind at the moment, do you... when people are coming together, are you focusing on the creativity?

00:29:47 Rich Sheridan

No, I think there's two big things we get out of being in closer physical proximity to one another. Number one is just, I think people underappreciate what kind of serendipity engine the human mind is. Yeah, you overhear something like. “Oh! That's a great idea” and it turns out, guess what? You didn't even overhear, what you thought you overheard.

00:30:10 Andy Goram

So true.

00:30:10 Rich Sheridan

You heard it wrong and it put a new idea in your head, that was a solution to a problem you've been fighting with all morning, right? That's... you don't get that when there's just two of us on a Zoom screen together.

00:30:21 Andy Goram

So true.

00:30:23 Rich Sheridan

Overhear others. The second thing and this is way more important. And this is the part even... we've hired a bunch of people during the Pandemic who've never been an in-person Menlo, so they don't even get this part yet. Help arrives without asking for help. Because what will happen is, two people in a room, will be like this (staring into space). And all of a sudden others are gathering, and say,

Hey, what's going on?”

What do you mean what's going on?”

Well, you look like you're stuck.”

Well, I mean we're not stuck, we're thinking about...”

Oh! Really? What are you thinking about?”

Well, we don't know how to solve this problem.”

Oh! So you need help solving the problem? Why don't we talk about it, right?”

Help arrives without asking for help.

00:31:08 Andy Goram

So easy to forget those things. So easy to forget that environment. And people often talk about, “Oh, you don't get the water cooler chats” and all that kind of stuff, but it's more than that.

00:31:20 Rich Sheridan

We almost have to get down to basic Physiology of how are human beings constructed, right. And I would say a lot of people look at us and go, “So you must hire a bunch of extraverts.” Oh no God no. I mean, if we have too many extraverts and not saying we don't want extraverts either, but there was probably a limit switch on extroversion here that would wreck the place. Because people would be in chit-chat mode all day. “Hey, what's going on this weekend, how are you doing?” I mean we’ve got one guy in the team who everybody dearly loves. But if the room was filled with Andrews, we'd all go crazy. And even Andrew would probably go crazy. And so what people want, I think you know, and again, I'm not an expert on this, I've just had 20 years of watching this. So, my observations are filled with practicality of having watched it for 20 years. That introverts don't prefer sensory deprivation in isolation. What they prefer are fewer, safer, deeper relationships with other people, and they get that here. And you know, at the beginning of the Pandemic, I think it was a bit of an Introvert's Paradise. But over time the loneliness and the isolation, starts to lead to mental health issues. And it's sort of like a tax bill that's coming due. And you know, after a while you start to realise, no, we humans are wired to be in concert with one another, collaboration with one another. You know that human energy, that camaraderie.

I mean, I had a guy, who worked for us for the end of his career. You know it's like he worked up to 65 and then he retired. So, he ended his career at Menlo, and Dan was his name. And he said one day, he said,

I have never worked in a place that has had as much of laughter as I hear at Menlo.”

And you realise that laughter is really an important part of our humanity. It's where we let off steam. It's where we poke fun at ourselves. It's where we get enough sarcasm and cynicism about the thing we're fighting against. That we can actually not take ourselves too seriously, so, we can let off that steam and move on to the next thing. It just portends to a relationship. I don't think people can laugh easily with other human beings if they don't have relationships with them.

00:33:44 Andy Goram

Well, absolutely. I think... I'm recently qualified in some personality profiling stuff, and I love that world. I mean, it's just a fascinating world. And the more you scratch at the surface, the more you understand. And not just the self-awareness thing, but the whole intentional relationships. And I think your use of the word intentional, within your “intentionally creating joyful environments” is so important, right?

Because I think bringing people together for a purpose, and to your point, loads of extraverts and happy-clappy and everybody chatting away... That's just fun, right? We're talking about having some purpose behind that, and that's a great thing. A really, really good thing. But you need balance. You really need balance.

00:34:26 Rich Sheridan

Well, if you want happy-clappy, you go to the bar at night. This is about work.

00:34:31 Andy Goram

Yeah, we’ve got work to do.

00:34:33 Rich Sheridan

This is... I mean, at the end of the day you'd love, I mean, again, this is probably... this is going to be the attractive force of Menlo for the people come and join us is, “I want to go to work. I want to work hard. I want to go home tired, feeling I got meaningful things actually done.”

00:34:57 Andy Goram


00:34:58 Rich Sheridan

No started. Not running from one thing to the next. Not the chaos of, you know, interruptions all day long and flexing from that multitasking and all that kind of stuff, which is what my early career was. Like when I'd come home tired, I’d got nothing done. Which is debilitating. But the ability to go to work and get meaningful things actually done, where you feel like you're making a contribution to mankind, to humanity, to your clients, to the people who end up using your work, that's what we want. We want to feel like... you know the fact of the matter is true today, more true then it's probably ever been, in order to do meaningful things in today's society as complex as it is, and as many choices as we all want and everything, we need teams of human beings working together. There are very few opportunities for individual heroism in business. In fact, we strip away the heroic part of Menlo, we make it about the team.

00:35:54 Andy Goram

And I'm such an easy sell on this stuff, Rich. I mean, I've said how much I was enjoying, waiting to speak to you and it's been brilliant, and is brilliant talking to you, but do you ever get people kind of scoff at the whole idea of a joyful workplace? Do you get people kind of going, this is nuts. And what are the sort of things they're asking you or saying to you, and how do you respond?

00:36:21 Rich Sheridan

Every single day. No question. I mean I just saw it on Twitter the other day, and they were copying me and every one of them. And one of the guys who is somebody I have deep respect for said,

Yeah, I wish he hadn't chosen the word Joy. You know, describe in some other way.”

And I get it. I understand it, you know. And somebody else, you know who doesn't know me at all, says, “Well, I'm guessing it's joy for him. You know the founder of the owner, blah blah blah, but you know probably not for the team.” And like, I don't think you could possibly produce joy in the world, without having joy in the room.

But here's the thing, and this is, you know, again, I've differentiated these words, this isn't about happiness. We're happy from time to time. Nowhere near every single day, right? Yeah, that wouldn't even make sense, right? The work we do, like most people, is really hard work. We gotta fight with clients. We've gotta fight on behalf of customers. We have to, you know, we have the hard work. We had to go through the Pandemic and economic effects. We have to bind together as a team. Those are not happy moments. The joy is a much longer arc. The Joy arc is one that says, we did good work together. We made a difference in the world with the efforts of this team, with the processes we use, with the culture we built, with the people we've hired, how we’ve taken care of them. But this joyful outcome is what we're looking for. We want people to come back later and say, “I love the software you created. Thank you. You made my life better.” Because this... that's where the joy comes from for us.

And I think a lot of people get really confused about that. They're thinking it's somebody like Rich bouncing in every day with rainbows and unicorns. You know sparkly lights. And look, I'm an optimistic guy. You know they often say Chief Optimist here as well. And my co-founder James is the Chief Realist. He doesn't even distinguish optimism and realism, and I get that. And you know, and the fact of the matter is, we have to operate in reality, every single day. Uh, But the optimistic part of me says we can do better. We can be a better team. Together we can work on hard problems. And we have the same problems everybody else has. These are regular human beings that come in our door every single day. They got things that's going on at home. They've got things in their past life. They've got things going on today. Something went wrong with a car or kid or something like that. All of that stuff is operable in every human being. And it affects our lives in every single way. The question is,

Do you have a culture that can work on those problems sooner, so we don't blaze out of control.”

You know, do we... do we care for one another? Do we pay attention to how we're feeling, or do we you know if can we shore up another person who's having a bad day, right? It's one of the things we get out of pairing as well. Is this idea that, “Hey! Look! If you're having a bad day, how about if I carry the load?” Now, if you’re having a bad day every day, I should be looking at you saying, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help you.” We should care for each other enough to pay attention to how each other’s feeling.

00:39:31 Andy Goram

I think that comes back to that whole human message, and this is one of the reasons I really love the whole joy stuff, and I love the word, because it's not about everybody having fun. I think this is another thing that people get confused about in the whole engagement stuff. It's all about bean bags and beer, and like you say unicorns and confetti. And the hard reality of all this stuff is we want businesses to be successful. Because if they're successful, people have jobs and we can go on improving. We can do more great stuff for customers. You can be more successful. You can have a better home life. You can have all those things. We gotta get stuff done. And for me that outcome of engagement, or in your case the outcome of joy is that fulfilment you get from really understanding what it is we're trying to do here. Why we're doing it? Why it's important and the impact that we have on others, right? I think that to me is the whole point.

00:40:26 Rich Sheridan

We're 20 years in, we've never had a ping pong table. We've never had a beanbag chair. None of that. Now, on the other side of that, dogs? We'll have one to three dogs in the office, every day. There's something about the empathy of a dog that really lifts the spirit of the team. And babies. Yeah, we have this crazy thing in our culture that says, if you want to bring your newborn to work, bring them to work. And we've had 26 Menlo babies in the last 14 years. And it’s not a day-care. The baby’s actually with the parent. They usually come in about 3 months old and stay until they're about seven months old. And people... I mean, there's some people who are like,

Are you kidding me? Like babies? Screaming babies in the room?”

If they were screaming babies, they wouldn't be in the room. And we've had a couple of them, that the parents decided, you know what? This isn't working. And I get that. Parents always are going to make the right decision. You just gotta trust that the parents going to make the right decision on it.

But you know what? The little ones, you know they like, they love the human energy of the room.

00:41:28 Andy Goram

Yeah, I bet. Yeah, I bet.

00:41:29 Rich Sheridan

Right? Just like, Oh my God, it's you know... the most.... You know I remember, one of the Mums once she's like, “Oh yeah, I gotta go. You know I can't bring the baby anymore.” You know it's probably about seven months old, because little Maggie, who was actually the first Menlo baby, she discovered at one point, if she let out what we eventually called Dolphin sounds, like just this squeal of delight in the room, and she would just do it at the top of her lungs, and the whole team would just roar in laughter. And it didn't take her, but two or three of those to connect the dots between, “I did that.”

00:42:03 Andy Goram


00:42:05 Rich Sheridan

When I do the squeal, they laughed” and she just started squealing like all the time, and the team would laugh every time. And finally, Tracy, the Mum said, “OK, it's probably time for Maggie now to finally go to daycare.”

00:42:19 Andy Goram

That's wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I say this every time, I've just looked at my timer and I'm like what? Where on Earth has the time gone in talking to you, Rich? I know I could sit and listen to you and your stories for hours and not even notice that day had turned in tonight. But before I reluctantly let you go, can I ask you to think about this point in the show we call Sticky Notes. So, I like to leave my listeners three practical, small pieces of advice you could stick on a sticky note, right? That they could take away, and if they're in a difficult spot, maybe back like you were in the original days and they're thinking about this joy, this engagement stuff and wanted to make a change, what are the three pieces of advice you would give them, Rich?

00:43:07 Rich Sheridan

Here's some sticky notes that's the anti-version, OK, just so we're clear. You can write these write these on a different colour sticky note.

If you want to suck the human energy out of an organisation, there's a simple three step process.

Number one have lots of meetings. Number two do not make any decisions in those meetings, and #3 if per chance by mistake you happen to make a decision that's OK, but do not act on it and you will pull the life out of your organisation, OK?

The antithesis of that is, take action, over take a meeting. Try stuff. What we like to say here, it's a very common phrase of Menlo, run the experiment. And what I love about the word experiment is this; If you call it an experiment, rather than we're going through a policy change, we're going to shift to something. No, it's just an experiment. Guess what? It may not work. If it doesn't, that's OK. At least we tried something. We learned something. Run the darn experiment.

00:44:09 Andy Goram

Just brilliant advice and I cannot thank you enough for your time today, Rich. It was so worth the wait for me. I'm sure it would have been worth the wait for my listeners as well. Yeah, just amazing. Thank you so much for your time, my friend.

00:44:22 Rich Sheridan

Thank you, Andy. I can't wait to see you in person someday and share a pint.

00:44:27 Andy Goram

I am so looking forward to that. I'm sure Perry is too. I will stick it in my diary, no question at all.

Well, look, you take care, my friend. Thank you very much for your time.

00:44:36 Rich Sheridan

Take care, Andy.

00:44:38 Andy Goram

Well, that was Rich Sheridan. If you'd like to find out a bit more about him, about Menlo and all the joyful stuff, please check out our show notes.

00:44:53 Andy Goram

That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like, comment and subscribe. It really helps.

I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the sticky from the Inside podcast until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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