Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan, Portfolio, 288 pages, $27.95, Hardcover, December 2013, ISBN 9781591845874
Depending on whom you ask, joy in the workplace may or may not be considered crucial to an organization’s bottom line. More traditional workplace strategies first focus on what’s “best for the company,” with benefits to employees seen as peripheral. Joy can be had, certainly, but it’s not often considered the company’s responsibility to provide it to employees because it’s not considered profitable. But, what if increased joy actually led to higher productivity, increased quality, and greater profitability? This is exactly what Richard Sheridan describes in Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love.
At forty years old, Richard Sheridan exhibited the benchmarks of what many consider success. From the outsider’s perspective, things were going very well: newly minted VP of R&D at one of Michigan’s premier publicly-traded software companies, excellent salary, and generous stock options. But Rich was not happy stepping into his new role as VP. His programmers couldn’t communicate with end users and clients, the frequent bugs were always someone else’s problem, and missing a deadline was status quo. In short, work wasn’t fun and it wasn’t anything to take pride in. For several years, Rich was increasingly unhappy—often even taking long, scenic drives to work simply to spend less time in the office. Sheridan’s new role precipitated a serious crisis of being. In his words:
There had to be a better way to do things, a better way to work and manage a team. Though I had no firm idea of what I was looking for, I was convinced there was a solution out there for my existential crisis and that I’d know it when I saw it.
What follows is Sheridan’s tale of rediscovery, especially unique because his journey starts with joy—the same joy that struck him at the age of 13 after writing his first two simple lines of code. Joy, Inc. takes us through a wide array of organizational aspects in which Sheridan’s company, Menlo Innovations, has thrown out the industry SOPs and simply recreated systems that work, keeping their people happy and their output excellent. From the completely open workspace (literally no walls aside from the perimeter) to the simple-yet-clear strategies for communication and work, Joy Inc. offers up Menlo Innovations as an engrossing case study on workplace structure and operations.
Even though Joy, Inc. is born from the story of a software company, the lessons inside can transfer to almost any workplace. And, even though creating software is Rich Sheridan’s original joy, Joy, Inc. is written by a manager for other managers. Echoing Simon Sinek’s famous sentiment, Sheridan echoes the importance of finding your why. Starting with why is an easy step, and if you’re reading this, you’ve likely already agreed. What Joy, Inc. does is remind us that our why—whether personal or organizational—shares close kinship with a need for joy.