Rich Sheridan on Leading with Joy

Rich Sheridan is the CEO of Menlo Innovations and the author of Joy, Inc. and Chief Joy Officer. As opening keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, he inspired us all with his uncommon approach to leadership and productivity in the modern workplace.

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Rich for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Rich’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

How do you tie joy to values and guiding principles?

First we define joy … quite clearly. We ask, then answer two simple questions: Who do you serve? What would delight look like for them?

Thus we align our joy with deeply satisfying those we serve. In other words, we don’t make it about us.

We declared we want to “end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.” Our primary focus are the end users of the software we are designing and building. We don’t believe we can do this with a team that doesn’t care of itself and each other. Thus, we speak in our guiding principles about how we wish to “Create meaningful, positive human impact. Always demonstrate integrity and authenticity. And act in a way that expresses care, hope, love and joy.”

What’s the best way to convince my boss to try experiments on projects?

My suggestion is to first try to see the world through your boss’s eyes. What are the likely challenges that he or she faces? How are the experiments you are running or suggesting going to help your boss with his/her goals? If you happen to have copies of either of my books available, refer to the index and read all the pages where I talk about Bob Nero, who was my CEO at Interface Systems, Inc. When I better learned to see the world through his eyes, he became VERY supportive of all the experiments I was running.

Does leadership require passion in what they do to be successful?

I believe there are many different ways to lead. We don’t all need to be energized cheerleaders. I feel what is more important is to be your authentic self and truly, passionately BELIEVE in the systems and practices you are creating. Your team will have a finely tuned sense of smell for this authenticity and belief. If they sense it, most will follow, especially if there is trust.

What role does mindset play in a team environment? 

Mindset, in general, is always going to be important. I love Carol Dweck’s work (described in her book Mindset).

Ultimately, we typically don’t make change if we don’t believe change is possible. However, behind just the mindset for change, we need to be open to actually trying things. As leaders, we also need to accept that when we do try things, we need to give some space that things will at first be cumbersome and slow. This is really hard once we are very good at something. It is hard to get back into learning mode. It can actually hurt our brains as our brains start to rewire themselves. A great book on practicing new techniques is Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata.

Besides the nature of the project, and the technical skills, what are other criteria that you use to pair up team members? And as I am sure it happened before, how do you overcome personality challenges? 

We overcome the personality challenges by practicing (constantly) how to work with other people. It helps so much that we pair every minute of every day and we switch the pairs frequently. (I don’t think you need to be as diligent about pairing as we are!). However, the essential ingredient is to practice working with various different kinds of people.

The next step is to practice how to give effective feedback to someone. This is why Crucial Conversations (the book byVitalSmarts) and Leadership and Self-Deception (by Arbinger) are so important to us.

Do you discuss this office environment in your onboarding or interview process for new employees? 

Not so much discuss, as immerse them in it. We offer public tours once a month and many of those interested in interviewing here will come to a public tour before they even declare they are interested. So they can see the office set up outside of an interview event. Our interview process itself is not an interview, but a group audition that simulates the work environment. We recently had 28 candidates come in for two hours. They’d paired with other candidates three times, working together on a shared exercise. Menlonians observed their work together and noted evidence (or lack thereof) of good kindergarten skills: do they play well with others, do they support the person sitting next to them, do they share?

This interview setup isn’t a surprise. We send them a detailed writeup of what to expect. When we introduce ourselves to the group, we tell  them we want them to succeed so we describe the things to avoid.

Does your organization have remote staff, and how do you incorporate them into this process? 

We have been running more and more experiments with remote staff (and remote clients whose team members often pair in with us). We don’t prefer remote work, but we are making it work. We use screen sharing, video and audio technology. It’s working OK. I think there are still improvements to be made. We’ve been running these experiments for about 4 years.

Recommendations on how to do reviews without setting team member against team member? 

My suggestion is to change the compensation process first to not feel like a zero sum game. Second make all review discussions about collaboration and teamwork rather than individual contributions. Did they help others around them succeed?

Understanding you can influence your own team and company. Have you had any conflicts when dealing with customers that are “old school” and very formal? How do you influence your customers?

ALL THE TIME!! Thanks for asking. We spend a lot of time up front (as much as they need) teaching not only how our system works, but WHY we do things the way we do them. We make deep use of storytelling to illuminate the problems we are trying to solve with the approaches we take. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s so much fun when the light goes on for our clients. 🙂 Once it goes on, it never goes off again!

Do you find your structure beneficial for remote workers? 

We skew towards an in-person culture and steer away from remote work. We do have some remote work (either temporarily due to some life events, or permanently due to a life change … one of our great team members married a girl from Moscow and moved there!).

We make it work. It’s just not ideal for the way we have chosen to work.

Can you talk a little about when you get furious, get curious?

This phrase reminds me of the part of Crucial Conversations (by VitalSmarts) called Master You Stories. I think we often get furious because something ends up going differently than we expected. If we assume good intent on the part of the person we are upset with then we can ask:  why would my valued colleague act this way? If we start asking questions like: Are you OK? Is there anything I did to upset you? Am I seeing the full picture? We can diffuse a whole bunch of “furious” feelings once we see the bigger picture.

Regarding the pairing concept: your presentation sparked an idea for me to run the experiment of pairing different roles together–people who are stakeholders in each other’s deliverables. Have you paired different roles together? If so, how’d it go? If not, why not? 

We often pair different roles together. It works just as well as pairing within the role. We even often pair our client team members (say a project sponsor with the Menlo project manager). It’s so much more effective than trading lengthy and misunderstood emails!

How do you go about changing an organization whose culture is ingrained with a sense of entitlement and “this is how we’ve always done it”? 

As Deming once said so delightfully … Change is not required. Survival is not mandatory. 🙂

I’d say, start small, stay hyper local. Change you first … makes changes in your immediately team, group or department. Read the stories of MassMutual, GE and the DTW McDonald’s for examples!

How do you create positive stability among teams with different ways and processes? 

Use simple, repeatable, measurable, visible systems to manage work. For us, we use 8.5” x 5.5” handwritten index cards to describe work. We then estimate the amount of time we need for each index card, then prioritize them to 40 hours of work per week/per person so that we are never overloading our team. We never let work “sneak in the back door”. It all must be handled this way. By keeping our system under control (with very simple tools) we can keep our work from getting out-of-control.

We then work hard to keep fear at bay. If someone shares bad news our pre-programmed reply is to say “thank you” with a smile! As we say, “fear doesn’t make bad news go away, it makes it go into hiding” and then we can’t manage it!

Which book is a good intro book of the ones you listed?

This might seem self-serving, but I’d suggest Joy. Inc. as an introduction as it ties all the pieces together. From there my suggestions will be about where you’d like to start!

For building better relationships, I’d start with Leadership and Self-Deception or Crucial Conversations.

For building better teams: Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

For better team players: Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player.

For better design: Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, and Alan Cooper’s The Inmates are Running The Asylum and the Nightline Youtube videos (Parts 1,2,3) of The Deep Dive about IDEO.

For system’s thinking: Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline – The Art of Practice of the Learning Organization. And John Gall’s The Systems Bible (or Systemantics).

Then I’d study Deming, Drucker, Schein, and Tom Peters.

I’ve now given you a lifetime of reading assignments!  🙂

Lisa Bodell on Simplification and Innovation

Lisa Bodell is the CEO of futurethink and the bestselling author of Why Simple Wins. As closing keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, she delivered a powerful message on how complexity is holding most of us back, and what we can do to get back to the work that really matters.

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Lisa for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Lisa’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

Should it always be so simple? What if the situation is really complex?

It should be as simple AS POSSIBLE. We use an acronym called M-U-R-A:

Minimal – Making something as minimal as possible is the one part of the definition everyone always knows. Simplicity makes you initially think of all the things you need to eliminate or streamline, but what you might not realize is why that’s so important. Of course, simplicity is a subtractive process. You can get more value from your company or employees by being more focused, more nimble. If we can get in the mindset that less equals value, that’s the very first step. But this is where most people stop; there is more to simplicity than just minimizing.

Understandable – Another element of simplification is to ensure something is as understandable as possible. This is about clarity — no acronyms, no jargon, no big words to sound important. Being ‘understandable’ means getting to the heart of what you mean quickly.

Repeatable – Next: simplicity involves being as repeatable as possible. This is about effectiveness through consistency — avoiding one-off efforts or customizing everything you do. We want to avoid reinventing the wheel each time we do something –this helps us save time, share learning, and ensure we’re repeating best practices. Think of it this way: it’s important that every time a pilot gets into a cockpit, they understand how to fly the plane because the experience is repeatable from plane to plane. And every time a brain surgeon operates, he knows the repeatable ‘best practices’ to use to ensure patient safety.

Accessible – Finally, simplicity is about making things as accessible AS POSSIBLE. This involves being more transparent and open to a wider audience to accomplish more things in an easier way – like Geico and Progressive Insurance did with their pricing models. Their customers are excited to work with them because they believe they are honest by sharing more of how their business works. Or opening up your code like Google does so others can help them create new offerings, or like IBM does with their Idea Jams – collaborating between employees to encourage the sharing of problems and ideas and building on each other’s knowledge to solve them faster, together.

These are the keys to simplicity: making something as MINIMAL, UNDERSTANDABLE, REPEATABLE, and ACCESSIBLE as possible. Notice that I tack the phrase “as possible” onto each element of the definition. I’m not arguing that everything needs to be a single line. That would be impossible, and not at all desirable, either. Albert Einstein famously argued: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Do you have an example where this didn’t work?

You mean where simplifying didn’t work? It *is* possible to oversimplify. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean: A group within GE set an ambitious goal of cutting down its contracts. They cut a 100-page contract down to 1 page which was fantastic. But they found they were now taking a lot of time explaining all the things they left out. They decided a 10-page contact – which was still a tremendous improvement – was better.

How do you balance simplifying complexity with assuring processes remain in control and the business does not drop into chaos? 

Simplify one area or thing at a time. Chaos will happen if everyone starts trying to simplify everything without knowing why. So define WHY you want to simplify (in service of what? More time with customers? Save money?), and then focus on one simplification area at a time – reports, meetings, etc.

How do you connect simplicity to the bottom line for a business, budgets? 

Simplification has tremendous impact on efficiency, and the bottom line. Per the recent Siegel+Gale simplification report: Customers are willing to pay a 6%+ price premium or MORE for companies that offer a simpler way to deal with them, they are 70% more likely to recommend you to others, and companies that were viewed as ‘simplified’ outperformed others in their category by 214%! Culture and Ethical benefits: 30% retention of your employees – because they are doing work that MATTERS. Those are the benefits, but you may also be asking how you MEASURE simplification to show its impact.

A few metrics:

Vision/Communication Metric: Decrease in time spent communicating on irrelevant social media channels
Structure Metrics – Increase in staff decision-making due to simplified org. structure
HR Metrics – Decrease in number of approval layers for hiring qualified candidates
Strategy/Planning Metrics – Decrease in number of approval committees
Operational Metric – Decrease in number of required sign-offs/signatures for approval
Product/Service Metric – Number of steps or layers removed from our product-development process
Meetings Metrics – Number of meetings eliminated; increase in time meeting with customers
Email/Calls/Voicemail Metrics – Decrease in volume of internal emails
Reports Metrics – Number of reports killed
Presentation Metrics – Amount of time saved by eliminating PPTs from internal meetings
Value of Staff Time Metrics – Number of activities eliminated to make room for new ones

Project Management is one of the most complex and procedure-oriented activities. What do you recommend for Project Managers to simplify? 

We practice EOS – eliminate, outsource, or simplify. First ask – is it necessary? If not, eliminate. If yes – can you outsource it or give it to another group/person to do? If not, can you simplify it? Reduce the steps, reduce the frequency, reduce the time, reduce the people or resources. Doing this with policies and procedures gets incredible results.

In an aging workforce environment, how do you change the culture to move it towards ‘simplification’? Thinking of situations where a lot of procedures are based on overcomplexity ‘to cover all the bases’ and ‘because we’ve always done it that way’.

Kill A Stupid Rule is a great way to question assumptions around ‘how work gets done’. It’s not that all rules are bad, it’s that many have outlined their time. ALL AGES enjoy kill a stupid rule because it moves a culture towards eliminating unnecessary things and opens a dialog to taking a new approach.

If we do the work that really matters to us personally, isn’t it likely that we will ignore or shortchange the work that must be done for the benefit of the company?

It’s not about the work that just matters to YOU, it’s the work that matters for the company and its strategic goals. Some work has to be done, but the issue is we spend far too much time on unnecessary work that isn’t getting us towards our collective goals. It’s the higher purpose work we want to get to, and if there are some necessary things we have to do in service of that, that’s fine. Your goal is to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t matter to anyone (you or the org).

Are there any good tools?

Yes! In my book (Why Simple Wins) and we sell a toolkit on Amazon with 13 tools to get started RIGHT NOW.

How do you ID the best chief simplifier?

For the past 10 years, I’ve helped leaders embrace simplification. The ones who are successful share these 6 traits:

Courage: When Dave Lewis became CEO at European grocery store Tesco in 2014, the company was struggling. Lewis recognized that shopping at Tesco had become a chore. Customers shopping for a single product—like ketchup, for example—were faced with dozens of brands, flavors, and types. Lewis hired a team and mandated them to cut the variety of products by 30 percent, from 90,000 items to 65,000. Lewis anticipated blowback from customers and from suppliers, but Lewis stayed true to his mission. A year later, the company’s first Christmas season beat financial expectations.

Minimalist mindset: To drive simplicity, leaders must understand the value of paring things back. They need to envision how a simpler company will be more efficient, productive, and profitable.  It’s easy to demand more, more, more, but what could it mean for your business if you sacrificed a third of your product offerings? We rarely see the harm in adding new functionality to a website, a new option to a service plan, or a new series of internal meetings. But those sorts of additions do have a cost, like overwhelming customers — even if it’s not readily apparent on a balance sheet.

Results orientation: Smart leaders know that successful simplification isn’t just about making do with less or making people do more with less. It’s about enabling employees to do more of the work they’re excited to complete.

Focus: Leaders with a simplicity mindset refuse to get bogged down by distractions. While simplicity benefits the company as a whole, it often challenges certain individuals and groups whose authority is rooted in inefficient and overly complex rules, processes, and systems.

Personal engagement: If hoping to instill an ethos of simplification, you need to exemplify, empower, and reinforce the behaviors associated with simplification. You eliminate redundancies, you kill stupid rules, you say ‘NO’ to meetings that you don’t need to attend. If you’re not prepared to simplify your own work environment, don’t direct those who work for you to strip things down.

Decisiveness: Leaders who are driving simplification lay aside the need to seek consensus. Complicated organizations tend to be overloaded with people who claim they can’t get things done because they need more time or analysis, or that some other department hasn’t signed off or another team hasn’t sent them the specs. Leaders operating in a simplicity mindset short-circuit those complaints. They make decisions quickly and cleanly, and they inspire those around them to do the same.

What about those of us who are not decision makers and stuck with “complexity”? How can we advocate “simplicity” to our management? Sometimes it is difficult to get people to change.

It could just be in the positioning of it. Simplification IS an efficiency exercise, which management LOVES. Kill a stupid rule is an excellent way to get them on board.

When you talk about 45% in meetings/23% doing email, shouldn’t these really be considered at least partially as productive time? Generally, we need to work with other people to come up with the best solutions.

Of course. I’m not saying ALL emails and meetings are bad. I’m saying that many of them aren’t necessary. The goal is to eliminate the self-imposed and unnecessary work to make more space to focus on the necessary ones.

How does one manage a change in a siloed organization that espouses innovation, but is encumbered by legacy structure?

Simplification starts on the ground level. The individual level. I strongly suggest to teams to simplify within their sphere of control first. You’ll get results, and others will soon want to follow your lead. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.

I can’t help but think this applies well to home and family life as well. Do you hear stories from people where they applied this at home? What is your favorite?

Absolutely. I tell people to try the exercises on their personal life. Especially the exercise on figuring out where to simplify your work/life. I discussed in my speech creating a t-chart, and on the left side, right down all the typical things you do in a week. Circle the ones that are valuable/meaningful to your life goals. If a task isn’t circles, why are you doing it? Can you stop doing it for awhile and see what happens? Often in our personal life we do things our of obligation that just suck our time and aren’t meaningful to us.  Then on the right side of the t-chart, list all thing things where you WISH you could spend you time. What holds you back from doing that?

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You

Originally published at

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You | Part 4: Culture Guest Blog Series

[Intro by admin Scott]

“In this interview, Rich Sheridan — founder of Menlo Innovations and author of the new book Chief Joy Officer — shares the trials and tribulations in cultivating and leading a positive work culture in an ever-changing business world.

I first met Rich Sheridan when we toured Menlo Innovations as part of a career transformation program I was leading in 2010, called “Shifting Gears.” I was taken with Rich’s passion for his team and their culture at Menlo as well as his authenticity, evident as he talked about their mistakes and the way they approached change by performing experiments with daily team-generated ideas

A culture conversation would not be complete without including Rich, and I’m excited to share some of his thoughts with you.”

Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

Menlo Innovations was launched on June 12, 2001, at the depth of the dot-com bubble burst. The decision to found an IT-services firm during the darkest day was born out of two basic ideas:

  • We had recently experienced a dramatically positive transformation of a public company, Interface Systems, where I was VP of R&D, and where co-founder James Goebel had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with me on creating that transformation. While the economic tragedy of the internet-bubble burst had caused us all to lose our jobs, this dramatic downturn couldn’t take away what we had learned in that transformation. We knew we could do it again. As I like to say, when the Titanic sank, it took a perfectly good engine room with it, and it wasn’t the engine room’s fault.
  • A downturn is actually an excellent time to start a business because everything — real estate, equipment, office furniture, you name it — is less expensive! There is also an abundance of available talent seeking work.

We wanted to bring to Menlo Innovations what we had experienced at Interface Systems: teamwork, energy, results and positive culture.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

Culture was a focus right from the start. We were all in the later stages of our careers and wanted to do something meaningful and compelling. We were past the life stage of simply needing a job. We knew we could all find a job. We wanted something we could build that would last and would have impact. Our belief is that an intentionally positive culture was the only way to do that, and intentionally positive cultures were rare. We wanted rare because it energized us and we knew it would energize our team and those whom we serve.

We started this focus by teaching our culture to others. We began offering all-day classes. It was one of our first offerings to teach our “Why” (namely, to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology and return joy to software) and our “How” (i.e., the processes and practices of the Menlo Software Factory).

Q: What are three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?


  • We instituted a brand-new way of hiring that we dubbed “Extreme Interviewing” which energized a very tired process in most organizations. We interview without reviewing resumes and without asking questions. Rather, we conduct an unusual audition.
  • We focused on the physical space of Menlo, and we got lucky and found a compelling wide-open space in which to build our team and practice that was consistent with the values we espoused of openness, transparency, teamwork and collaboration.
  • We opened our doors to tours so that people could come and see exactly what it was we’re describing in words. Those tours quickly increased to more than 1,000 visitors per year and now number between 3,000 and 4,000 per year.

What got in the way:

  • Our intention was to build a team that would operate in this compelling space that we had. Our early clients wanted our staff members to work at their locations. We agreed and started putting staff in several locations around Ann Arbor. This thwarted our ability to grow the culture we intended to build, because we just weren’t spending enough time with each other. Whenever a client engagement ended, half of the team that worked there would end up taking another job with another company.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through Menlo Innovations today?

The good news is that you could join the thousands who come every year from all over the world to see it firsthand. I often get to walk through our front door with visitors, hoping to catch their initial reaction. Typically, the first word out of their mouths is “Wow,” because they can feel the human energy of our team. You walk in and hear the noise of work, see people working shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at a shared computer and keyboard. You hear laughter. You’re likely greeted by a Menlo dog or two. You might hear the sound of a baby brought in by a parent that day. The space is bright, colorful and visual. Our most important artifacts are push-pinned to the wall, and draw the attention of our visitors. These artifacts include handcrafted posters with our most important cultural values, including a great Frank Zappa quote: ‘The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.’ They also see our famous work authorization boards which outline the daily and weekly project work of our team. The projects are described on handwritten index cards and their status is reported with colorful sticky dots, using strings of yarn to mark the current day in each plan so we instantly know whether we are ahead or behind without having to ask.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

I sit out in the room with everyone else. There is no corner office for me. While, as CEO, I will always get a skewed view of the culture, this presence knocks down a lot of the barriers. Many executives will declare that they have an open-door policy. I can’t do that. I don’t have a door.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

Know that change begins with you. You have to become the example to lead a dramatic change. I was taught to be a different kind of leader early in my career. I had to unlearn some things and re-learn others. Ultimately, I found that if I could learn how to bring my authentic self to work and share my joy in the present and my hope for the future, I could set the stage for a very positive and intentional culture. This kind of leadership requires the ability to envision a bright future and to pay attention to the minute details of running the business today.

My other broad advice is to stay in learner mode, and one of the best ways to do that is to read. Culture is not a program or an initiative that is separate from our daily work. Culture is the way we work.

Hear more from Rich Sheridan at IIL’s first Leadership & Innovation Conference 2019

For more ways to learn about Menlo, or Rich Sheridan, view the original article here.