Company Culture: 4 Things You Can Learn From Richard Sheridan and Menlo Innovations to Promote and Enforce Your Company Culture

Last week, I wrapped up reading Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan.

Joy, Inc. By Richard Sheridan

Joy, Inc. is focused on workplace happiness and culture - something all companies struggle with. No matter how much market share you own, how long you have been around, how much revenue you generate, or how many ping pong tables and kegs you have on tap…culture can make or break your team, maybe even your company.

Culture is cultivated by leadership and farmed by employees.

So, how is company culture commonly defined?

According to Investopedia:

“Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.”

Although Investopedia gives a great dictionary definition of company culture, I agree more with The Balance’s article describing company culture and the importance of it:

“Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals.”
Company culture is important because it attracts and maintains top talent, promotes and strengthens the company brand, and increases productivity

So how does Sheridan promote a positive company culture and, well..JOY?

There are so many ideas and topics that really resonated with me after completing his book, but 4 in particular that are the most important (IMO):

  1. Communication
  2. Balance
  3. Teamwork
  4. Sustainability

  1. Communication: “Conversations Build Relationships, Relationships Build Value”
“Workplace communication is vital to an organization’s ability to be productive and operate smoothly.

Sheridan is a big supporter (and the inventor of the term) High-Speed Voice Technology. (Yep, it’s totally trademarked in case you were wondering)

Now, you might be scratching your head asking “WTF is High-Speed Voice Technology?”

It’s exactly what you’d think. Rather than calling meetings together with emails or internal chat tools, Sheridan supports and advocates…

…Wait for it…

…Using your natural born vocal cords to talk to someone.

What a revelation! Who would have thought?!

Sheridan has his team on an open floor where the chatter boosts energy and people can learn from each other. Not only that, the communication is clear.

With new technology, we sometimes forget how much actually speaking to someone can make a difference. Relating this to everyday life, think of how text messages can come off the wrong way because there is no face-to-face interaction, body language or tonality. Written messages can be delayed and not interpreted correctly. Why send an email to your neighbor if you can lean over to see if they have a 30 seconds to chat?

Not to mention, texts and chats commonly have spelling errors if you aren’t paying attention - and the lingo/abbreviations/slang is always changing.

IDK. LOL. TTYL.

Currently, most of Raygun is based in New Zealand, while my team is based in our U.S. office. So, we don’t always have the luxury to utilize High-Speed Voice Technology with all of our team members. When NZ team members come to the U.S. office, it’s always refreshing to put a “Slack name to the face”. There is a deeper feeling of being teammates rather than just colleagues. If you are lucky enough to utilize High-Speed Voice Technology, do it.

“Face-to-face conversations provide the ability to get to know one another in a way that cannot be achieved remotely.”

PSA -High-Speed Voice Technology does not mean you pester a teammate mid-project or ask for help without doing some additional research yourself. Still respect your team’s time and responsibilities.


2. Balance: Mixing Flexibility with Structure

If this elephant can do yoga on a beach ball, anything is possible.

Flexibility and structure seem to be complete opposites, right?

Absolutely, but with a healthy balance of both- you can hold your team accountable without bogging them down.

Increase productivity /results and decrease burnout.

When referencing flexibility, Sheridan tells a story of an employee that had to leave the Menlo HQ city for personal reasons. He supported keeping her on the Menlo staff and helped keep her connected with FaceTime, not just an internal chat tool. She was still able to collaborate in real-time and fulfill her job requirements while away.

Sheridan also recognizes the balance between work and play.

A Menlo employee went on a 2 month vacation with her husband and Sheridan had no complaints. In preparation of her 2 month departure, she made sure that she had fully informed her partner to be able to fulfill all tasks that were handed to her. The final sentence of her out of office response indicating she will not be reading emails reads as follows:

“I am now free to enjoy my vacation and not think of work while I’m gone. This will allow me to come back to work refreshed and energized. I appreciate that Menlo lets my vacation truly be a vacation.”-Lisa H., Menlo employee

Even though Sheridan shows flexibility with employees, there is still some very clear structure.

His structure is a little unconventional, but maybe it works because it is out of the norm.

At Menlo, they have a clear process for scheduling and planning important deadlines. They may use color coded sticky notes and round stickers, but it’s a full-proof method that has only given realistic timeframes and results for projects that clients can see. Rather than sandbagging and delaying timelines like other companies may unknowingly do, they have everything out in the open. They have a no B.S. board each team displays their projects and progression (along with estimated time of completion). Transparency.

Their color coding allows for all teams to know what everyone is working. If one team finishes ahead of timeline, they are able to easily identify who is behind and lend a helping hand. #TeamworkMakesTheDreamWork

This leads into another part of Sheridan’s book that is very important in building and retaining company culture — #3 Teamwork.


3. Teamwork: Pairing and Sharing

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours with our co-workers. So why be miserable at work?

Teamwork makes the dream work!

We all know the old saying: “There’s no I in team”

Sheridan is a firm believer in this. So much that he has created something called Pairing.

Working at a software company as a developer, there is always more to learn as technology is constantly changing and evolving. Pairing is putting 2 developers or project managers together at 1 computer.

Yes, you read that right.

4 hands, 2 computers and 2 brains. This allows people to collaborate and learn from one another.

“Two people working together have a better chance of solving a problem than one person working alone.”

One really unique piece of Sheridan’s Pairing is that he switches partners as projects are completed. This is a great opportunity to learn new skills, teach your peers, create bonds, and increase employee buy-in. The more bought in your team is, the less likely you will be to lose top talent.

They say “sharing is caring”

But why not “pairing is sharing”?

YAY!

So, note to self…teamwork makes the dream work. Pairing and sharing is caring.

Now, onto our 4th and final topic, the thing all companies want (beyond wild success and all that): sustainability.


4. Sustainability: Finding the Right Fit to Keep This Boat Afloat

Let’s be real. No one starts a company to fail and go bankrupt. Founders of companies do it because they are passionate about something, they believe in it, they have a vision, and they make sh*t happen. (being rich and successful is a nice perk too)

To run a successful company, you need to acquire and retain the right people.

Companies that have hiring and firing rounds are not sustainable. There is never an opportunity to build a strong culture with a revolving door.

That’s why Menlo has a strict interview and hiring process that is a little unorthodox , but it has allowed the leaders and existing Menlo employees make an informed decision based on more than what is listed on a resume (or what is written on their resume for them).

Don’t mind the recruiter who gave me all the questions ahead of time.

Dewey-eyed applicants probably don’t know that they first interview is a huge group speed dating session of existing employees paired with potential teammates. The current employees evaluate “Kindergarten Skills” (seeing if they play well with others because they collaborate so much in pairs). Taking feedback from people who live and breathe the culture allows them to retain culture to sustain the company.

They call this the Extreme Interviewing Process.

Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into the Extreme Interviewing Process, but you can read Joy, Inc. yourself. This isn’t CliffsNotes.

Now, we all know that no company has a 100% employee retention rate, but interestingly enough, Sheridan doesn’t want that. People need to grow and move on. Sometimes they even come back to Menlo, and he welcomes them with open arms.

Sheridan is great at creating unique processes to make Menlo stay alive in all situations, but this goes beyond just the initial hiring and onboarding. Menlo has been sustainable because of the culture they have built.


While I can’t guarantee Sheridan’s methods will work for all companies, I can tell you that innovation and empowerment like his will inevitably spark positive results with your culture.

…& whatever you do, do it with Joy.

The definition of “joy” according to Merriam-Webster