Chief Joy Officer

When a book has your ‘name’ in the title, you kind of feel you are meant to read it. Thus, last week, I read Richard Sheridan’s book, ‘Chief Joy Officer‘ expecting to cringe every paragraph when the word joy was used (a primary school left over habit). I expected this book to be all about how to be happy at work and about yoga and all the other stereotypes you might think of, and inevitably offend someone with (I wasn’t trying to offend any yoga fans btw). I was joyful to discover the book was very different and much better than this.

In fact, this book, to me anyway, was exactly the kind of book I like to read. Practical, focussed on why, full of leadership stories and full of grit. With a very strong focus on leadership by example and leading through values, even when that might be hard, and with a sackful of humility. Most importantly for me, was the definition of joy used here, not happiness or fun, though they might be there too, but fulfilment, achievement of purpose through hard work, trying stuff out, learning everyday, and carrying on even when it was difficult and even upsetting. Finding joy in surviving the tough times.

I loved reading the stories of joy at Menlo, Richard’s software company (and I wish I had been to visit it last year in Michigan). I loved reading about how everyone works in pairs to develop their software, and that those pairs rotate each week, how the hiring practices work, how people take a shared view together if new folks should be hired and if they need a second chance and how on-boarding happened. It was also good to hear how open book financing was used (even if a little unsettling in the tough years) and mostly how everyone, has a voice at work everyday to help achieve their vision, to delight the people they serve. To relieve suffering through technology. I mean what an inspiring vision.

I also liked reading some of the little snippets, or rather, quite big ideas. Reframing visual management (board, sticky dots and string) as ‘truth telling’, learning as leaders to smile when there is bad news to encourage its telling. Rather than artificial leadership-induced fear hiding it. Yet, enough real fear to ensure people do the right thing, with great responsibility. Their mixing and matching of improvement approaches to try out new things in their settings and context to help create better stuff. And the focus on building trust, through shared team decision making. I would have loved to have been able to read a few more stories from staff and customers to get a little insight on their perspectives on joy. And maybe a little more detail. Probably they might be in the next book of Joy.

I also liked reading the perspective on culture. Too often, imho, culture and process can be pitted as opposites rather than complementarities. In healthcare, we seem to be ok at visioning and dreaming and concepts, but we know we still have much to learn in implementation and the process part of making it happen, for real. This book reiterates ‘a strong vision can imagine a great culture, but culture without process leads to chaos, and process without culture yields soul crushing bureaucracy’.

I haven’t read many things that have let me get past my inner bias and fear of things that seem faddish, never mind making me want to write a blog about feelings (me!). The words authenticity, humility, servant leaders and increasingly [cringe] joy, have been used a lot the last few years. For me anyway, this book made them seem real, alive, practical, with things that might help, instead of theoretical concepts that never quite spring to life. Chief Joy Officer helped me to think through whom do I serve and why? Importantly, I think it also helped me to think about what is my own vision of joy, without even cringing.

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