Joy Inc: How to build a workplace people love

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Ever wished that your working environment was more enjoyable? What if joy was the central tenet of how you operated your business?

At the Nucleus conference in February of 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting someone who has created just that in his company, Richard Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. His bestselling book, Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love, is a must-read.

There is a lot to the ‘joy’ equation and the best way to absorb that is to watch Richard’s keynote presentation video that I’ve included at the end of this piece (it’s only 20 minutes, but packed full of great stories). However, let me explore some of the amazing practical ideas in Joy, Inc. for running a better business, and show their application to what you are doing in your Financial Planning business. There’s some real gold here.

The bottom line? A business that works better is more joyful to be part of.


Idea 1 – Working in pairs

At Menlo, everyone works in pairs. Yes, everyone.

The result is better quality work and a collaborative, sharing, and learning environment.

When I first listened to Rich explain this I loved the idea, but thought, wow that must be expensive and their clients are footing the bill. However, I’d missed the point. By working in pairs the job gets done right and done once. Team members also get switched around every week, which helps with the sharing of knowledge and learning.

More importantly, the software they design gets used and is loved by the end user, which is great for Menlo’s clients.

How can you apply this?

I believe that in most Financial Planning firms, better work would be produced (and more fun would be had) by people pairing up too. For example, Advisers and Paraplanners working together for clients (which I know many firms already do).

However, what about two paraplanners working together on one job? The same cost push back would be raised I’m sure, but the same positives would also apply; better work, done collaboratively and done to a high standard the first time. The learning curve for junior paraplanners would also be shortened enormously, as they work directly on jobs with their more experienced peers.


Idea 2 – Explaining the cost

Having two people on each task does cost. However, when they are asked about the cost by prospective clients they explain it like this:

“Most companies seeking our help are looking for the lowest-priced supplier. Menlo are the lowest-cost vendor.”

What they mean is that other software developers might quote a cheaper headline price, but if the end product doesn’t work, or if the initial budget blows out, it’s not cheap. Think of your own experience buying cheap anything; you often buy twice. Had you simply bought the quality product straight up, you would have saved money and hassle.

Menlo’s point is that in the final wash up, the same is true for them.

How can you apply this?

How often does the issue of price come up for you? Do you have a good quality explanation ready and waiting for the price fiends that know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

What about using Menlo’s explanation as a starting point and then having a single page or power point slide that educates your client about the real (and often hidden) costs of the other services they might be considering.

They’re not industry insiders, so how would they know any of this stuff? Why not shine a light on the true costs of the various options they can use and then let them make up their own mind? Even the clients that don’t deal with you will walk away with a favourable impression.


Idea 3 – Ideal client persona

As part of the software development process, the Menlo team do some research for clients and then create a range of customer personas to represent the end users of the software being designed.

Although they create a range of user personas they insist that the client pick only one.

Clients always insist that they want the software to be great for all personas. However,
as Richard Sheridan says in his book, “If you try to build any product or service to make it work for everyone, it won’t work well for anyone in particular and you will get killed in the market.”

How can you apply this?

The same principal applies to you and your business in identifying your niche or target market. At FP Advance, one of the exercises we get clients to complete is an Ideal Client Avatar. The aim is to encapsulate the most important and common traits for the niche (or niches) you work best with.

Like Richard’s clients, advisers want to avoid making that focused choice, but it’s critical for building a great business that owns a space in the marketplace, rather than remaining a generalist. Knowing who you are and who you serve is vital.


Idea 4 – Avoiding scope creep

In the software business clients are always asking, “Can you just do this as well.” Before you know it, the scope of the job has extended beyond what is possible, or beyond the current budget. Deadlines get missed, costs blow out and the project is cancelled.

Have you got a client that always seems to want a bit extra; over and above what you had agreed to charge for the work you thought you were going to do?

This is called ‘scope creep’ and I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced it.

Menlo address this by using a card-based estimation process. A card half the size of an A4 page indicates eight hours of estimated work. To estimate four hours, fold it in half. If clients say, “Can you just do this as well”, they are shown the estimation cards and asked:

  1. Which existing work do you want us to cut?, or
  2. Are you happy to authorise the budget for the extra work?

Menlo never just say, “Yeah, sure we can”, because they understand the down-the-line implications of that approach.

How can you apply this?

I can see a direct application of this estimation process to Financial Planning businesses; specifically, when advisers hand over work to paraplanners or administration staff.

The person/s receiving the work should be the ones who do the estimation of how long the job will take, not the adviser.

This would achieve three positive outcomes:

  1. Advisers would gain a better understanding of what gets done by their back office support team and how long jobs really take. (There are no five-minute jobs in the back office, contrary to popular adviser belief).
  2. The adviser can then make a call on the commerciality of getting certain tasks performed. In some firms, detail-minded advisers want everything and the kitchen sink prepared in advance of a meeting, which can often be un-commercial. Either they need to charge more for the work they are doing, or they need to right size their requests.
  3. Over time, the back office team, the advisers and the business as a whole will develop much better estimation skills for jobs, allowing them to either price correctly at the outset, or to simply say ‘No’, if a job will require more work than is commercially viable.

I know that lots of advisory firms want a joyful working environment. Have a read of Richard’s book and take a look at the video below to understand more about what that looks like. Then apply some of these practical ideas to your own business environment.

Let me know how you go.



Tweet: If we replaced ‘failure’ with ‘intelligent learning’ perhaps we’d be better with the whole concept. @BrettDavidson http://bit.ly/1YUuHEd Feeling the joy at work? If not, read these 4 business tips from @menloprez (the Joy Guru).


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