(The following letter was sent by Menlo Innovatons CEO Rich Sheridan to his fellow teammates, and captures a courageous and productive approach towards confronting the many challenges we are all now facing.)
A few years ago, we wrote a company vision for Menlo. You can read it here. It describes a Menlo party on February 11, 2027 to celebrate Edison’s 180th birthday. You’re all invited.
The vision includes ambitious goals about our financial future. In the first couple of years after it was published, a few of our team members (Lisa comes to mind) kept asking … How?
“How will we get from where we are to where we dream of going?”
I knew in my heart that simply wishing for a better future wouldn’t be enough. It never is. Equally hard is to take the first definitive steps that will result in a better future 10 years in the future. The demands of today are always more pressing. Our Menlo world is a week-by-week world. We are really good at that. It’s not that we don’t envision a future outcome for our project-based work. We use story mapping and various other long-term planning tools but, even with those, we rarely imagine an outcome more than a year in advance.
And, as good as we are about planning client project outcomes, we run the business by only looking a few weeks into the future. This despite knowing that simply hoping for better outcomes is not a strategy.
So, this year, we started a fun new experiment of full-year planning based on the approach described in Chris McChesney’s book, The Four Disciplines of Execution. We were well-suited to this planful approach in both the week-by-week planning/measuring as well as tracking against quarterly & annual goals through simple, compelling visual management. Our team took to this with excitement and energy. Small victories were celebrated and each missed goal fueled our energy to do better next week. It was working and driving new important results.
Then, in an instant, it all stopped.
On Friday, March 13th, James and I were just wrapping up a successful west coast business trip. As we were boarding our Delta flight in San Diego, we saw that our fellow travelers were glued to the monitors, watching the President declare a national emergency. It felt like a 9/11 moment. The world went from spinning in one direction, stopping, and going in reverse. On the Monday that followed, a few of us gathered to plan our actions and that afternoon we shared those plans with our team. Our priorities shifted from pursuing a dream to confronting reality and basic survival.
Our primary goals were:
- Health and safety of the team
- Financial survival of the business
- Maintaining basic business operations
- Funding prudent sales & marketing activities
We were determined to make it through this time we had not chosen. We would all sacrifice financially. Pay rates were cut, hours reduced. James and I would forgo our pay. We would not terminate anyone so we could maintain their health benefits. The team would move to their homes as quickly as possible. A week later, our Governor would mandate work-from-home.
The weeks that have followed have not been easy. We are adapting quickly. We have rejected (wholeheartedly) “social distancing”. We are physically distanced yet socially connected… we still pair (screen share, voice and video feed) and we still have daily standup every morning at 10am using Zoom. There have been some fun “drinks after work” gatherings on Zoom to celebrate sales victories. Zoom wallpaper creativity has brought some wonderful laughter, a much-needed elixir for our souls. We still do weekly Show & Tells and Planning Game with our customers. In short, we are still Menlo. Different, but still the same comforting, supportive culture. We were reminded in an instant how trust, built over years, can pay off so well in the most dire of unexpected circumstances.
None of us know what the future holds, how long current conditions will last, and what returning looks like. The emptiness and quiet of the Menlo Software Factory is balanced by the yearning our team has for being together. We will stay home for the duration. We will return with care and thoughtfulness.
And one day we will awaken from this reality like the coming of spring in Michigan. And like our northern springs, it can seemingly arrive as early as February, then recede until another tease in March. Finally, in April, weeks after the calendar declares it is spring and even the daffodils and magnolias decide it is safe, there are another couple of days of snow and freezing temperatures and we are reminded that spring comes when it comes, not by our deciding.
We will get back to our dreams. For now, we will decide to do what we can with the time that was given us.