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Posted by on Nov 6, 2013 in Business, Culture, Featured, Inspirational, Leadership, Strategy | 8 comments

5 Ways to Modernize Your Relationship with Employees

When you walk into Menlo Innovations, at first glance it looks like many other tech companies: no cubes, shared work spaces, pets, even little babies. But what you can’t observe immediately is the absence of managers.

Menlo Innovations, a software development company out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has eliminated the need for managers. Certainly a progressive move, yet not one all organizations or small businesses would make. The bold move to eliminate managers puts greater emphasis on a strong team identity and commitment to results.

I spent three days learning from, interviewing and observing Menlonians, that’s what they call themselves, at work and walked away with insights about what makes work relationships effective and enriching. These pearls of wisdom cross over no matter how you’re structured or how large your team or company is.

The way we relate to one another at work is outdated. What we need in our workplaces is a major ExchangeGain in how managers and employees relate and work alongside one another.

What we need in our workplaces is a major ExchangeGain in how managers and employees relate and work alongside one another.

Transactional: Shift

What’s familiar for many Gen X and Boomers is the exchange of a paycheck for hard work. The antiquated belief that you’re lucky to have a job alienates employees from their bosses. It’s a passion drainer. It’s a demotivating belief. Why?

We don’t work solely for a paycheck. We want to leave our fingerprints on the organization: the proverbial, “I was here!” We want to make a difference in our work. The transactional viewpoint of the manager-employee relationship is limiting. It needs to shift to that of collaboration.

Collaborator Not Dictator

No person works alone at Menlo. Every team member is paired with another, staying in the pairs for five days then rotating repeatedly, always working on a client project – together. Collaboration skills are essential. Knowledge is constantly spread throughout the small, yet mighty company.

As a manager you don’t know everything. Perhaps you have more experience and, therefore know better, but that workplace axiom has crumbled into irrelevance along with command-and-control management. To get work done, you must collaborate with others.

Lone Renegades, those who work alone, heads down, resurfacing with a brilliant idea for a new product or service are a myth. No one creates something great without the input of others.

Whether you have no manager or if you have a more traditional work structure, the relationships we have with one another must be grounded in collaboration and the respect that fuels it.

No one creates something great without the input of others.

No one person is more important than the team

Remove the pairs at Menlo and their approach to unleash ideas into solutions that please clients begins to unravel. Anyone can pair people together, but it may not yield results that matter.

At the heart of Menlo Innovations’ pair-partners success is a fundamental belief that no one person is more important than the team. It’s this belief that helps hold pair-partners together and makes it work. It’s a bold culture element, but not necessary for all organizations to understand that celebrating individual success over that of the team is outdated.

As a manager, your role is not to make yourself look good. It’s to support your entire team’s success in doing great work – work that matters.


Your employees have a personal life that cannot be “checked-in” at the door. Our personal and professional lives slosh about, mingling together, influencing the other. It’s time for managers to modernize their perspective and learn to leverage the benefits of seeing the whole-employee – personal and professional lives.

From a practical perspective, managers who encourage employees to pursue personal interests and set goals help offset the stress from work demands. From an aspirational perspective, mangers who encourage employees to pursue personal interests and set goals help employees find greater fulfillment in life. And don’t be fooled in thinking such fulfillment doesn’t influence performance at work.

Managers who encourage employees to pursue personal interests and set goals help employees find greater fulfillment in life.

At Menlo, they celebrate the whole employee. Employees’ personal worlds mingle with their professional-selves as dogs and newborn babies can be brought to work. Why let an employee worry about child-care issues when the organization’s policies can alleviate the concern.

Harness passion; Ground it with purpose

I’ve grown leery of the advice to follow your passion. While it’s hopeful and ultimately plays an important part in doing work that matters, it’s incomplete advice.

Managers must harness employees’ passions but sync it with the purpose of the team and the organization. Purpose is aspirational but solid in focus. Passion without an anchor can lead to frustration. It can be aimless and thus can be lost. Purpose then stalls and disillusions those pursuing it.
Menlo Innovations develops software for clients. Part of the small-company’s success is how it taps into our basic human needs to develop relationships, to belong to a group that has purpose and provides meaning.

These vital outcomes in business present a modernized way of doing business in a manner that matters today.

Business has always been built on the back of relationships. For centuries the focus has been the relationship with the customer. The shift now is to modernize the relationship with employees so they can do work that grows the relationship with customers.

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Image credit- peshkova / 123RF Stock Photo

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Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and Co-CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post.

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  • Lisa Shelley

    Love this Shawn. Menlo sounds like a business that really gets the fundamental elements of human motivation and the importance of relationship. And a fabulous location in Ann Arbor – Go Blue!

    • Shawn Murphy

      Ooh, from Michigan are you? I loved Ann Arbor. Beautiful place.

      • Lisa Shelley

        Not me… but my daughter is in her second year there. :)

  • r/ally

    Oh, you mean they treat people like people who have lives outside of work?

    • Shawn Murphy

      Novel idea, right?!

  • William Powell

    What I find somewhat perplexing is that this message still needs to be said. Along the way, an antiquated idea of what business should be somehow left out the idea of treating people like people.

    Once we began “sweating the assets” to chase a 0.5% increase in margin, we lost. Then we built systems, processes and policies to reinforce this losing mentality.

    So glad you shared this story Shawn. This is an absolute must conversation if businesses expect to experience long-term success!

    • Shawn Murphy

      As humans we are slow to change. Fortunately people like you nudge us to explore and accept different ways of thinking.

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  • Karim

    My firm, Mavens Consulting, subscribes to a mantra in which everyone is a manager, of themselves and of the projects you manage. Even our CEO, to whom we all directly report, will state “I don’t manage you; you manage you”. It smacks conventional wisdom with a 2-by-4. And it is very effective.

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