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My Journey to Menlo: A Skeptic's Tale

My first encounter with Menlo was in the early months of 2018 when a colleague finished his copy of Joy, Inc. and proclaimed that this little company in Ann Arbor was revolutionizing work. I was skeptical. There are a lot of organizations that make that claim, but few pan out in the long term. Finding a balance between happy workers and happy stakeholders is not a trivial task.

My colleague’s enthusiasm was contagious. The company I worked for was looking for a change and a better way to solve the more-with-less problem. We scheduled a tour and I tagged along, though I didn’t share some of my colleagues' excitement.

Factory Floor Tour, No Hardhat Required

As the tour got rolling I saw the processes starting to take shape. The picture Carol, Ben, and James painted for us was that of a company that centered human experience and long term sustainability. All the processes, down to the tour itself, reinforced how intentional and thoughtful they were.

My Menlo Summer

The project we brought to Menlo was an app to help reduce the volume of errors in the manual paperwork process. It was invigorating watching the High Tech Anthropology team at work. After each session we brought new tools back to the office that we adapted to our environment. I can’t tell you how many times I covered the 12 feet of whiteboard next to my desk in sticky notes. I learned more from that 2 month HTA engagement than I had in 8 years of UX design.

I realized there was actually a better way to work and Menlo had figured it out”

Once we had a concrete plan in place, Menlo got to work. I spent 4 days a week at their office in Ann Arbor working side-by-side with developers and HTA’s alike. My Menlo Summer, as I like to call it, was a turning point in my career. It was then that the skepticism I had been approaching the project with faded away. I realized there was actually a better way to work and Menlo had figured it out. By being open, curious, and willing to discard ideas that didn't serve their needs, they had found the secret sauce.

Returning to the office after spending the summer of 2019 at Menlo was strange. About 10 minutes after the last Show and Tell of the project, I shifted into the role of Project Manager. My new mission was carrying the app I had helped create ahead into the future. Some of the new ideas I brought back with me created a renaissance in the IT department. Processes were tested where none had been before, we refined the ones we had, and hired a dedicated Project Manager to handle our internal projects. I again shifted roles, but this time into Product Management. My responsibility became setting the direction for new app development.

The Quarantine Year

The pandemic hit the company I worked for harder than anyone expected. While the need for their services were at all time highs, every company was taking a much more conservative approach to spending. The company had to make some difficult decisions. One of those was to reduce non-revenue generating expenses like the internal development staff. As scary as being laid off at the height of quarantine was, I saw it as a chance to explore new opportunities.

Oh My, XI!

Kealy and I kept in touch as well as we could through the pandemic. When Menlo was hiring again, she invited me to take part in an Extreme Interview (or XI for short). If you haven’t experienced it, an XI is a collaborative interviewing process. Participants simulate a day in the life of Menlo. There are a series of exercises designed to assess what we call kindergarten skills; how well you are able to work with others. The instruction you get at the beginning is to make the people you are paired with during the event look good. It was a completely different way of interviewing than anything I had experienced before. At first I was nervous. Sitting down with a complete stranger who, in another setting, would be your rival, and trying to help them get a job was a stressful proposition. But after the first exercise, I had forgotten all that and found myself doing exactly what I was supposed to; solve the problem by working with my pair partner and setting them up to shine.

I’ve been a Menlonian for almost a year now and have been given the opportunity to work on some fascinating projects. But once the novelty wears off, what you find is even more magical. Menlo is exactly what it appears to be. It is a company that treats its employees with dignity and respect, where laughter and joy are easy to find, and you are encouraged to explore and grow into the best version of your professional self.