Joy at Work | Dennis W. Bakke

Summary of: Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun on the Job (Pocket Wisdom)
By: Dennis W. Bakke


Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun on the Job by Dennis W. Bakke takes a refreshing and radical stance on creating an enjoyable work environment. Sharing insights from the author’s experience as the co-founder, former president, and CEO of the Applied Energy Services Corporation (AES), the book reveals the indispensable elements of an ideal company culture. From decentralization to nurturing social responsibility and adhering to principles and values, Bakke highlights the importance of fostering a joy-filled workplace and empowering employees in making decisions. The book offers a wealth of practical strategies that aim to move away from an outdated, top-down business model.

Revolutionizing the Workplace

Dennis W. Bakke and Roger Sant, the founders of AES, believe that work should be enjoyable and that business leaders should prioritize values over profits. They aimed to create a company where worker satisfaction and “fun” were as important as profits. They believed in empowering their employees and making them responsible for the company’s achievements. They set out to establish a workplace that prioritized values such as social responsibility, ethics, and transparency. This summary expounds on the remarkable corporate history of AES and how it has revolutionized workplace attitudes towards employees.

Dennis W. Bakke and Roger Sant, the founders of AES, believed that work should be enjoyable. They wanted their employees to experience “joy at work” and be in charge of their own empowerment. They viewed their employees as responsible for the company’s achievements as senior executives. Their goal was to establish a company where worker satisfaction and “fun” were as important as profits.

Their approach to management was different from the prevailing attitudes that still prevailed in many businesses. Rather than treating their employees as disposable assets who only followed orders, they believed that each job should have meaning and employees should share in some exalted purpose. They were determined to build a company as focused on principles and values as on profits.

As the founders of AES, an international energy firm with thousands of employees and millions of customers, Bakke and Sant ensured that their values were bedrock directives governing daily operations. They believed that social responsibility was primary and set out to deliver clean, safe, and reasonably priced electricity while serving society and AES shareholders. They saw themselves as “servant leaders,” and internal advancement was based on attaining individual goals and practicing ethical behavior.

AES was not a typical company in the energy sector, where most companies still treated workers with tactics that dated back 250 years. The company valued integrity, ethics, and transparency as bottom-line considerations. They deliberately departed from industrial revolution attitudes with a goals to create employee empowerment by making workers as responsible for the company’s achievements as senior executives. New hires had to accept these principles as a condition of employment.

Bakke and Sant were committed to building a great company, and their focus on values empowered their employees to help shape AES into an innovative and responsible corporation. Their approach to management has revolutionized workplace attitudes towards employees. Their incredible story highlights the potential of human-centered corporate behavior in generating unprecedented excellence in corporate management and operations.

Defying Hierarchy: A Flat, Open Management Method

The traditional hierarchical model within organizations stems from technology, top-down responses to mistakes, government regulations, service suppliers, knowledge acquisition, boards of directors, and paternalism. However, AES introduced the “honeycomb system of self-management teams” in 1987, which revolutionized the standard top-down business model. This flat, open management method centered on freedom and trust, with decentralized decision-making and no shift supervisors or work titles. Employees could even set their own wages and all received salaries instead of hourly pay. Bakke and Sant were willing to cede most of their authority to others to make the new system work.

Honeycomb Management System

The honeycomb management system developed by Bakke and Sant proved to be highly sustainable because it gave workers the sense of responsibility and control over their jobs. By sharing the direction of the company and their own affairs, workers felt content and satisfied. According to Bakke, employees experience joy or drudgery based on the degree to which they control their work. Under the honeycomb model, AES employees made operational decisions based on advice and consensus. Making decisions without going through the “advice process” and seeking counsel from peers and leaders was not allowed. Bakke and Sant determined that letting workers run much of their own operations doubled “the effectiveness of new acquisitions with half the original number of employees.” Furthermore, Bakke limited the central staff to a minimum, and AES executives were compensated based on their individual business units’ performance and how well they promoted the company’s principles and values. An annual employee survey was also instituted to determine how well AES was achieving its goal of providing an enjoyable work environment.

AES’s Values and Profits

In 1990, Bakke and Sant launched AES to the public and promised their shareholders, as well as society, that the company would operate justly. AES encountered the challenge of preserving its values while satisfying stockholder demands. They declared in a memo that their principles would govern their choice if a conflict emerged between their values and profits, even if that meant profits would decrease. Bakke and Sant were told by the SEC to relocate the message to the “Special Risk Factors” section. In its offering, AES published the profits and values declaration prominently. AES was launched with a $19.25 share price on NASDAQ.

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