Imagine a company where people love coming to work and are highly productive on a daily basis. Imagine a company whose top executives, in a quest to create the most "fun" workplace ever, obliterate labor-management divisions and push decision-making responsibility down to the plant floor. Could such a company compete in today's bottom-line corporate world? Could it even turn a profit? Well, imagine no more.
In Joy at Work , Dennis W. Bakke tells the true story of this extraordinary companyand how, as its co-founder and longtime CEO, he challenged the business establishment with revolutionary ideas that could remake America's organizations. It is the story of AES, whose business model and operating ethos -"let's have fun"-were conceived during a 90-minute car ride from Annapolis, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. In the next two decades, it became a worldwide energy giant with 40,000 employees in 31 countries and revenues of $8.6 billion. It's a remarkable tale told by a remarkable man: Bakke, a farm boy who was shaped by his religious faith, his years at Harvard Business School, and his experience working for the Federal Energy Administration. He rejects workplace drudgery as a noxious remnant of the Industrial Revolution. He believes work should be fun, and at AES he set out to prove it could be. Bakke sought not the empty "fun" of the Friday beer blast but the joy of a workplace where every person, from custodian to CEO, has the power to use his or her God-given talents free of needless corporate bureaucracy.
In Joy at Work , Bakke tells how he helped create a company where every decision made at the top was lamented as a lost chance to delegate responsibilityand where all employees were encouraged to take the "game-winning shot," even when it wasn't a slam-dunk. Perhaps Bakke's most radical stand was his struggle to break the stranglehold of "creating shareholder value" on the corporate mind-set and replace it with more timeless values: integrity, fairness, social responsibility, and a sense of fun.
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About the Author
DENNIS W. BAKKE was raised in Saxon, Washington, and graduated from the University of Puget Sound, Harvard Business School, and the National War College. He co-founded The AES Corporation in 1981 and served as its president and CEO from 1994 to 2002. He is now president and CEO of Imagine Schools, a company that operates elementary and secondary (K-12) charter schools. He and his wife, Eileen, live in Arlington, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
Joy at WorkA Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job
By Dennis Bakke
PVGCopyright © 2005 Dennis Bakke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDennis Bakke's Top 10
1. When given the opportunity to use our ability to reason, make decisions, and take responsibility for our actions, we experience joy at work.
2. The purpose of business is not to maximize profits for shareholders but should be to steward our resources to serve the world in an economically sustainable way.
3. Attempt to create the most fun workplace in the history of the world.
4. Eliminate management, organization charts, job descriptions, and hourly wages.
5. Fairness means treating everybody differently.
6. Principles and values must guide all decisions.
7. Put other stakeholders (shareholders, customers, suppliers, etc.) equal to or above yourself.
8. Everyone must get advice before making a decision. If you don't seek advice, "you're fired."
9. A "good" decision should make all the stakeholders unhappy because no individual or group got all they wanted.
10. Lead with passion, humility, and love.
Leading to Workplace Joy
If the key to joy at work is the freedom to make decisions that matter to the organization, then the key to good organizational leadership is restraint in makingdecisions of importance. This is easier in theory than in practice. From my early childhood I was encouraged to be decisive. My mother helped me start little businesses that honed my decision-making ability. When I was a quarterback in high school, my coach allowed me to call all my own plays. I held numerous leadership roles during my school years. Then I attended Harvard Business School, where the case method teaches students about decision making. I was good at making decisions, and this ability was affirmed many times at school and at work. I enjoyed taking responsibility and living with the consequences.
Then came AES, an energy company with 40,000 employees in 31 countries and revenues of $8.6 billion, and the realization that this enjoyment should be spread around. I came to understand that as co-founder and later as CEO, I had to adopt a leadership style that left most of the important decisions to others. I tried to make my attitude reflect Max De Pree's admonition that leaders should introduce employees as the "people I serve." I had to find a way to remind myself daily that giving up many of my executive powers was essential to the goal of creating a fun workplace.
My objective is not to explain what it takes to lead people in a positive direction. Scores of books explain it better than I can. My focus is to show how a leader can make principles and values, especially fun or joy, a significant part of an organization's definition of success. My views may not get high marks from many top executives. Few embrace the central organizational principles I advocate, especially giving up power.
One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn is that leadership is not about managing people. People are not resources or assets to be managed. Nor is leadership about analyzing issues and making big decisions. Leadership is about the leader's character, not his or her skills. Jerry Leachman, a former linebacker for Bear Bryant at Alabama and leader of my men's Bible study group, says, "Good leadership starts with a person's character." The most important character traits of a leader who embraces the principles and values championed in this book are humility; the willingness to give up power; courage; integrity; and love and passion for the people, values, and mission of the organization. Leaders must realize that character is transparent to those around us. People "catch" character, virtue, and values by observing and practicing "right" behaviors and actions, and making them habits. The people who work for us absorb our character in both positive and negative ways. They are not fooled even if we try to cover up our flaws. We are an open book.
Humility and courage in a leader allows for the most important aspect of the leadership style introduced in Joy at Work, letting subordinates make important decisions. The exercise of power validates big titles and high salaries. When executives give power away, they often feel insecure, as if they are not doing their jobs. In fact, they are meeting the highest requirements of their jobs when they delegate decisions to subordinates. Not only are decisions being made by the people who are most familiar with the facts, but the act of making them gives more people a real stake in the organization's performance. People then feel needed and valued because they are needed and valued. When a leader acts in a manner that assumes he is the best decision maker-in other words, the most knowledgeable and responsible member of a group-everyone else feels extraneous. It takes courage for a leader to delegate and free his or her people to act, exercising their natural gifts and fulfilling their potential. These Leaders show passion for their subordinates creating dynamic, rewarding, enjoyable workplaces, by loving people, love spending time with them, and love affirming that they are worthy and important.
Integrity is another important characteristic in building joy at work. Integrity implies a reasonable consistency between beliefs and actions. I once worked with a board member who was very bright, experienced, and dedicated. But he was often dismissed by colleagues because he continually changed his position on important issues for no logically articulated reason. For example, he would make a statement to one person and say something totally different to someone else. Leaders who act in this manner are not trusted. They might be tolerated because of their position, but subordinates will most likely follow out of necessity, not out of respect. It is not a fun way to work.
At AES, we chose "integrity" as one of the company's shared values, but not because it would get us ahead of the competition or improve our image. We chose it simply because it has a moral consistency that carries over to the way we treat our people and operate our businesses. The traits of good leaders-humility, courage, love, passion, and integrity-are essential to the roles they play in the workplace. I believe that leaders have three main roles. They are responsible for interpreting the organization's shared values and principles. They are senior advisers to everyone in the organization. And they are the collective conscience, pushing the organization to reach its goals and live up to its ideals.
The idea that top executives or financial experts should make key decisions is so ingrained in our corporate cultures that it is nearly impossible for leaders to delegate important roles and decisions. Leaders who want to increase joy and success in the workplace must learn to take most of their personal satisfaction from the achievements of the people they lead, not from the power they exercise.
Excerpted from Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke Copyright © 2005 by Dennis Bakke. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
A must-read book for anyone who wants to make work fun.
former HUD secretary and vice presidential candidate
A timely and inspiring book that challenges us to rethink the purpose of business in society.
Joy at Work is a remarkable book about a remarkable company told by a remarkable man. For almost 20 years, AES defied most conventional management wisdom as it built a culture in which people were treated as adults, leaders were truly servant leaders, and fun was a core value that became actualized in the day-to-day lives of AES people, not something just hung on the wall to be talked about. The lessons of this journey are captured in a brilliantly written, frank, and honest account of the ups and the downs by Dennis Bakke. In a world in which fear often seems to have replaced fun, the search for profits has replaced the pursuit of purpose, conformity and following the crowd have replaced the courage to do the right thing and live by principles, and widespread corruption has replaced the conviction of ideals, this book offers both the recipe for a better way of organizing and being in an organization and the inspiration to try. Never has a book such as this been more needed, more important, or more welcome.
professor of organizational behavior, Stanford Graduate School of Business
"A timely and inspiring book that challenges us to rethink the purpose of business in society. It is all the more important because Dennis Bakke's personal life mirrors the principles he advocates."
- President Bill Clinton
"A must-read book for anyone who wants to make work fun, fulfilling, and financially rewarding."
- Jack Kemp, former HUD secretary and vice presidential candidate
"Joy at Work is simply the best book I have ever read about integrating human values and economic success. Bakke has changed the nature of the game of business forever. The book is an answer to our cynicism and materialism and to the loss of faith in our leaders. It is required reading for all who are in a leadership position, are studying leadership, or know someone who is doing either."
- Peter Block, author of Stewardship and The Answer to How Is Yes
"Dennis Bakke's book is a 'coaching manual' on how to make fun and success synonymous in the workplace."
- Mike Holmgren, coach of the Seattle Seahawks
The idea of creating a workplace in which everyone maximizes his or her God-given potential and serves the community is a strong biblical principle. This book provides valuable ideas for leaders who wish to build or strengthen organizations using sound spiritual principles: service, integrity, and social responsibility. Dennis Bakke knows firsthand what it is to put these truths to work.
founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries
Joy at Work is simply the best book I have ever read about integrating human values and economic success. Bakke has changed the nature of the game of business forever. The book is an answer to our cynicism and materialism and to the loss of faith in our leaders. It is required reading for all who are in a leadership position, are studying leadership, or know someone who is doing either.
author of Stewardship and The Answer to How Is Yes