Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun on the Job by Dennis Bakke
In his book, Dennis W Bakke describes how work should be fun. He is the founder and CEO of Applied Energy Services Corporation (AES), an international energy firm that makes billions of dollars each year. According to him, employees should not be treated as disposable assets. They should be given jobs that have a real purpose other than making money. He prizes integrity, ethics, and transparency.
AES is a Fortune 500 company that generates and distributes electrical power. One of the world's largest power companies, it employs over 10,000 people worldwide. Dennis Bakke and Roger Sant founded AES with a $60,00 bank loan and $1 million in investor money. They wanted to create a company that focused on worker satisfaction and a fun working environment. Bakke met his partner, Roget Sant, when they worked at the Federal Energy Administration in the 1970s.
To Bakke, it was essential to deliver economically, reliable, clean, and safe electricity that was beneficial to their shareholders and society. Most companies adopt a centralized decision-making system where decisions are made at the top down. According to Bakke, many managers want to hold on to power and control. There are several reasons why this system makes sense:
- Managers can manage their operations remotely
- Government agencies that regulate businesses focus on senior executives, not employees.
- Outside vendors favor such an organization.
- The most intelligent people in the company are appointed as senior executives. Employees usually go to them for tough decisions.
- Board members work with senior executives on important matters though mid-level staffers make most of the decisions.
- Managers do not want to relinquish power.
- Businesses prefer everyone in the company to adhere to a common standard.
Bakke adopted the "honeycomb system of self-management teams" that was a significant change to the traditional method of management. It was more decentralized. In this new system, the company trusted its employees more. Employees shared in decision making. To make decisions, they had to seek the advice of their colleagues. For more significant decisions, they needed a wider net. There were no more procedure manuals, shift supervisors, or work titles. Employees could even set their own wages, though there were limits to do so. Hourly pays disappear in favor of salaries for everyone. Employees had a higher impact on the company's direction and future.
Senior executives were compensated based on how well their teams performed and how well they embodied the company's principles and values. Annual surveys helped gauge how well the company was doing on its values.
Bakke wanted AES to have high moral standards, and to be devoted to service and transparency. In 1990, when AES went public, he worried that increasing profits and maximizing shareholder value would make it hard to maintain its values and principles. In its public filing, AES stated that its values would always be more important than maximizing profits. The company went on to trade on the NYSE.
In the early 2000s, when Enron went bankrupt, and 9/11 happened, big energy firms saw a decrease in stock prices. Even though its business performance was excellent, AES's stock price decreased to $5. AES's board members moved towards centralized decision making. Sant was called on to supplant Bakke as CEO. Bakke retired from a company he started and led for eight years.
Today, Bakke still believes that leaders should be humble and should treat everyone with respect and decency. Companies should have a real purpose other than making money. Work should be fun.
About the Author
Dennis Bakke is the founder of Imagine Schools, which provides tuition-free schools that help children become great leaders and learners. He is the author of Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job, a New York Times Bestseller. He is also the author of The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.