Friday, May 11, 2012

Like it or not, this is the workplace culture your organization is competing with

I came across this gem via Peter Stoyko's blog; it's the Valve employee handbook. Before I share my thoughts, here is what Peter had this to say about it:
Behold: the employee-orientation manual of the future; except, I hasten to add, this manual is for an extremely successful company from the here and now, the video-game maker Valve. Take particular notice of the forthright language … the lack of finger-wagging “thou shalts” … and the networked, fluid, collaborative model of organisation, including the emphasis on mobile workspaces (a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about in the last few years).

My own hypothesis is (and feel free to disagree) that in a hyper connected world where the expectations of entrants to the labour market are set by market makers (like Valve) your work culture will be the single most important determining factor when considering how to attract top talent. I fully acknowledge that salaries and benefits are important but my experience is that most people I know (at least those who are even marginally entrepreneurial) will gladly trade some of their fixed benefits for more engaging work and all the intangibles that come with it.

If you haven't bothered to read the handbook (you should btw, it will open your eyes to say the least), here is a choice quotation about how the company approaches the issue of hierarchy:
Valve is not averse to all organizational structure — it crops up in many forms all the time, temporarily. But problems show up when hierarchy or codified divisions of labor either haven’t been created by the group’s members or when those structures persist for long periods of time. We believe those structures inevitably begin to serve their own needs rather than those of Valve’s customers. The hierarchy will begin to reinforce its own structure by hiring people who fit its shape, adding people to fill subordinate support roles. Its members are also incented to engage in rent-seeking behaviors that take advantage of the power structure rather than focusing on simply delivering value to customers. (p16)

It's too late for guys (and girls) like me

The worst part of this isn't that I'm working in an alien culture but rather just how further removed from the norm it will be for the next generation should it continue down the twisted path of hierarchy first, everything else second.

At some point, the results we aim to achieve must matter more than the myriad of forms, templates, and platitudes we used to get there.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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