Don’t look now, but Valve just humiliated your “corporate culture”. « Michael O.Church
August 10, 2012 Leave a comment
The author of the linked article Michael O. Church, writes occasionally on corporate culture, and he makes worlds of sense when he does, a lot of his posts have to do with software, game theory and other stuff that is well over my head but, is interesting.
Personally, I haven’t seen anything about this but it’s not my culture, either. If you have good enough people to make this work, and I think it’s a big if, this system could be a world beater. In leadership we talk a lot about empowerment, mostly its talk. But here we have a company that has empowered its employees right down to what they work on.
It takes a lot of trust for management to let go this far but if you can, I suspect that it is a world beater. Wouldn’t you like to pick what project you work on, even if it’s one you detest but you know you’ll get extra reward for (tangible or intangible)
So here’s Michael O, Church. (Be advised that Michael uses a few words that I don’t but I haven’t changed them, it’s his article).
The game company Valve has gotten a lot of press recently for, among other things, its unusual corporate culture in which employees are free to move to whatever project they choose. There’s no “transfer process” to go through when an employee decides to move to another team. They just move. This is symbolized by placing wheels under each desk. People are free to move as they are capable. Employees are trusted with their time and energy. And it works.
Surely this can’t work for larger companies, can it? Actually, I’d argue that Valve has found the only solution that actually works. When companies trust their employees to self-organize and allocate their time as they will, the way to make sure that unpleasant but important work gets done is to provide an incentive: a leadership position or a promotion or a bonus to the person who rolls up her sleeves and solves this problem. That’s “expensive”, but it actually works. (Unpleasant and unimportant projects don’t get done, as they shouldn’t.) The more traditional, managerial alternative is to “assign” someone to that project and make it hard for her to transfer until some amount of time has been “served” on the shitty project. There’s a problem. First, the quality of the work done when someone tells a newcomer, “Complete this or I’ll fire you” is just not nearly as good as the work you get when you tell someone competent, “This project will be unpleasant but it will lock in your next promotion.” Second, it tends to produce mediocrity. The best people have better options than to pay 18 months of dues before having the option (not a guarantee, but the right to apply) to transfer to something better, so the ones who remain and suffer tend to be less talented. Good people are always going to move around in search of the best learning opportunity (that’s how they got to be good) so it’s counterproductive to force them into external transfer with a policy that makes it a lot harder to get onto a decent project than to get hired.
Valve actually Solved It with the elegance of a one-line mathematical proof. They’ve won the cultural battle. The wheels under the desk are a beautiful symbol, as well: an awesome fuck-you to every company that thinks providing a Foosball table constitutes a “corporate culture” worth giving a shit about. They’ve also, by demonstration of an alternative, shown a generation of technology workers how terrible their more typical, micromanaged jobs are. What good is an array of cheap perks (8:30 pm pizza!) if people aren’t trusted to choose what to work on and direct their own careers?
Tell me what you think. Personally, I think this could make a huge difference in productivity if implemented properly.
- Steelcase CEO on How Office Layout Impacts Corporate Culture (forbes.com)
- Cutting the crap to engender a strong corporate culture (business.financialpost.com)
- Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world? (blogs.valvesoftware.com)
- Valve: a bossless company with centralized ownership (p2pfoundation.net)