The rise and sustainable success of companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Ebay cannot only be explained by their original ideas, IP and innovations. A key reason why they are able to sustain and expand their success to multi billion businesses is their culture and their mindset, that literally opens minds, possibilities and attracts exactly the people they need. If you talk to the people and go inside these companies, you immediately understand, that culture plays a key role.
So if you still think organizational culture is somehow “soft”, not “graspable” and actually not so important, you might be wrong: organizational culture is very hard in terms of direct impact, it can be shaped specifically and tangible and might be the critical success factor.
Why? Because new growth and sustainable future of organizations depend on its abilities to adjust and deal with complexity, ambiguity, speed of change (speed will even increase), transparency of markets, very well informed and demanding customers and new competitors from emerging markets. And to attract and retain the best talent. The next generation of companies are designed for people creating robots, not for structures making robots out of people. And why we have clear evidence.
Traditional companies are overwhelmed by these challenges and react in their stress mode: more control and more cost-cutting
People draw back, play safe and think small. Or leave. Or dont’t join in the first place. As one solution, companies try to transplant new organizational models, again a technical approach to a human problem. You might get the old mindset pressed in a new “social technology”.
The look and feel of empowering culture
To make “culture” more tangible, I put together some examples and stories, I came across:
- Appreciation: A young Austrian told us: at eBay, Interns are welcomed with the following information: “Dear Interns, you are now our most important employees. We urgently need your ideas, challenges and inputs to ensure our future”. Then they are given important and meaningful jobs from the very beginning. His experience as an Austrian “Praktikant”: he was literally asked to cook coffee and do some low-level work, no one else wanted to do.
- Ownership: At Facebook you are welcomed at day 1 with the message: This is now your company. And your opinion is as important as anyone elses. No problem you see is someone else’s problem
- Performance and incentives: the pressure is high. Not the pressure to work hard, but to deliver fast and create value for the organization. You cannot hide behind job descriptions, colleagues or blaim the circumstances. From day one you have access to everything you need without asking anyone, you just get it. The salaries in these companies are high already.
- Speed: SAP / Silicon valley: a new hires needs 6 weeks until he has all the equipment and access to the software he needs. By this time his friend at FB has already contributed valuable insights and created new value.
- Transparency: Every Friday afternoon Mark Zuckerberg and his management Team go into a global open Q&A, all employees are invited, personally or online. You may ask literally everything, and people ask all the hard questions possible and challenge their Management Team directly: everything is being answered. Nothing is Taboo.
- Trust: People are trusted, have access to resources, codes, information. Nothing leaks outside.
- Enthusiasm: I never heard so many people talk so enthusiastic about their work and the companies they work for: be it Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, eBay.. They love their work, they say things like: “I enjoy working with the smartest people, I enjoy the challenge, the impact I can create”.
- Purpose: People exactly know what the organizations purpose is, and they totally identify with it. Literally all tech companies try to create technical solutions to human problems. This is how it sounds: We are building Facebook to make the world more open and transparent, which we believe will create greater understanding and connection. Or LinkedIn: To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
- Fluidity: these oranizations have some very clear structural features, like a reporting line an quarterly feedback and evaluations, but otherwise they are pretty free to contribute based on their own skills, interests and actuall challenges. At Google people are free to create projects and initiatives when needed and switch Teams. And are fully responsible to make sure they use their own resource in the best possible way.
- Mindfulness and meditation are fundamental, not esoteric: while I am still reluctant for several reasons to use these words in European companies, they are totally accepted and welcomed in Silicon Valley Tech companies. There is a shared understanding, that one needs have a clear mind and work on ones mental well-being in order to create value and perform well. Google has created its “Search Inside Yourself” program, has a Conscious Officer. LinkedIn as well has its Chief Conscious Officer Fred Kofman, running programmes of teachings and facilitated group reflections in the company.
- Failure and success are different sides of one coin, not the opposite: When James Butterfield, serial entrepreneur had to shut down a new venture, having burned 12 millions of venture capital, he offered to give back the remaining 5 million.. and was told to keep the money and try to build something else with a skeleton crew. So a small group created “Slack” out of a communication system, in the first place built to communicate better in their former start-up – being fed-up with e-mail and its poor performance on facilitating tension creating communication. Slack is now one of the fastest-growing software companies on the planet. (If your company isn’t already using Slack, it will be soon. Say goodbye to e-mail).
- Generosity: people have access to high-quality complimentary food, drinks, snacks, services and all more. While this is helpful to increase output, it is not seen anywhere else.
- Smart workspaces: While I still see many organizations in traditional set-ups: these companies create a working atmosphere you`d like to work in. It is practical, human and offers many options, depending on the tasks you work on and the needs you have. Supporting collaboration and interaction as much as possible while offering private and quiet spaces as well.
- Pragmatism and simplicity: at Facebook employees are taught how to create their own posters with their own messages and post them on the walls, every wall. When the new employee asked, where he was allowed to post his posters he was told: wherever you find space.
- Aligning personal and corporate interests: these companies are not non-profit welfare companies. Still they manage to align business interests with a noble purpose that encourages people. Instead of saying: well, they only do this to earn more money you could say: wow, how do they manage to create great workspaces, where people love to work, find purpose and are highly profitable at the same time? What if their is a positive correlation?
- Self-responsility: people have to be self driven and take self responsility. Waiting for someone to tell what to do, doesn’t work. You tune into the Team and contribute what is needed now. And you often have to find out yourself.
Culture needs to be cultivated
These cultures are cultivated out of a sometimes unconscious and authentic process. Many times the famous start-up/garage culture. Starting with something, going in iterations, adapting fast.
As organizations grow out of their start-up phase, they have to make the implicit explicit. To make culture tangible by preaching, teaching and writing principles, mottos, values and “teachable principles”.
- Making them explicit and communicating
- Living up to it – esp. by the Leadership Teams
- Demanding it from others and, in case, drawing consequences.
Inside Facebook you see posters and values all over, and they are from lip service, and you will not find the typical objective values like: openness, transparency, integrity bla bla, but specific onces, like:
– Be bold – Focus on impact – Done is better than perfect – Be open – What would you do if you weren’t afraid? – Name things based on what they are – Please don’t hesitate
Variety of cultures – every company has its own “character”:
The corporate cultures are very distinct from each other, not designed artificially but imprinted by the beliefs and personal cultures of the founders.
Slack for example wants to create a company culture for “grown-ups with children, with lifes beyond work”, he is 42 himself and has kids. Hence one of the companies mottos is: “work hard and go home”. At 6:30 offices are empty. This would not be the case in other companies.
A new definition of Leadership
These outstanding companies manage tasks and not people and you know what? Even the new “Leadership” thinking seems outdated: the job of the leaders is not leading people, but inspiring them, thinking/shaping/speaking possible futures and creating a context for powerful people to perform at their best.
Leading by example is the simplest idea: be the change you want to see. thats about it. Good people don’t need someone to lead them all the time. They lead themselves as they align around the shared set of purpose, principles and strategic directions.
E.g. James Butterfield (CEO of Slack), sees his job “less about making stuff and more about communicating values”. The only way to prevent the organizational drift he fears as Slack scales up is to “continually remind people” what it stands for.
The “morphic field” of Silicon Valley
“The Valley” is not so much a place, but a concept, it is a spirit and it lives in the morphic field of the hippie movement combined with the tech business. It is a very special place, unlike any I have seen and experienced anywhere else and it produces also an eco-system of its own, nourished by institutions like Stanford University, representing the business, tech and innoational spirit and Berkeley University on the other end, representing more the human and Hippie spirit and UCSF in between. This Area has become a global Hot Spot, attracting people from all over the world combining business, tech, spirituality and openness to new ideas in a very unique way.
This explains why all efforts to “copy” Silicon Valley have to fail. There is no need to copy, but the possibility to learn from it and create a cultural field of its own, using the individual strengths of the very region you are in. AND: there are many organizations with phantastic cultures that are not in the Silicon Valley, of course.
Why this post is so enthusiastic and so not critical?
Most people are so good in questioning everything, searching and finding the “hair in the soup”, always suspicious about a hidden agenda, the downside, the threats (as we say in German “das Haar in der Suppe suchen”). Of course not everything is perfect, there are many things we could critizise about FB, Google & Co, but this time I focused on what is great, what can we learn? What can we appreciate? When I told Americans about the European Shitstorm following Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement to donate 99% of his fortune, they just could not believe it.
However, like it or not, these companies become more successful and powerful every day, and other companies better speed up on revamping their cultural mindsets, if they want to play any relevant role and ensure their impact in future.
“Better create something and being critizised than creating nothing and critzising others” – this is my personal Motto.
Have a wonderful day, evening or night, whenever you read this.