Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Barefoot Philosophy: Final Thoughts

[This is the final installment of an 8 part series: The Barefoot Philosphy.  It is based on my experiences as the founder of a business—Barefoot Software—which I ran for 12 years.  Please start with the intro.]

For the past seven weeks I’ve been telling you how awesome this philosophy is.  But it can’t be all good, can it?  No, of course not.  There are some downsides, and it’s only fair to point out what they are.

The first question that gets asked a lot is, if this is so cool, why doesn’t everyone do it?  My first answer is, this ain’t the way to get rich, and a lot of people seem to want that out of a business.  To be more explicit, I believe that you can use these techniques to build a very successful business, and the business will make a lot of money.  But not you personally.  There is a lot of sharing built into this model, and some people don’t like to share.

The second most obvious answer is that it’s hard.  It takes a lot of work to do all these things, especially since you’re going against the grain.  A lot of people will tell you you’re crazy.  Sometimes the talent you want to attract won’t be able to handle your “weird” business practices.  If you need to attract venture capital, you almost certainly won’t get it, or else you’ll have to compromise the model to do so.  People may applaud mavericks in public, but in private they want to hear the same old shit that’s “worked” for centuries.  They don’t hear it, their pocketbooks snap shut.  So following this philosophy is not going to be a walk in the park.  Valve puts it thusly:

... it’s really hard.  Mainly because, from day one, it requires a commitment to hiring in a way that’s very different from the way most companies hire.  It also requires the discipline to make the design of the company more important than any one short-term business goal.   And it requires a great deal of freedom from outside pressure—being self-funded was key.  And having a founder who was confident enough to build this kind of place is rare, indeed.1

Notice how I put “worked” in quotes when I talked about the business practices that are considered tried and true.  This is because I don’t feel that those practices do work, in the long-run.  Of course, your average venture capitalist isn’t in it for the long haul.  There’s a fairly short window where they build the business up, then they sell it or go public, make themselves a tidy sum, and proclaim the process a success.  How often have you seen advice on planning your exit strategy when starting up your business?  If that’s your goal, this is definitely not the method for you.  It won’t work, first of all.  But secondly, it’s contraty to the spirit of the whole thing.  What happens to the poor employees after you’ve made your millions and absconded yourself off to the Caribbean?  The “tried and true” business practices may work for the venture capitalists and the founders looking for an exit strategy, but they don’t work for the employees, and that’s what this is all about.2

In fact, this methodology is pretty crappy at any short-term goals.  Giving employees the freedom and latitude to explore their own ideas means not being able to predict where they’re going to end up with any great accuracy.  On Valve’s list of “What is Valve Not Good At?”, number 5 is: “making predictions longer than a few months out.”3  You’re going to have to accept a little short-term volatility in exchange for long-term stability.

And, of course, never forget what I said at the very beginning: none of this is a substitute for having good sales and marketing.  You still need that stuff.  Only now you need to find salespeople willing to sign up to your crazy ideas on culture.

Can this work for all kinds of employees?  Hard to say.  My experience is primarily with technical people, mostly with managing programmers.  Valve and Netflix (and Google) are the same.  Netflix even draws a distinction explicitly:

In procedural work, the best are 2x better than the average.  In creative/inventive work, the best are 10x better than the average ...4

On the other hand, SRC, who is often credited with starting the move toward financial transparency and is certainly a proponent of employee ownership, is a manufacturing business, and Zappos5 is primarily a customer service business, so that at least gives us some belief that these are ideas that can be put to use regardless of what type of workers you primarily employ.

It’s also fair to note that most of my employees were doing hourly billable work.  If you’re charging your customers by the hour, it’s much easier to sell your employees on getting paid by the hour.  We experiemented with variations on the hourly pay—specifically a “salary bank,” where employees still got paid hourly, but that pay went into a virtual account from which they drew a regular salary—to help alleviate concerns over paycheck instability.  But it’s admittedly a harder sell to pay modern workers hourly when you’re not charging by the hour, and it makes determining profit figures (for calculating bonuses) tougher too.

The final question, of course, is “can it scale?”

Both Netflix and Valve are concerned with this question.6  As well they should be: according to Wikipedia, Valve has 400 employees and Netflix has 2,348.  SRC has 1,200.  Google has 53,861.  So at least some of these ideas actually are scaling.  Of course, no one is doing all the things I propose here, so I can’t answer the question definitively.  And even those success stories have their flaws: at least half of the things on the aforementioned “What is Valve Not Good At?” list are scaling problems.  But hiring high-performance employees and keeping them motivated (not to mention deliriously, ecstatically happy) goes a long way toward solving pretty much any problem—because the employees will solve the problems for you.  And I have no reason to believe scaling problems are somehow an exception to that.

But there is actually another question, one which might be the most interesting of all.  Would I use this philosophy again?

Well, in part that question devolves into “would I ever want to start my own business again?”  I’ve ruminated on this question before, and I didn’t come to a firm conclusion.  So I’m not sure about that aspect of it.  But I can say with absolute certainty that if I were to do it again, I would definitely use the Barefoot Philosophy.  The one thing that my experience taught me which I hold more dearly than any other lesson is that it is possible to create a company where the employees have fun, value their customers, focus on the bottom line, and still love coming to work every day.  It’s hard, but it’s possible.  And, once you achieve it, those same employees will fight fiercely to keep it going.  There will be never be a need to inspire them; they’ll show up that way every day.  There will never be a need to have them fill out surveys trying to ascertain their satisfaction; you’ll see it in every one of their smiling faces.  There are many things I do not miss about running my own business, but that one I do miss.  A lot.  Almost all my former employees are three thousand miles away from me now, so I rarely get to see them.  I miss seeing those expressions of delirious, ecstatic happiness that told me that, no matter how bad the stress was, it was all worth it.  So far, I haven’t found a place that could replicate it.  I want to see it again, that transportive joy to be at work with people you love, doing work that that you value, with respect, trust, and the freedom to make things happen.  I want to see it badly.

Perhaps one day I will.

Part: << 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1 Valve Handbook for New Employees, page 49.

2 In fact, I just read an article that shows me that at least some tech entrepreneurs are starting to understand the downsides of the exit strategy, even for themselves.

3 Valve Handbook for New Employees, page 52.

4 Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility, slide 36.

5 I didn’t go deeply into the Zappos business philosophy, but it’s focussed on employee happiness.

6 Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility, slide 76, Valve Handbook for New Employees, page 42.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Barefoot Philosophy: What Employees Want

[This is part 7 of an 8 part series: The Barefoot Philosphy.  It is based on my experiences as the founder of a business—Barefoot Software—which I ran for 12 years.  Please start with the intro.]

We’ve described all the cornerstones of the Barefoot Philosophy.  So, when you put it all together, what does it all mean?

That’s a tough question.  As I say, at the time I was involved in “the Grand Experiement.”  I was interested in proving a bunch of people wrong, and making a bunch of other people happy, and providing a kickass workplace (and a comfortable living) to as many people as I could manage.  I didn’t look much beyond that.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, and now that I’ve gone back to working for others, and had a chance to find a few not-so-terrible (if still imperfect) workplaces to compare against, I think I can finally put my finger on what it all means.  I think that all employees want three things out of their jobs:

  1. Respect
  2. Trust
  3. Freedom

And, when you think about it, those three things are not so much to ask.  They’re essential to basic human dignity, in fact.  But they’re mighty rare in today’s corporate workplaces.

Of course, none of those things can be unconditional.  Respect and trust must be earned; it isn’t just handed out to anyone who walks in the door.  Freedom is not absolute: it doesn’t mean that anyone can do anything they want.  There are caveats aplenty with all three.  But let’s consider each one briefly.

Respect means you listen to what people have to say.  In my line of work, we’re talking about programmers, or other technical professions.  In general, these people are highly trained, and very well-compensated.  In other words, you’re paying them a shit-ton of money.  Why would you not listen to them?  You don’t always have to do everything they suggest.  (In fact, they wouldn’t respect you if you did that.)  But when you ignore them, you make them crazy.  They’re not going to be content with just earning a bunch of money and not caring whether you ignore their highly trained advice.  And if they were content with that, why would you want people like that working for you anyway?

Trust means you believe that people want to do their jobs.  You don’t stand over them to make sure they’re doing it.  You don’t micromanage.  You don’t tell them they can’t work from home when they need to, or when they just feel like it.  You don’t insitute silly policies to try to control them.  You don’t ask them to justify every hour of their day.  I left my last job because of lack of trust, and, when I leave my current job, it will be for the same reason.  So if you’re trying to figure out how much trust is going to cost you, better factor in how much distrust is going to cost.

Freedom means giving people latitude to pursue their own ideas.  How can you expect to have any innovation without allowing freedom?  Google is probably the leader in this particular area, with their formalized “20% of your time on personal projects” policy, but very few companies have followed that lead.  Trying to direct the every move of your employees is doomed to failure on so many fronts: it’s distrustful, as we already covered, and it takes up way too much of your time.  Don’t you have better things to do?  And, in the end, you close off the avenues of exploration that lead your company to new and exciting places ahead of your competition.

You want highly motivated employees.  “High-performance people,” as they are referred to both by Netflix and Valve.  In fact, both the documents we’ve been dissecting contain this exact phrase: “high-performance people are generally self-improving.”1  In other words, the best thing you can do to encourage these employees is just leave them the fuck alone.  As Netflix points out (emphasis in the original):

Responsible people thrive on freedom, and are worthy of freedom.2

What would you rather have: people that need constant coddling, or people who will take initiative, innovate, and get things done?  If you want the latter, you have to give to receive.  And what you have to give is respect, trust, and freedom.

And beware of rules.  Policies, and guidelines, and structure.  It has a tendency to multiply uncontrollably; don’t let it get a foothold.  We already talked about what what Valve thinks of corporate structure.  Netflix is more blunt:

Process-focus drives more talent out3

All those little rules and policies are going to drive your top employees—the ones who think out of the box and aren’t willing to be constrained by your rules—absolutely batshit crazy.  To people who think Netflix’s policy on vacation tracking (“there is no policy or tracking”) is insane, they respond:

There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked

Lesson: you don’t need policies for everything4

Think about that for a minute.  I know, it sounds flip—it sounds like it’s supposed to be cute, and a little amusing, but not to be taken seriously.  But actually think about it.  Do you need to tell your employees not to come to work naked?  No?  Now go back and think about how many of the company policies you do have implicitly treat your employees like idiots.

In my experience, too many managers think their employees incapable of getting anything done on their own.  Even if they don’t believe that consciously, their actions scream it.  This why they come up with artificial deadlines, and guilt trips, and threats, and austerity policies.  These things are designed to put pressure on employees in order to get them to complete their work.  But these things are stupid: properly motivated employees don’t need pressure to do their work.  They want to do the work.  Now, perhaps you’re not properly motivating them (although that’s what the last 5 posts have been about, so you really have no excuse at this point).  But that’s not their fault.  It’s yours.

The only “pressure” I ever put on my employees was to foster some competition amongst them.  And even then I was very careful.  What you want is constructive competition, not destructive competition.  What’s the difference?  Simple:  Destructive competition is working hard to look better than the next guy.  Constructive competition is working hard to be better.  Looking better is most easily achieved by making the other guy look worse.  Being better requires self-improvement.  Merit-based pay and open pay rates and anytime raises and self-forming teams foster constructive competition.  Calibration and empty titles and infrequent compensation rewards and salary secrecy foster destructive competition.

At Barefoot, employees had a workplace that they valued.  They would do anything to protect that.  They understood the financial situation well enough to know how to protect it.  They knew where they needed to save money, and they knew exactly how valuable each customer was.  They fought to keep those customers: to keep them happy, to deliver top value, to go above and beyond and add personal touches.  When there was no work, they didn’t get paid, so they did everything in their power to make sure the work kept coming in.  I never had to stand up at a company meeting and remind everyone that it was their job to make the company successful; they knew it.  It was their company, after all.  There was no one “above” them whose job it was to take care of those things; it was their job.  Each and every one of them.  Every single one was a benefactor of the Grand Experiment, and they would do anything to keep it from failing.

I thought I was creating a utopia for workers.  It turned out I was creating a productivity juggernaut.

Next week we’ll climb down off our high horse and look at whether there are any downsides to this philosophy.

Part: << 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 >>

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Barefoot Philosophy Cornerstone #5: Employee Ownership

[This is part 6 of an 8 part series: The Barefoot Philosphy.  It is based on my experiences as the founder of a business—Barefoot Software—which I ran for 12 years.  Please start with the intro.]

It’s time for the final cornerstone.  (Yes, I know that makes five cornerstones.  It’s sort of a pentagon thing.)  Merit-based pay and no salaries gave our employees a sense of financial independence and responsibility.  Financial transparency gave them the knowledge of how to run the company themselves, and no org chart gave them the ability to do so.  Now they just need the motivation to do it.

So give them the company.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people running a company say that they were frustrated because they couldn’t get their employees to act like this was their company.  I can, however, tell you how many times I’ve heard people running a company suggest that they solve this problem by actually giving their employees an ownership stake in the company: zero.  It’s done, obviously; I started out with cornerstone #1 talking about Jack Stack and SRC, which is an employee-owned company.  But none of the corporations I ever worked for considered it.  Occasionally, stock options were offered, but it’s just not the same thing.  Giving up ownership means giving up control, and giving up equity, and those are two things that most entrepreneurs just don’t cede.

Of course, I’m not most entrepreneurs.

I say, if you want your employees to act like this is their company, make it so this is their company.  Here’s how we did it at Barefoot.

When you first came to work at Barefoot, you were a probationary employee for 90 days.  At the end of that period, you were awarded one share of stock.  Not a stock option; an actual share.  It wasn’t much, but you were now a shareholder.  You had the right (and, again, the responsibility) to vote at the annual shareholder’s meetings, where we elected board members and occasionally approved tweaks to our articles of incorporation.

Of course, there isn’t much you can do with a single share of stock.  We were always privately held, so you couldn’t trade it on the open market.  You could sell it, but only to another shareholder—never to an outsider.  You could sell it back to the company for the current stock price (set by the board),1 although the company could decline to buy it if it was economically infeasible.2  You could vote it, but one vote didn’t carry much weight.

But every year, at the end of the year (before the annual shareholder’s meeting), every current employee received another stock bonus.  This bonus was based on how long you had been with the company, and whether you held multiple roles (e.g., employees got stock, and board members got stock; if you were both, you got double shares), and a few other factors.  This stock distribution was mostly additional stock added to the general pool, so it diluted everyone’s percentage, but then everyone also received more stock, and in practice everyone always came out ahead.

Of course, the majority shareholder was me.  But, every year, I proxied the majority of my stock to the employees.  I split the proxies evenly amongst them, based on their current percentages.  So if you owned 10% of however much stock I didn’t own, you’d get 10% of the proxy.  I kept enough for myself that I was still a significant factor in the votes, but never so much that no one else’s vote mattered.  It would take a pretty serious coalition to go against me, but it was possible.

Also, every year I donated a chunk of my stock back to the company, which it used for part of the new shares it distributed.  I was slowly handing my company over to its employees.  I did it slowly and carefully, because I wanted to make sure I had the system right before I lept into it; the ability to squash any vote in an emergency situation was my safety net.  But, as the company finally ended, I was right on the verge of becoming a minority shareholder in the company I founded.

Is this crazy?  Jack Stack apparently doesn’t think so.

I don’t own 100% of SRC. I own 19%. The rest is owned by the employee stock ownership plan and various employees. I could have had more, but that was plenty for me. Not wanting to be accused of being greedy probably had something to do with it. But more important, I didn’t want to be alone. I was going to be leading the charge up the hill. I wanted to make sure that when I got to the top of the hill and turned around, there was a bunch of people coming with me.3

Netflix has a different approach.  Employees can choose to receive part of their compensation as stock options (not stock).4  Netflix points out that this lets the employees decide how much they want to invest in the company’s future.

But I didn’t want my employees to have to decide that.  I didn’t want them deciding that they didn’t care, or not having the money to invest.  So I just gave them the stock, whether they liked it or not.  I didn’t say to them, “act like this is your company.”  I said, “here: this is your company now.”

Now you see why I never worried about my employees ripping me off, or doing something that would be detrimental to the customers.  They would have been ripping off themselves; it was their customers they were looking out for.  With great power comes great responsibility, as the mantra goes, and I put that to work for my company and my customers.  Which were now my employees’ company and my employees’ customers.  Their reputation was on the line as much as mine was.  It was their money as much as mine that they were playing with when they made financial decisions.  They were not only earning top pay rates, plus a commission-based bonus, but any profit left over after all that was partially theirs too.

Did it work?  Well, I can prove that it did.  Because I had employees who would do some work for free.

In any company, there’s work that needs to get done that it just isn’t practical to pay someone to do.  Typically, the founders of the company do this work themselves.  This is why starting a business is such a time sink: you not only can’t pay anyone else to do it, you can’t really afford to pay yourself to do it either.  So it’s just extra work that somebody has to do after hours.

But, at Barefoot, there were no salaries.  Remember: if you’re working, you’re getting paid.  If that extra work was going to get done, either someone had to get paid, or ... someone had to agree to work for free.

Naturally, I was constantly putting in free work.  But I certainly never expected any of my employees to join me.  And, yet, that’s exactly what happened.

At Barefoot, you were allowed to work for free on company business as often as you liked.  You would still run a timer and track that time; you just attached the timer to a special internal “customer” which guaranteed that that time never hit your payroll.  At first, it was nothing more than a mark of pride: self-forming teams might take it into consideration when trying to decide between two close candidates (go with the person who’s more dedicated to the company), but it was mostly just for bragging rights.  We did eventually start using that time for other things, though: put in enough unpaid time and the company would start covering part of your health benefits; put in even more, and you’d increase the amount of stock you got at the end of the year.  We had to start adding these perks, because there were so many people doing it towards the end there that I was starting to feel guilty about it.  So if you ask me if know that my employees felt like this was truly their company, I can answer without a single doubt or hesitation.  Yeah, they knew it was theirs.

I set out to make my business employee-focussed.  To make it employee-owned was a natural outgrowth of that.  I never questioned whether that was the right thing to do or not.  I never meant to get rich, so I didn’t care about giving up the money.  I never wanted to be in charge, so I didn’t care about giving up the control.  I just wanted to love coming to work every day, and I wanted my employees to love it too.  The fact that it made my company financially stronger—because all the employees were now focussed on making their company run more smoothly and earn more money—was just a bonus, as far as I was concerned.

That’s all five cornerstones.  Next week we tie everything up and put a little bow on it.

Part: << 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 >>

1 In fact, technically you had to offer to sell it to the company first.  That is, the corporation retained “right of first refusal.”

2 Technically the company could decline.  In practice, I don’t think that ever actually happened.

3 “Being the Boss”, Inc., Bo Burlingham, October 1989.

4 Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility, slides 103, 110.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Barefoot Philosophy Cornerstone #4: No Org Chart

[This is part 5 of an 8 part series: The Barefoot Philosphy.  It is based on my experiences as the founder of a business—Barefoot Software—which I ran for 12 years.  Please start with the intro.]

Valve has a more colorful phrase for this: “Welcome to Flatland!”1  Either way, it amounts the same thing: there’s no real corporate structure, no titles, no heirarchy.  No org chart.

For Barefoot, this was an oversimplification.  The truth was, we had managers, just like anyplace else.  But your position as a manager was on a given project.  Today you might be a manager; tomorrow you might be back to a grunt coder, and the person you were managing yesterday is now your boss.  Even more weirdly (well, it was weird for some people), you might be both a manager and a managee at the same time, if you were working on two projects at once (which happened sometimes).  So we actually had titles, and positions, and structure; it was just fluid, and not really relevant in the bigger picture.

There are a hell of a lot of advantages to this approach (just as there are for the other cornerstones).  For one thing, it gives people a chance to try out new things.  Maybe you think you’d like to try your hand at project management.  In a corporate system with a traditional org chart, you’d need to give up your current job and try out for a new one as a project manager, possibly in a whole different department, with a whole new boss, and all new politics to learn.  At Barefoot, if you wanted to try out being a project manager, you just had to convince a self-forming team that you could handle the job, then you did it for one project.  If you liked it, and were any good at it, it would be easy to convince the next team to let you do it again.  If you didn’t like it, no worries: you never had to do it again.

It also further reinforces the theme of equality.  There were many occasions when I was working right at the bottom rung of a project team.  Sure, I was often the boss, but I was just as often (okay, almost as often) working for one of my employees.  See, we’re all the same here.

In fact, our positions within the company were so fluid that we actively discouraged nesting.  That is, no one had their own desk.  All the computers were basically just terminals: all your files and configuration and all the technical bits that make your workstation yours were on the network, so you could walk in, pick any old computer, and just get to work.  Of course, this wasn’t ideal; some people felt a bit too transient, not having a permanent place to call their own.  I notice that Valve solves this problem rather neatly: everyone has their own desk, but all the desks have wheels.2  Instead of moving from desk to desk, you just move the whole desk around.  If I were going to start a new company today, I’d totally steal that idea.

What’s wrong with corporate structure?  I can’t say it better than the Valve handbook:

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.3

If you’re completely wedded to the idea of the org chart, this may seem bizarre to you.  What about performance evaluations, you may ask?  With no bosses, who evaluates the employees?  Well, the way we did it was that evals were done quarterly, and were conducted by three of your coworkers.  One of the employees had to be someone who had managed you that quarter, unless no one had.  One of the employees had to be someone you had managed that quarter, unless you hadn’t managed anyone.  And the final employee had to be someone who had worked alongside you in a parallel position.  (If you were only at the top or bottom of your projects, we filled in with another of your reports or another of your parallels, as appropriate.)  Nowadays we’d call that “360-degree feedback”.  At the time, we weren’t aware of that term; this just made sense.

Even more crucially: without organizational structure, how are decisions made?  Well, generally we made decisions by concensus.  This is easier to arrange than you might think.  But, if we couldn’t reach concensus for a project decision, the manager for the project made the call (after all, that’s what they were there for).  But what about decisions on the company’s future in general?

We’ll have to start with the staff meeting.  Staff meetings at Barefoot were held monthly.  All employees were required to attend (contractors could attend if they chose, but didn’t have to).  It was more than just required attendance though: it was required participation.  Participation in staff meetings was considered akin to voting: not just a right, but a responsibility.  Every staff meeting followed a simple, three-point agenda:

  1. What are we doing right?
  2. What are we doing wrong?
  3. What can Barefoot do for you?

Point #1 is #1 for a good reason: always lead off with the positive feedback.  Get everyone in a good mood, give out those well-deserved kudos right off the bat.  Recognition is important.

Point #2 is where we did our soul-searching, what some businesses will call a “retrospective” or a “post-mortem.”  Only this isn’t for a particular agile iteration, or even for a whole project.  This is for our everyday, day-to-day business activities.  And we resisted the need to rephrase it to “what could we do better?”  If we’re wrong, let’s admit we’re wrong and not try to couch it in softer words.  More important that identification of the wrongs, however, is figuring out how to do better in the future.  This is really hard to do.  In every other corporation I’ve worked with, this has always been the stated goal, and it always devolves into the blame game.  Since I’ve moved from the East Coast to the West, it’s changed from open finger-pointing to an odd little dance where we try to point out that it wasn’t our fault while carefully not offending whosever fault it actually was, but that’s not materially different.  Only at Barefoot have I seen people actually put in the effort to avoid discussion of whose fault it was (which, after all, doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re aware of their mistake) and concentrate on how to make it better.

Point #3 is simply a verbal suggestion box.  What are we not doing at all that we should be doing?  What can the company do to make you a little happier?  What new policies would you like to see?  What new resources would you like to see the company buy?  (And here you can see how the financial transparency comes in handy; every employee knows that they need to—and how to—figure out whether the company can afford something before suggesting that we buy it.)

Everyone is (or at least can be) involved in every decision.  Valve puts it more succinctly: “it’s your job to insert yourself wherever you think you should be.”4  Now, we also had meetings of our executives, and we also had board meetings.  But employees were always invited to attend those too, if they liked, and offer their input.  (And sometimes employees would get elected to the board and participate even more directly.)

I’ve likened my own role at Barefoot to open-source “benevolent dictators” such as Larry Wall or Linus Torvalds.  At the end of the day, it was my company and I could make the call if I wanted to.  But everyone got a chance to contribute, and really be heard, and actually influence the direction, if they so chose.  And even my benevolent dictatorship was open to change, as we’ll see next week.

Lack of an org chart meant that everyone was responsible for the success or failure of the company.  And everyone took that responsibility very seriously.  Next week we’ll look at the final piece of the puzzle that explains why.

Part: << 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 >>