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Blog : Fresh Starts, Fresh Ideas


Fresh Starts, Fresh Ideas

Culture plays a very important role in the success of a business; a good culture will help people to thrive and to be more productive, a negative culture can have the opposite effect and result in high labour turnover. Many organisations recognise the need for a culture change but, especially for large companies, it can be difficult and take a long time to implement…if only they had the opportunity to start from scratch! In reality, only new companies get this chance. However, thinking about what you would do if you had the chance to create your culture again might reveal some interesting ideas.

The software start-up scene has been one to watch in this area over the past few years. There are many companies that have grown rapidly as their products have become massively popular and profitable. Think Facebook and Twitter, both of which were started by a very small number of people, have now been floated on the stock market and are worth billions of dollars. These companies aren’t interesting only because of what they build; some of them are infamous for going against tradition and trying new things to build a positive culture and engage their people. But how have they done it? How have they managed to grow so fast, hire so many people and still be revered places to work?

An obvious example to look at would be Google, who famously created a culture completely different to that of their major rivals. Think of their extravagant budget-free offices and the 20% time to encourage creativity. This post will look at a less well-known example, a US-based company called GitHub. Launched in 2008, GitHub is a source code hosting provider with over 3 million users, growing revenue annually at 300% since 2008. In August 2011 they had about 30 employees. Since then they have hired over 180 more. Many software developers aspire to work for GitHub, but why?


1. Let your people do the talking

GitHub rightfully make a big deal about their positive culture and have dedicated a small blog series to the reasons behind it. It’s not unusual to see their people broadcasting their love for the company on their own blog posts. Take Phil Haack, a respected ex-Microsoft employee, who posted on his year anniversary at GitHub “Please forgive me a brief moment to gush, but I really love this company”. Shortly before that post, one of his colleagues blogged about why he loves GitHub. Similar posts and comments come frequently and from many different people, which indicates that it’s not a small minority who love GitHub, it appears most of their people do. According to the Corporate Leadership Council on average around 20% of employees are actively engaged, I’d love to see how high this figure is at GitHub!


2. Recruit for your culture

With such a positive perception of the company spread through the industry, imagine how much easier it is to hire great people. Add to that their remote working philosophy and they have access to a wider talent pool, some of whom won’t need much persuasion to join GitHub. Having great people is a reason that many GitHubbers list for being happy at work. This makes sense – if you’re able to attract some of the most talented individuals in the industry, there’s a good chance you’ll grow a respectful culture where people aspire to achieve great things because their colleagues already have or are currently achieving great things too.


3. Trust your people

So why do some of the best people in the industry work at GitHub? Reading the blog gives an insight to the amount of trust that is placed in their people. One example is the approach to working hours. There are no set hours – some people start at 7am, some start in the afternoon. They feel they have a self-motivated team, so hours don’t really matter – they trust their people to put in the effort and deliver on their goals. And it’s not only the employees that benefit – GitHub believe their people are at their most creative if they can work when they want,  more often than not people will choose to stay late to complete their work, rather than seeing the clock hit 5:30pm and head for the exit. This quote from one of their first developers explains just that: “as soon as you make it about hours, their job becomes less about code and more about hours”.  So this idea alone has helped GitHub hire good people and create a culture where people put in extra effort because they can and because they want to. Add to that a flat hierarchy which empowers everybody and further investment in their people with the likes of a fantastic new office, and they’re setting themselves up for further success.

These ideas suit GitHub because of the industry in and the type of people they employ. These ideas won’t work everywhere. But having a clean slate just a few years ago has given them this opportunity. What would you do if you could create a completely new culture where you work?

Steve is Purple Cubed’s Head Developer and an all-round genius, he can be contacted on steve@purplecubed.com

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