Power to the Employee
The 1970s was an era of unprecedented revolution. Across the United States and around the world, the times, they were a-changing. A new generation was rising up and they had new ideas about the way things should be done. The headlines of the day were dominated by a multitude of civil rights movements and the struggle for equality. People were marching in the streets demanding change.
A similar uprising was happening behind closed doors, in the boardrooms and corporate offices of America- or rather, just outside of them.
Inside an abandoned roller-skating rink in Santa Clara California a group of young, ambitious and free-thinking 20-somethings were creating a new kind of product and a new kind of company. Atari was a pioneer in the field of home video game consoles. Pong, the first game developed by Atari, was a world-wide sensation and the success of that game would spawn an entire industry. Yet, when reflecting on the influence that Atari had on the world, it’s not the games the company made or even the industry that was born from their success that stand as its greatest legacy. The most significant contribution Atari made to the world was its culture.
Rumours abound of the drug-fuelled parties and rock star atmosphere that existed at Atari in those days. They had a skatepark and a hot tub on sight and employees didn’t punch a clock. Everyone worked on deadlines and quotas and how you met those expectations was up to you. Some people worked at night, chain smoking at their desks while writing code. Others would come in at noon, build a bunch of units and then stay late to hang out with their colleagues. It was a whole new way of operating a business and it was quickly attracting some of the finest young minds in Silicon Valley. Among those eager to work for this burgeoning new company were a couple of friends who grew up in the area and had the spirit of entrepreneurship that Atari desired. Their names were Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Fast forward to today and Apple is regarded as one of the top companies in the world to work for. They foster a culture that is renowned for its inclusivity and openness.
Apple Park in Cupertino California is a massive complex of offices and labs that also houses gyms, sleeping areas, playgrounds, daycare facilities and a cafeteria that serves high quality food for virtually any diet. This facility was the vision of Steve Jobs and it is easy to surmise that those few years working for Atari had a great influence on the company he would go on to create.
Companies like Google and their world famous Googleplex with it’s eighteen cafeterias, multiple swimming pools and volleyball courts or Nike and their Nike World Headquarters with it’s two full sized soccer pitches show that this paradigm is here to stay. Employees are no longer looking for a gold watch and a pension after a lifetime of service. People want to do work they feel is meaningful for a company that makes them feel valued. Today’s top workers know that they are the commodity and today’s top companies know this as well.
If you want to attract the top minds in your industry then you need to join the culture club.
Creating an environment of inclusivity, where all ideas are heard and all people have a say is as important as paying a competitive wage. With services such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor, finding a job is easier than ever. In fact, qualified people are recruited all the time with little to no effort on their part. Employee retention is now a matter of concern for many companies and investment in a strong work culture is vital to growth and sustainability.
So what does a company do if it can’t afford to manage a campus with elaborate sports and recreation facilities?
Try throwing an employee appreciation event. While holidays can have negative associations for some people, an employee appreciation event is a great way to foster company spirit. You could hand out employee awards. These can be weekly via an email or quarterly during a town hall meeting. Make sure these are more than just awards recognizing top-sellers or the high performers. You want awards that promote a strong work culture such as the “always has their camera on during meetings” award or the “#1 meme source” award. Gestures such as these show employees that they are more than just a position.
We seem to be living in a new era of revolution. Human rights are again at the forefront of people’s minds as the next generation of world-changers rises up.
While people are once again marching the streets, behind closed doors change is surely happening as well. Perhaps in fifty years we will have a Thunberg Space Campus or a Tesla Headquarters on Mars. Or perhaps not. One thing we can be sure of, company culture will be as important as ever.