Recently, I had the chance to visit Facebook. Unfortunately it was in London rather than California. But the experience made me think profoundly about culture but also invited me to question how tech companies can really differentiate themselves.
Let’s start with the ‘profound effect’. No, this was not some sort of epiphany, but it was eye-opening. Not because of the environment – it’s similar in many ways to those of Google, LinkedIn and many other big and emerging tech companies.
What was clear is that the culture is its strongest and most powerful force. I don’t mean in the sense of values (they weren’t written up on the wall). It’s not even because of the candy store of sweets everywhere.
There’s a sense of something happening here. A common purpose and a clear way of working. Everything is focused on getting the brightest and best people to find ways to do things differently or better, or both. And to do it quickly.
You can see that much of this stems from the realm of software engineering – and the insatiable desire to investigate, collaborate, test and fix. Geek is good. And geek gets things done.
Organisations used to take the view that techies were best left in the backroom. “They’re not client-facing”; “they don’t have the social skills”; in essence, saying “they are not as good as us”.
No one puts baby in the corner…
Software engineers have taught us more about culture than a coach-load of consultants. Culture thrives on achievement. Doing stuff and learning from your mistakes. Sharing and collaborating. Challenging and questioning each other. Helping to build something that makes a difference to others.
Facebook, to me, conveys a sense of purpose and a culture that binds people to the business. I must admit when I walked in with my blue suit on (I had just come from the City), I felt like the Dad at the disco. But I found it to be warm, friendly and all built around helping you do the best job you can.
I loved it.
But is it any different from the likes of Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and others? Yes, and no. I’m slightly agnostic about Facebook the product; and Facebook the office does, in many ways, look like its competition. But I found a place with a little more humility than I imagined.
Which brings me to the question of differentiation. With more and more start-ups, plus the big silicon valley businesses, and the legacy tech and consulting firms, how do employers stand out? Especially when everyone’s got sweet shops, free canteens, arcade games and tents to sleep in.
It comes back to purpose and empowerment. What are you trying to do and how are you helping colleagues to do it?
Answer that and you can not only stand up to your competitors; you will stand out.