Saturday, April 21, 2012

A fascinating example of an organization making hiring job #1

Recently the employee handbook of Valve, a software and video game development and distribution company (famous for things like Half-Life and it's Steam service) was leaked and frankly it's one of the most interesting things I've read in a long time.  It's available several places, including here as of this writing.

Why so interesting? Several reasons...

1) It doesn't look or read like a typical employee handbook.  It's very informal, devoid of legalese, balances positivity and expectations, and is graphically very attractive.  Not exactly signs of your typical handbook.  As an example, the document starts with this statement on the cover:

A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.

(They do keep their formal policies on their Intranet (e.g., about benefits).)

2) It's a very interesting example of how a flat organization describes itself.  They don't appear to have much of a management hierarchy so much of the handbook is devoted to explaining how employees are supposed to select assignments, etc.

3) The document itself is editable on their Intranet.  Yes, you read that right, the employee handbook is a collaborative document.

Last but definitely not least,

4) This is a great example of how an organization can emphasize that hiring is the most important activity employees engage in.  The document is replete with examples.  Consider the following passages from the handbook:

p. 6: "hiring is the single most important thing you will ever do at Valve"

p. 14: "We have made significant strides toward bringing more predictability, measurement, and analysis to recruiting. A process that many assume must be treated only as a “soft” art because it has to do with humans, personalities, language, and nuance, actually has ample room for a healthy dose of science."

p. 17: "The thing we work hardest at is hiring good people"

here's my favorite:

p. 44: "Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Nothing else comes close. It’s more important than breathing. So when you’re working on hiring—participating in an interview loop or innovating in the general area of recruiting—everything else you could be doing is stupid and should be ignored!"

p. 45: "Missing out on hiring that great person is likely the most expensive kind of mistake we can make...a poor hiring decision can cause lots of damage, and can sometimes go unchecked for too long."

They also talk about how they hire:

p. 47: "When unchecked, people have a tendency to hire others who are lower-powered than themselves...We should hire people more capable than ourselves, not less."

pp. 47-48: "[In some circumstances] hiring someone who is at least capable seems (in the short term) to be smarter than not hiring anyone at all. But that’s actually a huge mistake. We can always bring on temporary/contract help to get us through tough spots, but we should never lower the hiring bar."

There are so many examples it's almost more of a introduction to hiring rather than to the company!

Also, in case you're interested, here's their "work at valve" page, which supports the culture as described in the handbook.

This "leak" has gotten a lot of press, and likely has done a lot to increase its attractiveness as an employer--another reason why this is such a fascinating example.

So I ask you: how much of your organization's handbook discusses the importance of hiring?  Do they make it clear it's a shared responsibility of every employee?  Is there a passion for hiring right?


Richard said...

Some very interesting extracts, thanks for sharing. I'm intrigued at "When unchecked, people have a tendency to hire others who are lower-powered than themselves...We should hire people more capable than ourselves, not less."

In my experience, lots of business owners really struggle to do this (I suspect, letting ego get in the way of business).

It's very smart of Valve to highlight this. I wonder how successful they are at truly implementing it?

BryanB said...

Good question. I don't have any data on the implementation, but at least the company seems to be doing quite well: