I spent this week in Silicon Valley visiting LinkedIn, Facebook and Google headquarters, meeting with many people involved in the day-to-day operations of their products.
Visiting these campuses for the first time, I was struck by how different the atmospheres of these three relatively new businesses seemed, compared to more “established” businesses I’ve interviewed and visited. It was visible how dedicated—and happy—the employees were. You could see how each company prized innovation. And it was apparent at each site how much they value those people who work there.
[For LinkedIn tips, tricks and analysis, check out CIO.com’s LinkedIn Bible.]
Here are four characteristics I’ve culled from my visit that really set these companies apart. How does your business compare? Could it do better?
1. They value innovation. It’s no secret that many IT departments are stretched—for time, for money, for resources. But one common thread that weaved through each of the three businesses I visited was that they all schedule time—usually in regular intervals—to innovate.
Whether it’s called “hack day” or a “hackathon,” the general idea is to get teams of employees together, typically after work hours, to brainstorm new ideas and solutions. This could be anything from a new way to make internal processes work better to a new product that the business could turn around and sell. The key is that nothing is off-limits.
Everyone told me that these events are always popular among employees—and it doesn’t just have to be the IT department that’s involved: Extend it to the whole company, and offer rewards for the best “hack,” whether it’s bragging rights or a gift certificate to a favorite local restaurant.
2. They encourage failure. Sort of. When I met with Facebook CIO Tim Campos, there’s one thing he said that stuck with me, and it coincides with the above observation of valuing innovation. He said:
“One of the things that is really powerful in an organization—what innovation effectly is—is a license to fail. When you’re willing to tolerate failure, people are willing to do things differently. If you’re not willing to tolerate failure, you have to do things in the tried-and-true way, which is not innovative.”
[For more on Facebook tips, tricks and analysis, check out CIO.com’s Facebook Bible.]
Think about your company’s culture and its tolerance for failure. Are employees encouraged to think outside the box and try new things? Or is failure reprimanded and looked down upon?
3. They make work fun. I’ve written before about how important the element of “fun” is in a work environment: it can boost employee productivity, creativity and happiness, which leads to a longer retention of quality employees.
Facebook, Google and LinkedIn are inherently fun places, and it’s apparent from the moment you walk in the door. Google, for example, has a jumbo-sized Android phone in its lobby where employees can take a break to play Angry Birds. LinkedIn gave each of its departments a stipend to decorate their cubes with a theme, and then judged whose was the most creative. And at Facebook, employees zip from meeting to meeting through the hallways on skateboards.
While these “fun” features obviously may not be practical for your business, consider what your company does—or could do—to keep employees happy at work.
4. They trust their employees. Perhaps the most surprising characteristic was how trusting the businesses were of their employees. Facebook, for example, stocks supply cabinets with computer batteries, keyboards, headphones and more, much like traditional companies stock theirs with pens, paper and Post-Its.
Their philosophy: Trust that because employees are happy at work, they will take only what they need. One way they keep honesty in check is by denoting on all supply cabinets how much each of the supplies costs. Pairing a price with the product, they say, erases the notion that everything is free and makes them aware of what it costs the company.
How is your company fostering innovation? Do they encourage failure? What could your company do better?
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at email@example.com