Sunday, September 15, 2013

Valve - Handbook for New Employees

This is the handbook given to new employees at gaming company Valve and its titled -  "A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do" (full handbook here in pdf format).

Welcome to Flatland:
Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.
But when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.
That’s why Valve is flat. It’s our shorthand way of saying that we don’t have any management, and nobody “reports to” anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn’t your manager. This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.
A flat structure removes every organizational barrier between your work and the customer enjoying that work. Every company will tell you that “the customer is boss,” but here that statement has weight. There’s no red tape stop- ping you from figuring out for yourself what our customers want, and then giving it to them.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of responsibility,” you’re right. And that’s why hiring is the single most important thing you will ever do at Valve (see “Hiring,” on page 43). Any time you interview a potential hire, you need to ask yourself not only if they’re talented or collaborative but also if they’re capable of literally running this company, because they will be.

The Office:
Sometimes things around the office can seem a little too good to be true. If you find yourself walking down the hall one morning with a bowl of fresh fruit and Stump- town-roasted espresso, dropping off your laundry to be washed, and heading into one of the massage rooms, don’t freak out. All these things are here for you to actually use. And don’t worry that somebody’s going to judge you for taking advantage of it—relax! And if you stop on the way back from your massage to play darts or work out in the Valve gym or whatever, it’s not a sign that this place is going to come crumbling down like some 1999-era dot-com start- up. If we ever institute caviar-catered lunches, though, then maybe something’s wrong. Definitely panic if there’s caviar.

What if I screw up?
Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn’t make sense for us to operate that way. Providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company— we couldn’t expect so much of individuals if we also penal- ized people for errors. Even expensive mistakes, or ones which result in a very public failure, are genuinely looked at as opportunities to learn. We can always repair the mistake or make up for it.
Screwing up is a great way to find out that your assump- tions were wrong or that your model of the world was a little bit off. As long as you update your model and move forward with a better picture, you’re doing it right. Look for ways to test your beliefs. Never be afraid to run an ex- periment or to collect more data.
It helps to make predictions and anticipate nasty out- comes. Ask yourself “what would I expect to see if I’m right?” Ask yourself “what would I expect to see if I’m wrong?” Then ask yourself “what do I see?” If something totally unexpected happens, try to figure out why.
There are still some bad ways to fail. Repeating the same mistake over and over is one. Not listening to customers or peers before or after a failure is another. Never ignore the evidence; particularly when it says you’re wrong.

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