If I asked you to characterize the culture of a Silicon Valley company, odds are you would paint me a very distinct picture. There would be big, open collaborative spaces, pool tables and video games, tons of computers, and a well stocked kitchen. Beyond all the material perks, there would be vibrant, happy employees. Employees who have a say in their careers. Powerful employees who play hard and work harder. That's the Silicon Valley way, right? It's unlike anywhere else in the world--or, at least, it used to be.
Today, though, this specific brand of workplace culture is rapidly spreading its wings. Of course, companies across the globe have been embracing the Silicon Valley style for years. But there's a lot more to it than that. Ours is a culture where the perks are secondary to the people--and that hasn't always been a common attitude in business.
Then again, Silicon Valley has always operated a bit outside the business norm. Our companies are born in garages and on college campuses. We are known for pushing boundaries and catalyzing change. And our founders aren't your typical investment banker types--they're young innovators, people at home within the traditionally humble, egalitarian communities of engineering and science. So it's natural that we have carried those attributes into our work environments over time.
But perhaps more importantly, we've also had to fight harder than most for the right talent. Sure, quality skills are now in high demand and short supply all over the country, but Silicon Valley has historically and exquisitely felt that pain. For decades, we've tended to have a much higher concentration of companies competing for the same advanced technical expertise. So in many ways, the evolution of our work culture and the empowerment of our employees are a direct response to that competition. And today especially, as millennials dominate the job market in search of a way to contribute and have a purpose, Silicon Valley companies have continued to evolve their unique brand of employee-focused culture in an effort to woo the best candidates.
It's easy to understand why companies in other industries and geographies would be interested in emulating the Silicon Valley work culture. More and more businesses are in need of--and are competing for--technical skills, and they are increasingly realizing that one of the keys to attracting top talent is providing the type of workplace where employees have a sense of control and potential. When you can get that kind of talent on board, and you can prove to investors that you have that Silicon Valley vibe, you're more likely to get funding.
So yes, it can most certainly be advantageous to companies to follow our cultural lead, but getting there takes work. Specifically, I believe it requires four key components:
First--let's not kid ourselves--money matters. Compensation is still the greatest motivator. In fact, the 2015 Jobvite Job Seeker Nation study shows that 32 percent of people who leave their jobs do so because they feel underpaid--particularly in the Northeastern United States. Companies need to pay people at least market rate for their positions, so be sure to research current and statistically significant surveys for what your market is paying, bearing in mind that these surveys grow outdated quickly. If you can't swing the cash, then try elevating your compensation packages with equity in the company if possible.
Second, you have to provide employees with opportunities. One of the most attractive elements of the Silicon Valley work culture, particularly within smaller start-ups, is the idea that employees can advance upward--or even move into new positions laterally--because their companies have an intrinsic desire to help them grow. But sometimes, larger, more traditional businesses can keep people in the status quo. They have too many layers of management to bypass, and employees today don't want obstacles. They want stepping stones. No joke: Over a quarter of all employed job seekers describe their current positions as stepping stones--and that's exactly how they want it. People expect a clear path to advancing their experience and their careers--and if they don't get it, they'll go elsewhere sooner rather than later. The data proves this, with growth opportunities being second only to compensation in the factors that drive people to leave their jobs.
Third, you have to give people flexible ways to work--which means, implicitly, you have to trust them. Today's job seekers crave the flexibility to more efficiently balance their work and personal lives, and they know they have the technology to make it happen. They're asking, "Why do I have to be in the building when I have a laptop, a smartphone, and SaaS tools that make collaboration effortless?" If you're still answering that question the old-school way--because you think employees need to be supervised in order to get their jobs done--your lack of trust is a red flag to candidates. In Silicon Valley culture, where remote work is extremely common, we trust that our talent is motivated to succeed. So when it's at all feasible, you need to trust your employees to telecommute. At least a quarter of today's job seekers are taking remote work flexibility into consideration before accepting a position. All that being said, the company culture that attracts its employees into the office for in-person collaboration, in my view, is the company that will move the fastest. So, offer the flexibility, but encourage quality collaboration.
Finally, you need to show that you value risk-taking. Silicon Valley companies have always been about trying new things. We've built multi-billion dollar businesses because a handful of folks with a few good ideas were given the opportunity to get out there and give it a shot. If you want to replicate the Silicon Valley work culture, then you have to be willing to give your employees a little more lateral bandwidth to take chances without fear of punishment. Let them take one day a week, for example, to test a new theory or pitch new ideas. As Mark Zuckerberg famously said, "In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that's guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."
As more companies within non-tech industries and geographical hubs adopt these principles, I think we'll see a greater movement of capital following them. These are the components that ultimately prove to investors that a company is worth backing--and that's one of the reasons why Silicon Valley has been so successful over the years. We put our employees first, and we build cultures that empower our employees, and that wins us the risk-takers and the innovators that truly drive business forward. I'm excited to see these ideas continue to spread--and I'm sure there are a lot of bright young minds out there that feel the same way.