Tag Archives: work

Valve’s New Employees Handbook: “What is Valve *Not* Good At?”

Valve's New Employee Guide: Methods to find out what's going on

Valve admits that one of its weaknesses is internal communication. So its new employee guide provides a helpful illustration of how to stay in the loop.

A copy of gaming company Valve’s new employee guide made the rounds on Hacker News this morning (read the discussion here). Of all such company-manifestos, Valve’s ranks as one of the most well-design, brightly-written, and astonishingly honest.

Google has its 20-percent-time policy, Valve’s is 100 percent:

We’ve heard that other companies have people allocate a percentage of their time to self-directed projects. At Valve, that percentage is 100.

Since Valve is flat, people don’t join projects because they’re told to. Instead, you’ll decide what to work on after asking yourself the right questions (more on that later). Employees vote on projects with their feet (or desk wheels).

Strong projects are ones in which people can
see demonstrated value; they staff up easily. This means there are any number of internal recruiting efforts constantly under way.

To be fair, Google’s policy ostensibly allows that 20 percent time to be directed at non-company-boosting projects. It’s likely there is some internal mechanism/dynamic that prevents Valve malcontents from going too far off the ranch.

With the attention that Valve puts into just their guide, they’re obviously betting that their hiring process finds the talent with the right attitude. They describe the model employee as being “T-shaped”: skilled in a broad variety of talents and peerless in their narrow discipline.

One of the best sections comes at the end, under the heading “What is Valve Not Good At?” This is the classic opportunity to do the humblebrag, as when it comes up during hiring interviews (“My greatest weakness is that I’m too passionate about my work!”). Valve’s list of weaknesses are not harsh or odious – if you like what they’ve opined in the guide, then these weaknesses logically follow:

  • Helping new people find their way. We wrote this book to help, but as we said above, a book can only go so far. [My reading between the lines: the people we seek to hire are intelligent and experienced enough to navigate unknown territory]
  • Mentoring people. Not just helping new people figure things out, but proactively helping people to grow in areas where they need help is something we’re organizationally not great at. Peer reviews help, but they can only go so far. [our “T” shaped employees were hired because they are good at a lot of things and especially good at one thing. Presumably, they have enough of a “big picture” mindset to realize how they became an expert in one area, why they chose to become good at it, what it takes to get there, and a reasonable judgment of cost versus benefit ]
  • Disseminating information internally [Since we’re a flat organization, it is incumbent on each team member to proactively keep themselves in the loop].
  • Finding and hiring people in completely new disciplines (e.g., economists! industrial designers!)[what can you say, we started out primarily as a gaming company and were so good at making games that we apparently could thrive on that alone].
  • Making predictions longer than a few months out [team members and group leaders don’t fill out enough TPS reports for us to keep reliable Gantt charts. Also, having set-in-stone deadlines and guidelines can restrict mobility].
  • We miss out on hiring talented people who prefer to work within a more traditional structure. Again, this comes with the territory and isn’t something we should change, but it’s worth recognizing as a self-imposed limitation.

All of Valve’s weaknesses can be spun positively, but they would legitimately be critical weaknesses in a company with a differing mindset. For anyone who has read through the entire guide, these bullet points are redundant. But it’s an excellent approach for doing a concluding summary/tl;dr version (in fact, it reminds me of the pre-mortem tactic: asking team members before a project’s launch to write a future-dated report describing why the project became a disaster. It reveals problems that should’ve been discovered during the project’s planning phases, but in a fashion that rewards employees for being critical, rather than seeing them as negative-nancies).

Read the Valvue guide here. And check out the Hacker News discussion which ponders how well this scales.