The Year Without Pants: Part I

In our blog post a few weeks ago, I talked about the book I’m reading, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun.  I’m a few chapters in and it’s already a really interesting read about company culture, how we work, and how we think about our work.    Here’s what I’ve found particularly fascinating so far…

Customer Service: The Happiness Team

  • WordPress.com calls their customer support team “Happiness” and it’s employees “Happiness engineers.” The author admits that he began working for the company he was suspicious: can you change the reality of an onerous job and often overlooked team by changing a name?   All employees begin their tenure at WordPress with a few day stint in customer support (i.e. Happiness Team).   It puts employees on the front line, responding to customers, and learning the intricacies of their company.
  • The Happiness Team analyzed not only the types of problems coming in to them, but data around ticket numbers, response time and the experience of the customer when they submitted a ticket.  They strategically changed the process by which customers submit issues so that it sets a tone of responsiveness as opposed to interrogation.  They ask each customer, “What did you do?” “What did you see?”  and “What did you expect?” in order to gather the most information.  This thoughtful approach to the process and content of customer service, beyond just providing “good” customer service in terms of response time and problem solving, was very interesting.
  • They also analyze the success of new employees in the support role as data showed that it was an indicator of future performance.
  • The performance dashboard of each support team employee can be seen by all others, instilling a sense of healthy competition, importance, and accountability.

Management Trends: Fads Must Fit

  • “Every year new trends in work become popular in spite of their futility for most organizations that try them.  These trends are often touted as revolutions and frequently are identified  with a high-profile company of the day. Concepts like casual Fridays, brainstorming sessions, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, matrixed organizations, or event 20% time (Google’s policy of supporting pet projects) are management ideas that become popular in huge waves, heralded as silver bullets for workplaces. The promise of a trend is grand, but the result never is.  Rarely do the consultants championing, and profiting from, these ideas disclose how superficial the results will be unless their places in a culture healthy enough to support them” (p. 29).  Read: We all can’t recreate the Google headquarters, nor should we.
  • It’s easier to utilize the latest trend in company culture than to honestly examine and attempt to change company culture.
  • In the case of WordPress, it was founded based on the principle of open source programming to “democratize publishing.” As a growing start up, this tended to attract like-minded individuals with shared values.  Their philosophy eventually distilled down to Transparency, Meritocracy, and Longevity.
  • “Talent is hard to find, especially at new organizations, which allows leaders to justify rushing to hire people who are selfish, arrogant, or combative” (p. 36). Hiring for immediate needs creates problems in the future.
  • Even their employment offer letters are non-traditional examples of the culture, values, and ideals of the company. They come across as more of an inspirational mantra or manifesto than an offer of employment.

These are just a few tidbits… stay tuned for more blog posts as I read on.  I haven’t even covered HOW employees at WordPress do their work yet (only 1% of their work is via email)!

Questions that have arisen for me as I read have been: How do you change a negative company culture? How do you hire for culture?  How do you know which management trends (read: fads) will work for your company/organization?  What is the role of team culture vs. company culture?

Interested in reading it on your own? http://scottberkun.com/yearwithoutpants/

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