Per employee, Valve is more profitable than Apple, Microsoft, or even Google. It is also privately held, with no interest in going public. And it is pancake-flat: no managers at all, not one. Even founder Gabe Newell, though he reluctantly took the title of president (to make explaining his role to the outside world a little easier), refuses to manage. Valve may just be the flattest organization on earth, which is one big reason they’re the stars of our chapter on the future of management, a chapter we call Flat: The New Black?
But all that’s another story for another day.
Today, let’s focus on how Valve identifies talent at hiring time. Specifically, how Valve intentionally doesn’t go after the #1 professional in a given field.
Even though Valve pays more than market rate for its employees, and even though the company culture is remarkably human-centric by pretty much any standard – facts that give them the pick of the talent litter – Valve routinely bypasses the top talent available, reaching deeper into the talent pool, maybe opting for #14 instead of #1.
Why? How does that make any sense? From the perspective of building a lasting company by employing only the best of the best, isn’t this… counterintuitive? Dumb, even?
Maybe it’s that Valve has a different definition of “best candidate” than simply #1 in a narrowly defined field. Valve doesn’t want employees with unrivaled specialization in one area – people whose skills and interests might be represented by the letter l, for instance: all depth, no width.
Rather, Valve scouts out candidates shaped like a T: really good in one area, without question (remember, they might take candidate #14, not #1,014). But Valve also seeks talent that is really wide with other interests. Hobbies or unexpected majors or completely unrelated past careers that will make their employees more interesting, more rounded; something that shows curiosity, and that may result in unexpected innovation – because after all, the best innovation usually comes from out of left field somewhere, and if the people on your team have never spent any time in left field… where is that creative insight going to originate?
Valve employs plenty of computer coders, yes, but to make its games so entertaining and playable, they also employ storytellers from Hollywood, graphic artists, and – believe it or not – they even have a spot on staff for an economist.
The next Hollywood pro they choose may have studied biochemistry in college, then turned to screenwriting later on. That’s bound to be a more fascinating storyteller than the one who studied nothing but screenwriting. The artist may have come from a tattoo parlor, rather than a world-renowned art school, and this person might be a competitive equestrian after hours. The next developer they choose might not be the fastest coder out there, but perhaps he taught coding to himself when he ran his own marketing firm – who knows?
And that’s the beauty of hiring people with one or two broad and many wide skills: who knows indeed what skills, insights, and experiences will come in handy as your company faces the challenge of continual disruption, and as it strives to bring some of that disruption to its industry?
As I’m Sure You’ve Noticed…
The Social Age is not the age of predictability and routine. We can’t set parameters and control for behavior as we could in the mind-numbing, soul-quenching Industrial Age (thank God!). As seekers of talent, what we can do instead is something more challenging, yes, but infinitely more fulfilling for all concerned – including our stockholders: we can enable possibilities!
Want to change your entire company culture – and the profits it generates – for the better in a very short period of time? Emulate Valve, at least in this one aspect. Seek out more-rounded talent, and hire for a “T.”
What’s your secret for finding the most dynamic talent among the sea of vanilla out there? I’d love to hear it in the comments!