Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
Published on December 30, 2014 By Frogboy In Business

Our company is relatively small in size.  In total, we have less than a hundred people. And yet, our software is used by millions of people and we produce many new pieces of software a year.

When we do press tours of the company, it inevitably comes up, how do we do it?  The #1 answer is: Very low turnover.  It’s absolutely essential.  Someone whose been at their job for 10 years is far more productive than someone who is new, even if that person has industry experience.  There’s just no substitute for low turn over when it comes to a successful, productive company.

What are some ways to get low turn over?  Here are a few things we’ve done:

#1 Ideology free hiring

While we do care a lot about how well people will get along with each other, we otherwise strenuously make sure that there is no discrimination in how we hire.  This is one of the reasons why I am very skeptical about people who talk a good talk about “social justice” yet work in offices of all white males. 

As someone who is quite vocally critical of “social justice warriors” a lot of my contempt for them is the hypocrisy.  I am amazed at the glass houses some of these guys throw their stones from.  It’s been mighty tempting to out some of these places where they rail against “misogyny” and yet can’t seem to hire a diverse staff.

Let me give you Stardock’s senior staff:

  1. Me (male)
  2. COO (female)
  3. GM (female)
  4. VP: games (male)
  5. VP: bizdev (male)
  6. Controller (female)
  7. Dir: Platforms (male)

That’s a 4 to 3 ratio.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Whether you walk into the game studio or the software studio, you will find a diverse environment of people (men, women, all races, all orientations, etc.). 

And mind you, we don’t try for this.  This is just what happens when you hire without caring about about pigment and parts a human have. 

The reason this is important is because everyone knows they’re there because they’re the best and brightest we could find.  It’s not because they went to the “right school” or because they were “buddies” with the right people or have the “correct” politics.  People knowing that merit is how they got there goes a long way to helping morale.

#2 Make it a healthy environment

We have an on-staff nutritionist and separate fitness trainer.  Now, if you’re in your early 20s, this might not seem like a big deal.  But as you get older, people become keenly aware of how unhealthy our type of work can potentially get.  Plus, it sends a definitive signal to the team that they matter to us. A lot. 

I don’t give much credence to slogans like “Our employees are like family”. I hate that kind of empty rhetoric.  People make judgments based on deeds, not words.

 

#3 Job Security

We really really don’t like to let people go.  We have laid people off before and we will lay people off in the future. It’s inevitable. Projects fail. The economy changes. 

However, knowing that your company will do everything in their power to avoid it means people are willing to make long term commitments to that company which reduces turn over.

One of the things Stardock did in the past couple years was created what is called a PEO (Professional Employment Organization).  What it is, in effect, is a company within a company.  Multiple Stardock partners now use this PEO (so it’s not just Stardock, it’s Mohawk and Mothership and Oxide and other companies as well).  If a project finishes and the next one won’t be starting right away those resources can be shared with another company. This largely eliminates the issue of hiring up and firing down when projects finish.

Companies that make job security a priority will inevitably retain staff better.

 

#4 Mutual respect

I offend people online all the time. I always have.  I don’t intend to. But there is an expectation that CEOs will behave “professionally” when interacting online.  This is a foolish expectation because it just means the CEO is lying to you about what they really think. 

The same is true internally.  No one ever doubts my opinion on anything.  That’s not to say I’m rude and blunt in person. When talking to people, we have the luxury of back and forth and the opportunity to have a little tact. Winking smile 

Transparency vastly reduces miscommunication internally. Now, understand, written communication is a trickier thing. When someone gets offended by something I write online it is often the result of interpreting words that might have been intended differently. Hence, when people talk to each other, in person, the intent is much clearer and thus feathers are rarely ruffled.

The same holds true the other way. People talk to each other, their managers and myself in an open environment.  That doesn’t mean people always get along, of course, but it greatly reduces office politics when people feel comfortable and safe speaking their mind.

I consider it my job to make sure people’s concerns are met.  That might mean making sure someone gets a lamp for their desk or that a new server gets expedited. 

As the CEO, my job is to serve my colleagues.  I don’t do this out of any sense of morality or ethics. I do it because that’s my job.  To put it another way, it’s also my job to serve our customers because they pay my salary.  I can’t do that without the effective support of my team.

Final thoughts

If I could sum this up it would be this: I trust rational self interest to create a good working environment and fair hiring practices far more than I trust self-serving rhetoric.


Comments
on Dec 30, 2014

Well said Brad! 

 

Next time I'm up visiting family, I may stop by just to shake your hand.

on Dec 30, 2014


all orientations

That'll be me...I'm upside-down ....

on Dec 30, 2014


That'll be me...I'm upside-down ....

That explains the swollen brain...

on Dec 31, 2014

I'am not sure how I'd act under these conditions.  I've never worked for any company or government job that ran like that.  I wish I had worked this way, would have made the jobs easier.

on Dec 31, 2014




We really really don’t like to let people go. We have laid people off before and we will lay people off in the future. It’s inevitable. Projects fail. The economy changes.

However, knowing that your company will do everything in their power to avoid it means people are willing to make long term commitments to that company which reduces turn over.

 

i was going to ask if they flew you over for the x'mas party and all...

 

... that's one odd quote.... wonder what happened to the quote thing..

on Jan 01, 2015

alaknebs

i was going to ask if they flew you over for the x'mas party and all...

I think you were the victim of a database update....

No, it's a bit of a 'long way' to go for an Xmas party....driving back home sozzled would be 'interesting'...

I will get there again this year though [that's the plan].

on Jan 02, 2015


No, it's a bit of a 'long way' to go for an Xmas party....driving back home sozzled would be 'interesting'...

 

But possibly one hell of a story!!

on Jan 02, 2015

To play devil's advocate: how come the GalCiv 3 team has one woman out of 17?

on Jan 02, 2015

Sounds like you have taken (borrowed)a page from the Japanese corporate culture of the mid 20th century.  God job! Seriously.

on Jan 03, 2015

It has been my personal experience that most company's that claim to be meritocracy are in reality operating under the same old company politics as usual. It's just something they put in their marketing/PR material

on Jan 11, 2015

Borg999

It has been my personal experience that most company's that claim to be meritocracy are in reality operating under the same old company politics as usual. It's just something they put in their marketing/PR material

Probably because that's what's going on.  A corporation is awfully close in structure to a dictatorship, and far from anything-ocracy.  The part in the quote I would take issue with is the "just".  I'd like to believe there are places where it isn't just PR.  Perhaps Stardock is a benevolent dictatorship, where people (not just the employees, or a small segment of them) are treated well (it can be PR and true after all...).

On the other hand, maybe I'm projecting a misguided fantasy (the nice place to work part) of someone who worked in the games industry for years.

ElanaAhova

Sounds like you have taken (borrowed)a page from the Japanese corporate culture of the mid 20th century.  God job! Seriously.

This seems highly unlikely, but would be interesting if true.

hedetet

To play devil's advocate: how come the GalCiv 3 team has one woman out of 17?

To play another devil's advocate, how does this compare to the industry in general?  Is this even a fair representation, or has the team size changed during the course of the project (in other words, was this example cherry picked)?  In at least one sense it has to be a cherry picked example, since it is one project out of an entire company (to be fair Froggy's example is as well, which may have been your point).

 

As for the OP, there are a few things I would take issue with.  The first two words of the thread's title are "ideology free", but there are at least two ideologies mentioned explicitly, meritocracy and rational self interest.  These do not seem to support the topic (and are generally loathsome).  Fortunately the OP mostly talks about discrimination and avoiding it, from which I would normally infer some principle of equality or fairness.

However, I can't help reading the second to last paragraph of section #1 as saying that this fairness is actually something that is required by a combination of merit and rational self interest.  I'd rather have a principle of fairness than believe in some kind of cosmic coincidence that requires it (and may not require it when a different notion of merit is presented or a different situation requiring different self interests occurs).

I take it that this is a kind of pragmatic argument rather than a moral one, but it doesn't seem to be ideology or morality free.  Clearly you value something.

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