Valve handbook: an unique way to organize talent and business

This week I was having dinner with Hans the Zwart who is a former colleague of mine. He is one of the most well-read people I know and when he gives me a reading tip, I will read it. This time he mentioned the Valve ‘Handbook for new employees‘. Valve is a game company (known for Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, and Portal and the digital delivery platform Steam) which is organized in a unique way. The handbook is an internal guide for new employees in order to ‘not freak out’ when starting to work in an organization without any formal structures.

It really is a very interesting read. At Valve there is no hierarchy, no formal job description, no bosses, nothing of the structures you would expect in a company that has some 300 employees.

People decide themselves what project or product they will work on and what kind of contribution they will make. The idea is that they are best capable to decide where they are of the biggest value for the company (and for the customers). Roles are fluid and can change when the requirements of the work change. Projects are voted on by feet (or better wheels). If you find a project interesting you can just roll your desk over (they have wheels) and start participating. Everybody can start up new projects or products, all you need to do is convince other people to join you.

When evaluating people they will use a peer evaluation along four dimensions:

  1. Skill Level/Technical ability
  2. Productivity output
  3. Group contribution
  4. Product contribution

Based on this peer evaluation they will ‘stack rank’ employees and based on that they will decide on their compensation. Not surprisingly ‘Hiring’ is the most important process in this company. Getting the right people in is crucial for such kind of organization. They use the same four dimensions when hiring and they are looking for what they call T-shaped employees.

This means people who are generalist, but they also are an expert in one field. This is the best guarantee that people can collaborate in a team and will have added value to that team.

There is a lot more to read in the 55 pages, so please do. For me books like this are interesting because the ideas are so far out of the box that it stretches your own boundaries. In this case it will even remove boundaries. It will change the way you look at your own organization and that is always a good thing.

By the way. Another tip from Hans, his favorite movie ‘The big Lebowski‘. And if he says you should watch it, you should.

Change is doing today what was odd yesterday

This week I have attended a seminar about change management. The speakers were all leading men from the Dutch field of change management (Boonstra, de Caluwe, Wierdsma, Homan and Peters). For me Jaap Peters was the one I knew the least of, but he turned out to be the most surprising and inspiring. I noted some great quotes from him.  The title of this blog was one of them.

I find this quote interesting because it reminds you that people have very different views on change. For me I live by change, but for others it’s odd. This is a great reminder.

“You can push guild around, but you can’t do that with shame” was on other one. And it’s true. You can try to blame someone else, but if you are ashamed that’s personal, that’s from you. Real change originates from people who are changing. Therefore professional shame is a great motivator for change.

“McDonald’s is the world largest restaurant and they don’t have a single cook”. They have replaced people and passion, with rules and equipment. It’s true that your burger taste the same in every restaurant, but you never will get an exceptionally good burger. It’s people who make great quality, not rules.

The last one I wanted to share with you is “Where there are no rules there is attention” He illustrated this with a video clip ‘self-organization in Hanoi traffic. ‘It shows that if you let people think for themselves it turns out great.

Thanks Jaap for this inspiring session.

25 years of working experience in 8 simple lessons

On may first 1985 I began my first official job, this means I now work 25 years. Time for a quick overview of my career so far and the lessons learned.

I was still studying when I was asked for my first job:  training unemployed to become a bookkeeper. It was not only the theory but computer bookkeeping was a part of the training. During  my study I did some work on a mainframe;  so I thought how hard can it be. I was hired on Friday, the course started on Monday. So I decided to check the computers out on Saturday. My wife (then she was my girlfriend) joined me. The computers turned out to be Corona’s, we installed them and switched them on, the screen turned green and a small square was blinking, but that was all.

After two hours of struggling, we discovered that you had to insert a floppy with the operating system (Dos) on the left and a program disk on the right. Then I was ready to start teaching.

Despite the fact that bookkeeping is probably on of the most boring professions in the world, I did this for 5 years and with great pleasure. The people I was training were guaranteed a job after six months of training. This made them  motivated to the bone. That was the most important lesson of these 5 years; It doesn’t really matter what you do, if you work with motivated and passionate people it’s always a pleasure.

I was asked to write a series of books for these kind of courses and I did. In my mind this made me a writer too. I applied for a job as a technical writer at Informaat, but after a few interviews I was hired as an information designer. It was my job to design knowledge and documentation systems and to implement them. That’s lesson two: You can do anything if you put your mind to it. I stayed at Informaat for eight years. I was the initiator of  the creation of our own content management system, designed to aid subject matter experts in creating great on-line documentation. This system still  is available today. Some of my former colleagues continued with this systemand they have a company who develops and sells this tool (sevensteps). That’s lesson three: It is great to leave something behind thats viable without you. Informaat  allowed me to do an intensive  training in the field of change management, this training pivoted my career. I discovered that I was more than a professional, I was a manager as well.

I discovered this during a session on strategic thinking. We were asked to fill in a survey which determined what you were. there where four types, they ranged from a professional (consultant) to a strategic leader. In my survey I scored clearly as a professional. We were also asked to indicate a type for our fellow students, the majority of them rated me as an strategic leader, I was very surprised. That’s lesson four: The convictions you have about yourself limit your personal development.

To see if I could really do this, I started working at Locatienet as general manager. Locatienet was an  internet startup in the middle of the internet bubble, a sort of precursor of Google earth. Within two years we were one of the top ten websites in the Netherlands, and we had developed a business model that made us into a profitable enterprise. I learned a lot of lessons in the four years that I worked at Locatienet, but the most important is probably: keep your feet on the ground. I’m not sure if this is an English expression, but in Dutch it means stay sober, don’t get overexcited.  Bearing lesson three in mind Locatienet still exists today.

After Locatienet I worked at two companies who were in financial troubles and I worked a few years as an independent consultant. This lesson was very basic: if you don’t make enough money, you have a problem. By the way during my work as an independent consultant I created a tool that enables Sme’s to develop blended learning, tis tool is  still available (see Writeplace). This is the third time rule three applies, which reminds me of an other lesson or rule I discovered.  I call it the eastern egg rule: In Holland we have an eastern poem which goes like this: One egg is no egg, two eggs are half an egg, three eggs are an eastern egg. I don’t have a clue where it comes from, but it is true if you apply it to knowledge and experience in your company. If you want a position filled in permanently you need to have three people who can do the job. If you have one person and he leaves you end up with nothing, if you have two and one leaves, you lose knowledge and experience, if you have three you have a solid base, therefore Three is an eastern egg….

Now I work for Stoas since January 2007 and this leads to rule eight, which is an extension of rule one: If you are truly passionate about what you are doing it is even more fun.

There you are: 25 years of working experience in 8 simple rules.

Cultural management

Culture is an interesting aspect of learning, managing and changing. A few years ago Stoas made a web based training about intercultural awareness for the Abn Amro bank. We did this together with a company who specializes in culture; Ideas4.

Recently I was introduced to them by a colleague. We met with two of their partners (Juanita and Dick) and we hit it of right away.  We decided that they would do a culture survey at Stoas and in return  Stoas would help them step into the world of digital learning.  We had a few sessions with them to understand their business and to create a shared vision on the future for their company. I think that we can actually change their business model by changing the way they organize their learning and courses and by building a community for them. We decided that the first step was to take a closer look at their “intercultural management course” and use that course as a pilot. In order to understand the course me and two of my colleagues took  that course. It’s a two-day course and it was very interesting. They use several dimensions (created by Hofstede) to measure culture and to map it.  Very insightful to realize what the differences and similarities between cultures are and have a method to make that possible. The cultural differences between Belgium and The Netherlands (which are neighboring countries) are for example,  much larger then the cultural differences between the Netherlands and the Anglo-Saxon countries. A lot of knowledge and hands on experiences was shared. I really can use this in my international contacts. I can recommend this course to anyone who works with people from other countries and cultures, it’s well worth your time.

Last week I was reading a book from the Belgian author and trainer Jef Steas (only available in Dutch). The title is ‘My organisation is a jungle’ it’s about management, innovation and change. I didn’t liked it at all. I didn’t recognize the situations and I didn’t agree with him at all.  At one point he was talking about the fact that the manager should be the biggest expert of the company on every field and then it hit me. This was one of the things we talked about during the Ideas4 training. In some countries the manager must be the expert, but in others like the Netherlands that’s not the case. It even can be an advantage the manage experts as a non expert manager. I reread the book and found much more cultural differences. The book still didn’t appeal to me, but now at least I understood why.

Output management

I am writing  a series of post on my professional foundations both for (e)learning  and managing. This is the second blog in that series and it is about  ‘output management’, my management foundation.

In 1998/1999 I followed a training called SVO (an abbreviation for – in Dutch- Steering of change in organisations) at SIOO in the Netherlands. I took away a lot from that course. For example I still have an ‘Action learning group’ that originated from that training. This training transformed me from a consultant into a manager. It was composed of ten three-day sessions in a far to expensive hotel.  Each session was managed by our course manager (Jaap Boonstra, now dean at SIOO) and there was a ‘special guest’, somebody from the field of (change) management.

One of the guest teachers was Filip vandenDriesche. He is the author of the book ‘Leidinggeven zonder bevelen’ , that translates as ‘Leading without commanding’,  it was originally published under the title ‘De input- output manager’.

This book became my management bible. I will explain why. The following picture shows an important concept of the book:

Image form ‘De input- output manager, Filip VandenDriessche.

There are two contradicting pyramids. The “management funnel”  and the “conflict pyramid’. Both cover to three stages (strategic, tactical and operational). On the strategic level (problem and goal) the chances of conflict are small, but if you have a conflict it runs deep! On a tactical level (criteria) the chances of conflict are increasing but on a operational level the chances on a conflict are the biggest. Therefore Filip concludes the following: A manager should be authoritarian on the strategic and tactical level. But on an operational level manager should accept any solution that meets his criteria. In other words keep away from the ‘how’.

Of course there’s more to it, a shared vision is a prerequisite and the person(s) who will create the solution must acknowledge the problem. Pilip has a very simple strategy for that, he calls it ‘how to sell a monkey’. If you have a problem as a manager, then the monkey is ‘on your shoulder’.  You need to get the monkey on the shoulder of your coworker. Just take the following steps:

1. Confront the person with irrefutable examples.

2. State that this isn’t acceptable,

3. Ask the opinion of your coworker and wait.

If the coworker acknowledges your opinion you can actually feel the monkey jump from your shoulder and land on his. This last picture sums it all up.

Image form ‘De input- output manager, Filip VandenDriessche.

For me his book was the most practical management book I have ever read, I can recommend it to everyone. I contacted Filip before writing this blog, he told me that a translation in English  will be available in the next few months. He will publish this on his website:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,095 other followers

%d bloggers like this: