If you work in a software development or similar engineering organisation, the Valve employee handbook is a fascinating read. Valve's corporate culture is the exact opposite of the norm in almost every respect. Here are some examples:
The norm: Managers must constantly stay on top of engineers to keep them productive.
Valve: "We don’t have any management, and nobody “reports to” anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn't your manager."
The norm: Long-term strategy is decided at the top levels of management and trickles down the organisational hierarchy.
Valve: "Our lack of a traditional structure comes with an important responsibility. It’s up to all of us to spend effort focusing on what we think the long-term goals of the company should be."
The norm: You are given expected to fulfil a role that fits with your assigned title and job description.
Valve: "Inside the company, though, we all take on the role that suits the work in front of us. Everyone is a designer [...] Everyone has to function as a “strategist,” [...] We all engage in analysis, measurement, predictions, evaluations."
The norm: Mistakes will cost you.
Valve: "Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake [...] Providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company."
The norm: Your boss decides what your value is to the organisation.
Valve: "We believe that our peers are the best judges of our value as individuals. Our flat structure eliminates some of the bias that would be present in a peer-ranking system elsewhere."
The norm: Working long hours is valued as it shows dedication and loyalty.
Valve: "Working a lot of hours is generally not related to productivity and, after a certain point, indicates inefficiency."
The norm: Bosses who intend to remain bosses in the organisation do not hire people who are capable of replacing them.
Valve: "We should hire people more capable than ourselves, not less."
The norm: The head of the organisation wields the most power and can tell any
employee what to do.
Valve: "Of all the people at this company who aren't your boss, Gabe [Newell, co-founder] is the MOST
not your boss".
According to Michael Abrash, "there are things that Gabe badly wants the company to do that aren’t happening, because no one has signed up to do them." (http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/valve-how-i-got-here-what-its-like-and-what-im-doing-2/
). So why would the president of Valve tie his own hands this way? The handbook answers this as well:
"Another reason that it’s hard to run a company this way is that it
requires vigilance. It’s a one-way trip if the core values change, and
maintaining them requires the full commitment of everyone—
especially those who’ve been here the longest."
To give another example of Gabe's commitment to employee autonomy, Gabe hinted during his recent interview on the inaugural 7DCD podcast (http://www.sevendaycooldown.com/site/episode001/
) that he isn't convinced augmented reality / wearable computing is the gateway to Valve's future, even though Michael Abrash's post on his research on those areas at Valve has been generating a lot of buzz. However Gabe knows how good a developer Abrash is, and Abrash believes the research is the best way he can provide value to Valve, so according to Valve's core values Abrash is doing exactly what he should be doing.
For me it is this willingness to let go of control, perhaps more than anything else, that shows how serious Gabe is about making Valve a seriously different workplace, and keeping it seriously different. And the fact that Valve's profitability per employee is higher than Google or Amazon or Microsoft despite an average hiring growth rate of 10-15% per year shows that the Valve way really works.