RIP magic kingdom tech culture. What happens afterwards?

For years, tech companies have had fun parodying each other’s corporate culture in an ever-escalating rivalry for advantage. What started with innocent beanbags, desk kegs and foosball tables has grown to include on-site Michelin star restaurants, laundry facilities and a host of infantilizing services designed to create an office environment. cocooned in which employees could literally be cradled.

It was never healthy. But in the midst of a big resignation, and as the Facebooks and Googles of the world seek to grow their market capitalization by trillions of dollars with high-stakes competition for a limited pool of qualified talent, what what will replace the idea of ​​the magic desktop kingdom? And how can we design companies that offer authentic and meaningful opportunities to their employees and the communities in which they are embedded?

For me, this question is not academic. As the leader of a San Francisco-based company of over 400 people, I believe the way forward requires a more thoughtful approach to the experience of being an employee. Now that we’re in a post office world, it’s time to get back to basics.

I believe that to attract and retain the right people, we need to look at what really motivates employees: their ability to make a positive impact, the opportunity to work collaboratively with smart, values-aligned teams, and the autonomy to do their work without platitudes and flattery.

Here’s what a back-to-basics approach might look like.


Even before the pandemic, plenty of research showed that perks weren’t the most effective retention tool. Employees appreciate all perks, but they can see through glitzy perks, and that’s especially true for the next generation of talent. Seventy-four percent of Gen Z believe jobs should have a greater sense of purpose built into the company’s mission.

The goal is not platitudes like “save the planet”. It is not a Wall Street ratio like the ESG. The goal should be clear, concrete and emotionally resonant. It can be as simple as Netflix’s mission to “entertain the world” – not the most meaningful raison d’être, but a goal behind which teams can rally.

CSR programs like Salesforce’s Pledge 1% initiative or Starbucks’ focus on farmer equity are wonderful and important initiatives. But charity does not replace the purpose of the organization you work for every day. Patagonia’s environmental efforts are so believable because they’re woven into the fabric of the company.


Another result of remote work has been growing evidence that people are really good at managing themselves. In a decentralized work environment, the butt-in-the-seat model—which emphasizes dress codes, check-in times, and business processes—is giving way to a results-driven model. Teams are empowered to work when and how they want, and success is defined by goals achieved, not hours worked.

In this context, management is less about supervision than about empowerment: helping employees set clear goals and giving them the tools to achieve them. When it comes to leadership, there is little room for obtuse micromanagement. Having to sleep in factories and terrorizing employees over every detail is a sign of failed leadership. Teams that outperform over the long term are empowered and agile through their leadership.


In 1913, Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the assembly line and led over 70 years of industrial expansion inspired by his method. Then, in the 1980s, Japanese automakers overturned it with their Lean approach. Based on the idea of ​​’kaizen’, or continuous improvement, it prioritized individual workers and their on-the-job knowledge.

The tech world has embraced this as the lean startup ethos, grounded in experimentation, rapid iteration, and market feedback as the most efficient way to build software. But scaling an agile business to tens or hundreds of thousands of employees is extremely difficult. What works for a small startup crumbles in the hands of governance and leadership structures that lean toward consensus.

True innovation depends on the flexibility and the kind of autonomy that employees are increasingly asking for. That’s why extreme business rules like Amazon’s two-pizza approach to meetings are put in place. Successful companies will be those that find a way to scale with agility.


I’m admittedly not a big fan of the term “culture” because of all the baggage it brings: imposed from above, elitist and often toxic, and at worst, resulting in environments where harassment and discrimination are rife. . Interview panels that include sentiments such as “I wouldn’t have beer with this person, so we shouldn’t hire him” are a dangerous way to build teams.

But big changes are happening in the way we approach workplace inclusion. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have blown huge holes in the monolithic idea of ​​tech community culture. Thank goodness, because our diversity as an industry has been absolutely abysmal. I believe the tech industry is beginning to understand that growth requires embracing community over elite culture, diversity as a core strength, and empathy as a requirement, because that’s what employees are increasingly demanding. more.

None of this comes at the expense of performance and the achievement of your organization’s mission. What binds teams together in the end is something much more fundamental than nice-to-have perks: it’s the belief in their work directly tied to their organization’s mission. It’s not about the values ​​written on the wall. This is how they are experienced when they are under pressure.

What fascinates me is how many of these “new” ways of working represent a return to the roots of tech startups. Agility, community, autonomy and purpose: these fundamental principles have driven the explosive waves of innovation in Silicon Valley, and they must remain.

I deeply believe that now is the time for our industry and our employees to let go of the crutch of excessive benefits, unfair elitism and the cocooned “culture” of technology and let a more authentic approach to building businesses settle down. Those who recognize this will have the best chance of winning the talent war.

Zack Rosen is the co-founder and CEO of Pantheon, a recognized leader in WebOps and a passionate supporter of advancing the open web.

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