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Company Culture & Trouble in Basecamp

The team at Hey recently decided to publish an announcement about their internal company operations. You can read it here.

The blog post itself clearly articulates both a cultural and societal point of view.  However it also points out that such discussions don’t make sense within the company.

First and foremost – Basecamp gets to choose their culture, and how they cover such topics.  That being said they are using their platform to signal a significant shift and choosing to do so in public. It would seem that they are inviting debate.

No more societal or political discussions – The point of a company is to create a profit and generally provide some type of benefit. These benefits tend to be for the benefit of society. Not being able to discuss society seems problematic.  Politics and company product decisions tend to go hand-in-hand.  Privacy, security, censorship, are both product questions and political discussions.  On January 6th Amazon, Twitter, Apple, Google, Facebook and others made technical product decisions that had massive political implications.   The politics of a company speak to its culture and values and it helps both employees and customers decide if they want to support a particular company.  Staying silent, actually speaks volumes. 

I’m not suggesting that internal company discussions should focus on politics. It’s reasonable to encourage such discussions to move to other platforms but asking for zero political or societal discussion seems broken too. 

No more paternalistic benefits – Benefits are there to help employees.  When done well, benefits allow employees to concentrate on work.  Health benefits, medical, dental, child-care, 401K, fitness benefits, etc.  The whole point of these types of benefits is to provide mutual benefit to the employee and company.  If done well these can provide huge financial, health, family and mental wellbeing and productivity impacts that individuals are unlikely to seek out on their own.

Focusing on financial funds implies that money is not just an important thing, it’s the ONLY thing that matters. 

No more committees  – It’s great to be able to have accountability within a company. The problem can be that individuals can impose norms onto an entire company.  Committees can provide a voice to people who are otherwise either un-heard or marginalized.  There are many topics that benefit from diverse voices. Having one person steer the ship makes sense but having many people helping plot the course and looking out for icebergs is even better. 

No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions – Lingering on past decisions is not productive but it’s also a signal that something else could be wrong.  This tends to happen when you don’t have team consensus or commitment to a decision.  If you have consensus culture rather than an authoritative culture then decisions that are unpopular will end up being toxic to the organization.  Organizations that are top-down will tend to repel employees who seek to be heard.  The “My way or the highway” attitude can work for some things but it can close you off from hearing the problems.

tldr;
Basecamp’s is very unique company.  I don’t always agree with them but they spark good discussions.  This is one where I think they missed the mark in terms of culture, values, and vision. I suspect this was prompted by something internal but the “fix” seems to be misaligned with the root-cause.  

Companies have politics, committees and dwelling on decisions… Even if you say that they don’t, they still will. Solving the root issues around accountability, trust, and product vision will be the only thing that actually helps the company spend more time building better products.

Follow up video as more news emerged…

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