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Valve's Employee Handbook

I thought this video was interesting:

Brain science also talks about focusing on strengths. If you're good at X and bad at Y, you might end up spending a whole lot of time on Y. In addition to making you miserable, it's also just not that effective. While at first glance you might think if you're bad at something, then it's easier to improve because there's so much possible improvement you could do, it's usually more like the opposite. If you're good at something, your neural pathways (as in, the physical structures of your brain) are better set up to do it, and you have more ability to learn and grow quickly at that thing. So if possible, develop your strengths. And find other people whose strengths are in your areas of weakness.

In a small company, we don't usually have this luxury though. Probably the lead designer of Portal 2 didn't do all the graphic design for the box it comes in, because Valve probably has a team devoted entirely to graphic design for marketing materials and packaging. (Meanwhile, I do both things.) That said, strengths-focus is definitely something even a small company should think about when adding any employees, or even contractors or volunteers. Just a little help in your areas of weakness, you could then have much more time to develop and use your strengths to an even better degree.

In other words, Valve's handbook's stance on that makes sense to me.

Reader Comments (6)

A counter point though, for working with small teams/projects, you can spend a lot of time/effort coordinating/waiting-for/following-up with someone only to realize that if you had just done it yourself you'd be done already.

That's the tricky part with delegating/trusting vs micro-managing/doing it yourself and why finding good people is vital.

October 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Grové

@Thomas: If I hire a guy to do the music for a game (because I'm not a composer), and they are supposedly a professional, yet I can learn and do it faster and/or better than them, they are not worth hiring in the first place. That's not a micro-management trick, that's just plain incompetence. In essence, it misses the point of "focus on your strengths" vs "develop your weaknesses" completely.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKdansky

The funniest thing about the video is the fact that it's being taught as part of an HR classroom.

"Valve has no managers. What can managers learn from this?"

When they say "hiring is the most important thing, contract the rest." what they really mean is: "Hiring and retaining independent-minded high-IQ people is more important than getting teams with 'experience,' since they'll usually have honed suboptimal tactics to have met an easy salary target rather than consistently produced high quality."

My personal view is that you should never allow anyone with that god-awful Business Serious intonation anywhere near success.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDystopia Max


I think you're "finding good people is vital" point is the key in regards to what you mentioned.

If you (or whoever manages, or hires for the team) hire(s) based on talent, it's much less likely you'll delegate to someone and find that you could do that task better than them.

As for how to do that, Gallup addressed that topic in the book, "First, Break All The Rules," and I believe it's also covered in the "Strong manager" training offered by The Marcus Buckingham Company:
(though I haven't taken the program, so I'm not sure how extensively that topic is covered)

However, if you're already on a team and they don't (or didn't) approach hiring this way, that's a different issue that may require a different solution.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

A clarification:

The video says that Gallup's poll on workplace satisfaction found that people enjoy work most when they doing what they do best at their job. While not wrong, it's a bit vague.

A more accurate definition is "what they can repeatedly do with near perfect performance," or, even better, "what leaves them feeling strong after they do it," which has the important key of "can I sustainably keep doing this?" tied into it.

For example, you may be very good at doing something that weakens (depletes, frustrates, or bores) you, so focusing on that—even if you do it well—isn't sustainable and probably shouldn't be what you do most of the time (maybe some of the time if it's necessary, but not most of the time).

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Finding (and retaining) good people is incredibly difficult, and the video glosses over that part. If you hire the right people, the corporate structure is secondary. Valve's (emergent) management structure attracts a certain type of person that fits well with their corporate culture. It works great for them, but maybe not so much for everybody. That is, the handbook is as much a recruiting tool as an operational manual.

November 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Au
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