A company’s values impact everything from the way it works and the products it creates, to the people it hires and the snacks in the communal cupboard.
If you’re one of those people who view ‘corporate values’ as a kind of Orwellian absurdity, what do you make of this: the world’s tech giants are underpinned by a very similar set of principles. Take a look at their mission statements and leadership values and you’ll see that there’s a distinct pattern to the values held by successful tech companies. Clearly, they’re something worth thinking about.
These are the ones that strike a chord with us here at Rex Software.
Innovation means making new ideas a reality. The most successful tech companies make their mark on the world by thinking big – it’s no surprise that Amazon, Google, Oracle, Apple and IBM all highly value innovation. Apple and Google top the list of most innovative companies, so we’ll focus on them.
Apple is the world’s most innovative company. The big brains over at Apple HQ say innovation is a constant focus – but how do they do it?
The company is made up of a diverse group of people, but according to CEO Tim Cook, they all have the same common purpose. They’re all driven to building products that allow people to do things they couldn’t do before. Or, to put it simply: innovating. And it’s non-stop.
Apple has only recently released the iPhone X – but are employees putting their feet up and patting themselves on the back for a job well done? Not even close. They’re already working on products that won’t be available to the public until well into the 2020’s.
It’s the mixing of these diverse groups that make such fresh and original products possible.
Diversity breeds innovation.
Google is the world’s second most innovative company. When Larry and Sergey founded Google two decades ago, about 3% of the world’s population was using the internet. And by ‘using’, we mean they were occasionally powering up a desktop machine roughly the size of a small microwave (and humming just as loudly), and dialing in to the internet through a phone line. Google was receiving around 10,000 search queries a day.
Fast forward to 2018, and about half of the world’s population is connected to the Net. We’re submitting over 40,000 search queries to Google per second – so many that ‘Google’ has become a common verb. We’re communicating, organising, consuming, learning and entertaining on razor-thin smartphones in a way the average person would never have considered possible two decades ago. Luckily for us, neither Larry nor Sergey are the average person.
Innovation has been a part of Google since day dot. Since its search engine origins, the company has expanded into everything from mobile operating systems to self-driving cars and balloon-based internet access. Unsurprisingly, diversity also plays a large part in Google’s ability to innovate.
Google’s advisors say diversity is the best defence against shortsightedness; in a workplace, differences in viewpoints create a broader perspective and allow employees to approach problems in different ways. That broader perspective, they say, is priceless.
Google, Microsoft and Amazon all emphatically value excellence – though they phrase it quite differently.
Google knows “great just isn’t good enough.” In fact, it’s their final (and arguably most important) philosophy. For Google, greatness is not an endpoint – there is always another step to take. Take the search algorithms – Google implements more than 500 improvements to these every year.
Then there’s Microsoft – with a more traditional view of excellence, as you’d expect. Words like “striving for the highest quality” and “providing results” feature in its values, and employees are encouraged to apply a healthy dose of self-criticism and self-improvement to their work. We’ve certainly seen this at scale. Remember the infamous Windows Vista? Microsoft listened to consumers and improved its software as a result.
Amazon states in their Leadership Principles that they hire and develop the best, and insist on the highest of standards. They know their standards are seen by many as unreasonably high. But this is how Amazon achieves excellence at scale – by recruiting managing and developing high-performing talent. Employees are expected to be exceptional right off the bat, from their first job interview through ‘til retirement (or until they have a mental breakdown, whichever comes first).
Selectivity is the core value that helps companies stay focussed and on track.
Apple, the consumer-electronics behemoth, has always been big on focus. Cook says one of his roles as CEO is to try and block the noise – or distractions – from his employees, so that they can focus on things that matter.
If an idea for a product doesn’t have meaning, Apple won’t pursue it – even if it’s a great idea. So, instead of taking on thousands of projects, they focus building quality within a few areas. We reckon this decision has been key to Apple’s raging success.
We’re not the only ones who agree – Google’s been inspired to do the same. After some harsh words from Steve Jobs, the company decided to put “more wood behind fewer arrows”. Googled shelved services like Google Desktop, Google Health, Google Pack and closed Google Labs. They instead focussed their resources on fewer products.
It was clearly the right decision. Google saw the benefits in their bottom line and we, as Google-rs, got better products.
We have some crazy ideas here at Rex – some serious, and some not so serious. We could easily let our creative juices flow freely, without a second thought to strategy. But what would we accomplish by spreading ourselves so thinly? Mediocre products, most likely. That’s not how we roll.
If a person spends a significant amount of their time on a product, it’s likely they’ll develop a sense of ownership over it.
Amazon seems to have drawn upon this concept in their Leadership Principles; they say Amazonians are owners. As owners, their employees think in the long term. They act on behalf of not just their team, but the whole of the company. They never shirk responsibility – they are accountable.
There’s a strong link between employees taking ownership and a culture of accountability – so much so that the two are often used interchangeably.
At Apple, accountability is strictly enforced. There’s a “directly responsible individual” (DRI, in Apple-speak) for each task. Employees are expected to own their mistakes – remember the Forskall debacle?
For us, taking ownership is about taking initiative. All of us have a voice, and the leeway to influence strategy or determine next steps. We are each responsible for the quality and timeliness of the product we’re working on – and that means we need to make decisions and lead the way.
The result? We put more thought into our work. We’re more motivated. We seek creative and innovative ways to improve and develop the products we are working on.
While there is an obvious crossover in values amongst the world’s biggest tech companies, it’s often the differentiating value that sets one apart from the competition – like frugality for Amazon, or fun for Google.
Still, it’s clear that there are a few key values that see tech companies grow from groundroots start-ups to full-blown tech juggernaut; innovation, excellence, selectivity, and ownership/accountability.