Pando

When a company says it hires “maniacs” and “ruthless” “allstars” who do “whatever it takes”, believe them

TFW Silicon Valley companies accidentally tell you who they really are...

By Sarah Lacy , written on December 22, 2017

From The Disruption Desk

Textio-- an augmented writing platform for job listings -- released a fascinating study last week.

Sadly, it didn’t get a ton of attention in the flood of political news and on going sexual harassment allegations, or as it’s come to be known “another day in 2017.”

The company looked at the “hiring language” from 25,000 recent job descriptions at major tech companies. Their contention was that repeated words weren’t an accident. When 1,000 different hiring managers in different parts of an organization, hiring for different roles use the same words over and over again, the company is telling you what it’s culture is.

And that may fly in the face of what the PR department of the company says its culture is. It also shows why culture is so hard to change in companies. When thousands of job recs say phrases like “work hard, play hard” (Salesforce) or “whatever it takes” (Uber) that not only tells you a lot about that company’s culture, but it makes sure that more people are being brought in the door to further cement that culture.

The company also examined the phrases that caused the greatest increase in applications by women. They included phrases like “empathetic” (Apple) “our family” (Facebook) “building alliances” (salesforce) and “diverse perspectives” (Twitter.) All three of Slack’s phrases resonated more with women: “Lasting relationships”, “meaningfully”, and “care deeply.”

That isn’t a surprise, as Slack has worked harder than almost any company on this list to be inclusive from day one, and has actively pushed against a 24/7 macho work culture. In our 2015 PandoMonthly with Stewart Butterfield he said:

“One of the ancillary reasons that I think we're successful is of the four cofounders, at 41, I'm the third youngest. We probably have more engineers over 40 than any other company. Of all the billion-dollar companies, I suspect that we work the fewest hours in a week. The office is pretty empty by 6:30...People generally work 45-hour work weeks.”

In nearly twenty years doing this, I have never heard a male startup CEO of a high-growth company brag about something like that.

It’s uncanny how much a lot of these words sum up the cultures of these companies. Amazon’s words “fast-paced environment” and “maniacal” are the perfect articulation of a company that is consistently squeezing out every margin, and competitive white space in the commerce business.

Apple’s “empathetic” and “maintaining control” also speak to its strengths. Apple’s ability to put itself in the shoes of consumers and deliver something they didn’t know they wanted is rooted in empathy. (“Morality” is something different…) And obviously Apple’s go to market strategy and product strategy have always been characterized-- in good times and bad times-- as all about maintaining control. That’s been Apple’s singular distinction against Microsoft, Google, or any other major competitors over the years.

Facebook’s “our family” paired with “ruthlessly” is perhaps the hardest one to parse… In a way, though, this is the dichotomy of leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg who have developed such a knack for connecting with people, sharing moving stories about their lives and families, while building a community that is causing so much pain for so many people. You want to think Sandberg and Zuckerberg care about relationships and people when you read their books and posts about parenthood and marriage and loss. I know both fairly well, and conversations I’ve had with them also echoes this desire.

And yet, this is a company that was called before congress to investigate its role in Russian election meddling, and cared enough to send an attorney. After the CEO initially scoffed at the allegations. There is this strange heart to Facebook that a “ruthless” adherence to data seems to constantly eclipse or be at odds with.

There’s another reading by which the two phrases aren’t at odds: A mafia-like one. Taken together they show a culture deeply bonded to itself against the world. This is in keeping with leaks almost never coming out of Facebook and the company’s fervent belief that it is in the right no matter what. Something we’ve seen flare up recently as early executives have questioned how good the service has been for the world. In a rare move last week, Facebook answered these charges back in a way that didn’t rebut the allegations, but showed they’d touched a nerve.

Google’s phrases are right on brand with the Google culture as I know it: “First rate”, “prove that” and “tackle.” This is a company that long wanted to know your GPA before it would consider hiring you, and is known to be as close to academia as Silicon Valley gets. “Tackle” is an interesting verb. It implies action, taking something difficult on, but without a nefarious connotation like “ruthless” or “maniacal.” Google has, in cases like self-driving cars and social media, been accused of moving too slowly and not aggressively enough. It also speaks to Google’s desire for “moon shots” that may take decades to come to fruition.  

Microsoft’s words are “driven person”, “insatiably” and “competing.” I’ve never covered Microsoft’s culture close up, as I’ve always been a Valley-based tech reporter, so I don’t have special insight into this one, but sounds Microsoft-y.

Netflix’s include “weed out”, “bull by the horns” and “disciplined.” These aren’t necessarily the phrases I’d pick to sum up Netflix’s culture. The one that resonated most with me was “weed out” given Reed Hastings’ original stated corporate intention to build a company without assholes, and developed a lot of ground breaking policies like unlimited vacation and full-year parental leave as part of that. When I hear the phrase “weed out” I think of bad things that have cropped up and threaten to ruin something great. I’m surprised that one didn’t resonate more with women.

Salesforce’s phrases are reminiscent of a company that grew out of the Oracle-dominated late 90s era of enterprise software: “Work hard, play hard,” “hungry for” and “building alliances.” That last one nods to Salesforce’s stances on equality, arguably. It softens up the image a bit. Still, this is a company built for and by sales folks.

We discussed Slack already, which brings us to Twitter. These were a jumble of confusion: “nerd”, “passion for learning” and “diverse perspectives.” None of these say Twitter to me. Nor do I get how they go together. In a way, that’s fitting for a company that has changed CEOs four times in its short life and is constantly saying it stands for one thing (Jack Dorsey wearing a “woke” T-shirt on stage at Code) while doing another (refusing to clamp down on the Alt Right and hate speech.)

The report ends with Uber. Uber’s words tell us everything we need to know, already know, and investors should have known about this toxic culture: “whatever it takes”, “High-performance culture” and “all-star.” Not a surprise this created a culture where an “A-team” of execs was untouchable no matter how awful their actions were, and a culture where everything from stealing trade secrets to digging up health records of a rape victim were celebrated as doing “whatever it takes.”

When companies tell you who they are, believe them. And now we know a better place to look than the company’s boilerplate mission statements.