I spent last week in San Francisco and Palo Alto visiting a bunch of people and companies getting to know more about the entrepreneurship, hiring and doing business in the Silicon Valley. The war of talent is fierce there. It is a completely different ball game in the valley.
What makes it so different (to us europeans at least) is the abundance yet shortage of the most talented individuals on earth. The cycle is fast. People won’t really commit to a work place for more than a year. Especially engineers. Since my visit last year, they have started to shop for equity!
Hiring people in the valley is both difficult and easy. The shortage of talent makes it hard to find talent, especially if you need a lot of them. At the same time, the at will -employment contracts make it easy to hire at a little risk. You can get rid of anyone at anytime for any reason basically. But it goes both ways, of course. I spoke to the co-founder of Bitbar, Jouko Kaasila, who said that despite the ability to get rid of employees very easily, there is really not a lot of unemployment in the valley. The circle is fast. People come and go.
At Google they are not really willing to use the at will -option, because it is risk to employer reputation. However, Facebook, like Yahoo and many other Valley corporations engage in an aggressive bi-annual performance review system during which under performers are directed elsewhere.
Valley is used to speed. Everything is done at the snap of a finger there, it seems. Decisions, actions, moves.
Going crazy with the perks
The shortage of talent, and the at will -contract has resulted in the perk department heads going nuts. Companies are getting really creative with their benefits & perks -systems. The masters such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo have huge campuses where you can literally take care of all your errands from shopping to hair dresser and in between. But that’s not a novelty thing anymore. Obviously gifted engineers are offered stock options. Another booming “perk” is not to have perks at all, but to engage in the, and support the community where the company offices are located in. Zappos has done wonders to Las Vegas, when Pandora, the internet radio in Oakland, California is pushing their employees outside to support the local entrepreneurs during lunch, coffee breaks and whatnot.
How to cope with the employment cycle
While the valley employers are desperately trying to find ways to keep the talent, they have also learned to accept the fact that the average employment seems to be about a year. Ari Backholm, founder of Seven Networks, and a valley entrepreneur for more than 10 years said:
“Talent in valley are not generalists typically. Because they have a deep understanding and experience from a niche skill, they don’t need a lot of time to learn the skills necessary in the job. They just get on with it. So, when you hire, you just make sure you’ll find someone who is a niche talent, and make sure they’ll embark and deliver from the first day onwards.“
What can we learn from Silicon Valley?
The attitude, I believe is what everyone who’s ever visited the Valley will say first. The attitude is all about innovating, going forward, having an impact, helping others. And it’s like that regardless of what you do. Even the taxi drivers in Palo Alto want to be part of something new. People are not really focusing on crying about what they lack, but putting their mind at what they can do about it. I have to say, it was refreshing.
Other things I really love about the Valley are:
- Pay it forward – When you win, you give forward, be it time, tips, money, contacts, ideas.. you just pay it forward to the community and people in it
- Smile – At a first glance the american polished smile can be a bit fake, but whether it’s fake or not, I rather watch that smile than a grim face. I’m doing my best to keep a smile on my face as often as possible. My goal is to make it a permanent feature.
- How can I help you – This one I practiced during the week and hope to keep it with me back at home too. Everyone you talk to asks you this. How can I help YOU. I guess it goes with the pay it forward -culture. It’s actually quite lovely to ask that. Try it!
You can for sure adopt these at your work, regardless if you are a manager or an employer. Why not try for a day, maybe two or even a week? Or make it a habit for an entire month! See if it makes a difference in you and those around you. I challenge you!
If you can read Finnish, read this blog post my friend Lauri wrote about our experiences: “Suomi tarvitsee Piilaakson henkeä” >>
*To get more updates about company culture & recruitment, subscribe to our B2B Newsletter – we’ll send you only short & sweet updates once every two weeks.