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Practical lessons in workplace culture from Google and Facebook

When it comes to retaining your IT talent, it’s about more than benefits and job security — workplace culture matters too. It’s the intangible (and sometimes tangible) practical lessons in keeping your IT talent happy that make the difference. For instance, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, revealed that there are no obvious markers of seniority at the company — and no phones.  What’s more, all employees “get professional housecleaning twice a month.” And we’ve all heard the tales of Google’s all-you-can-eat cafeterias and giant slides at the Googleplex.

In the midmarket space, however, we’re a little less likely to have free housecleaning and giant, human Pong games during lunchtime. The practical lessons of the innovators, however, are definitely echoed and adopted in smaller IT shops. Paul Harder, the winner of this year’s IT Leadership Cultural Innovation Award, has a line on the secret of building a positive workplace culture, even within the very tight budget of a nonprofit organization. His practical lesson in building workplace culture is all a matter of empowering his IT talent. “I look at myself as trying to enable them to get their job done, and then empower them to do it. Otherwise, I pretty well leave hands-off. I make sure that from a 10,000-foot view that everything’s getting done, but I’m not even going to come close to micromanaging them,” he said.

Speaking of personal freedom in workplace culture, Mauricio Vicente, our IT Leader of the Year (and a finalist for the Cultural Innovation Award) said, “I give them creative freedom. I work with a very talented group of individuals who surprise me every day with their own feedback and how they execute the ideas that are brought to us by the different layers of the organization.”

One thing that Harder and Vicente have in common with the culture meisters at Google and Facebook: the concept of personal autonomy.  Former Facebook designer Joe Hewitt summed it up nicely after he decided to leave the social network company last year. He also singles out autonomy as a facet of workplace culture. “Management gave me the freedom to work on my own ideas, and just like with real startups, some of my projects never made it out of the lab, while others shipped and were huge successes. The brilliance of Facebook management is encouraging everyone to take initiative, take risks, and wear as many hats as you can. I wish more tech companies operated like this.”

Of course, being an awesome company doesn’t prevent brain drain from happening, but it seems to be the key to making sure that your open recs have hundreds — or thousands– of qualified applicants, all eager for a chance to join your team. And what CIO doesn’t dream of that?

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