Why Foursquare, BuzzFeed, and Shopify Use Google Snippets

There’s one internal communication tool, little known outside of tech circles, that’s been the management engine behind many of tech’s biggest successes. Known as Google Snippets (having started as an internal tool at Google), this single tool has grown to become one that many of the best technology companies use to keep their teams aligned and working in sync while giving them the freedom to work creatively and autonomously.

The reason the system at Google caught on is that it’s not only powerful but incredibly simple to use.

Snippets sends everyone a weekly email on Monday asking you what you did last week and what you planned to get done the next week. When you reply to the email, your response goes onto an internally accessible webpage, and the next day, you’ll get an email that shows you what everyone else in the company is working on.

What began as a modest tool for keeping everyone in the loop became a powerful tool for company-wide transparency, as Google grew from hundreds to tens of thousands of people. With Google snippets, every employee had access to important knowledge regarding what was happening in the company — a stark contrast from the old days when managers hoarded information and kept it from their reports.

As Googlers eventually spread their wings and left the company for other tech pastures, they brought snippets with them, which is how similar systems became critical management tools at companies like Foursquare.

Here’s why three of the fastest-rising tech companies today use snippets and how it fuels their success:

Read more

How the Golden Rule Melts Away Management Hurdles

Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s a simple enough concept that long predates any management manual. Yet somehow the notion of treating people like, well, people when it comes to managing them gets lost in the landscape of meetings, memos, and motivational posters.

Is it that power actually gets to people’s heads? Adam Galinsky, a professor of management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, tested whether there are heady effects. In one study, a group of participants were first primed to feel powerful by writing about a time they felt authority over others. They went on to make more mistakes when guessing the emotional expressions of faces showing happiness, sadness, fear, or anger, compared to the control group.

So the job of managing itself may reduce your ability to empathize and perceive what others are feeling and experiencing. When you lose touch with your team as people, you cause them to feel frustrated, demotivated, and unacknowledged — not only harming relationships but performance as well.

Too many of us have been trained to focus on work, as if it exists in a vacuum, that we forget that fixes aren’t limited to considering and discussing the work itself.  Here’s how three companies avoid that trap by putting a priority on treating their employees like human beings.

Read more

The Culture Hacker

We’ve seen an interesting trend at companies that are extremely culture-focused: the culture hacker. Software developers have built internal developer productivity tools since time immemorial because great engineering cultures push for automation and improving iteration speed. But now developers are turning their attention to addressing team dynamics and how the whole company functions and works together on the whole — in a word, culture.

Zappos: making values concrete with process and code

At many companies, company values are just words on a piece of paper tacked to a wall somewhere. At Zappos, they’re extremely thoughtful about giving their values bite. For example, they’re famous for paying new employees to quit. After new employee training ends, each employee is offered the opportunity to quit their job and walk away with $1,000. They do this because one of the Zappos core values is “be passionate and determined”, and paying people to quit ensures that those who remain are incredibly enthusiastic about their work and in it for the long haul.


Read more

Reconsidering the Startup Open Floor Plan Office

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s plans for a new campus, a 420,000 square foot single-story warehouse made to look like “a hill in nature,” one giant room fitting thousands of people.  He described their aspiration as wanting to build “the perfect engineering space.”

open floor plan office facebook

I admit that Zuck’s statement caught me off guard because I dislike the typical open floor plan office and so do most engineers that I know.  Many engineers wear headphones to create the missing wall so that they can concentrate and focus on coding without distraction.  We chose the small offices at WeWork in SOMA, SF, over co-working for those reasons.

The New York Times reported that recent research supported the hunch that open floor plan offices reduce productivity.  The research showed that ambient conversations at work and a noisy office space contributed to “a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.”  According to the researcher, “Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain’s working memory.”

Nevertheless, the open floor plan office has become a shibboleth of startup culture.  It reflects our rejection of hierarchy, and our embrace of agility, collaboration and creativity, and as a result, many startups take the open floor plan for granted.

We’ve recently visited two startups, Shopify and Zappos, that are reconsidering and riffing off of the standard startup open floor plan office, and we’ve been inspired by what they’ve come up with to ensure that engineers have the relative solitude that they need to get in the zone, without reverting away from the promise of the open floor plan for serendipity, collaboration and work happiness.

Read more

Visit Your Musers

It’s hard to build great technology products without a muser. The muser not only adds emotional motivation to the developer’s work ethic; she serves a cognitive function of focusing his mind on the one thing that truly matters: what using the thing is like. Without her, projects disintegrate into scattered bundles of individual features, appealing to the intellect but not the heart.

– Jakob Lodwick, Elepath.

Hands down the most inspired we’ve felt as a company has been our excursions to visit our musers, see first-hand how they get down with iDoneThis, and chat about the vision and direction of the company.

From San Francisco to Ottawa to Learn How to Startup

It started serendipitously.  In February, we’d started corresponding with a guy named Tobi at Shopify about a support matter who turned out to be the CEO.  The more we talked to Tobi and read about Shopify, the more enamored we grew with them — they do things their own way and on their own terms, and they’ve been wildly successful.

our muser shopify

Read more

Crowdsource Your Company’s Bonuses

I’m sure we’ve all worked at companies where the loudest guy gets the biggest bonus.  In most companies, compensation is determined by a cabal of execs—guys that you may never have met—evaluating work that happened up to a whole year ago.  Bonus compensation ends up being a function of politics, not performance.


51% of employees feel that the performance reviews upon which bonus compensation is based are inaccurate according to a 2011 survey by Globoforce.  A 2010 literature survey in Psychology Today concluded that 87% to 90% of employees hate performance reviews because the feedback is not useful, the whole process is stressful, and they’re left demotivated as a result.

Read more