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Guest Post: Culture, context and ways of working

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Tim Moss

In the second in our series of reports from the West Coast, Tim Moss, CEO of Companies House, tells us about ways of working US-style.

I’m not a techie, so I was particularly interested in the culture of the Silicon Valley organisations that we visited.  So what stood out for me?

Can do, let’s do

From a corporate culture perspective, it was the level of innovation, the ease of start up - admittedly it helps when there’s lots of money around - the “can do, let’s do” attitude and not being afraid to think big / think the unthinkable – Lytro, PinDrop Security and Google were prime examples.


An organisation that fostered an environment of very agile working and rapid iterations was Netflix, which implements masses of changes every day.  (Our standard processes and procedures would struggle with daily changes.) To achieve this, Netflix has a culture of distributed responsibility and a structure consisting of micro services, combined with a disaggregated and resilient infrastructure. This is all backed up by collecting billions of customer metrics and using them to constantly improve the personal experience of their customers. Leadership is through setting context rather than control.


Talking to the Facebook folks at Facebook HQ, you got a real sense of their focus.  For them it’s all about customer retention.  And about knocking down any barriers that stop them achieving that.  From a culture point of view, empowerment and accountability stood out, with a real emphasis on helping staff be as productive as possible.  This is the visit that made my kids most envious!


In terms of a great place to work, Square was very impressive.  Not just because of the sleek, downtown San Francisco loft-style office, but the culture of complete openness.  Everyone receives the board papers and the whole company takes part in “town square” weekly meetings with open mike sessions - not bad for a company with 900 staff.  They also host employee hack weeks where everyone has to try something new.  And they take their community responsibilities seriously with a weekly community litter pick.

The Cloud

For a non-techie I learnt so much about the impact of the cloud - it’s not just about cheap storage - and the way businesses have been transformed by it. The scale of the operational and customer data they collect was impressive, resulting in a world where collecting everything is the norm and big data becomes a powerful tool to improve performance and service to the customer.

Wise words

I also picked up some great quotes:
“Avoid HIPPO wins.”  (HIPPO = Highest-paid person’s opinion)

“There are more people in the world with mobile phones than toothbrushes.”

“No start-up will ever buy equipment.”

And finally

There is so much to learn and we are making some good progress.  What we at Companies House must embrace is that to really get the benefits from our digital journey, it is not just about rethinking our customer interactions.  We need to re-think the whole organisation:  culture, context and ways of working are as important as the technology.


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1 comment

  1. Comment by simonfj posted on

    That was nice Tim,

    I guess the hardest part in all of this is that, in private enterprise it's easy to provide a service to a customer, as it's just one small part of their needs. In governments over the years, due to the entrenchment of "modern management", the individual departments have lost of the concept of serving one citizen as a whole. We're still there.

    It's still almost impossible to consider the concept - that a citizen may have a range of personalized services, from individual departments, tailored to their needs, and still retain their privacy. Departments are there to deliver services by (functionarios), not to offer access to networks so citizens can serve themselves. Networks are designed as departmental and "client/server". The architecture and roles are well defined.

    Outside governments the "collaborator/cloud model" rules supreme. But this is a media model, not an IT model; and one based around groups of inter-institutional groups getting together (if for no other reason than to commiserate with one another 🙂

    But of course, I don't need to tell you all this. It's just that we have yet to see any sign of "openness" in the GOV.UK movement. We can see it attempted in 55 individual blogs. Pump the reports out and bury the responses below. What we can't find is "the town hall" where one can find their peers, follow the discussions and (perhaps) ,collaborate; inter-departmentally. That's a new culture which is only spoken about, over and over again; departmentally.