Millennials don’t want to be told what to do; they want to do what they want to do. GitHub has successfully adapted to this mindset by utilising open allocation, allowing employees to freely think, create, and innovate.
Tom Preston-Warner, CEO and co-founder of GitHub, defines “innovation” with a question: “How do you get the same old people in the same old company to keep cranking out novel, valuable things?” An inside look at the trend-setting company written by Chris Dannen on Fast Company reveals how GitHub has created a thriving environment for innovation.
GitHub: A Company for the Innovative Millennial
GitHub is an open-source platform that allows software developers to collaborate. They run a so-called “open allocation” formula, which allows GitHub users, or “GitHubbers,” to freely choose which projects they want to work on. Compare this with conventional, top-down, “I-want-you-to-do-this” decision-making.
Naturally, this accessible structure is attractive. And the proof is in the pudding – when queried, Githubbers responded that “they liked the option to work with whomever they liked on something they thought was cool.” This simple, innovation-centric model differs from traditional, hierarchical companies that create small, theoretically “innovative” units that, in practice, are highly inflexible. Unsurprisingly, this open-source culture has attracted some of the best millennial talent.
Tom Kaneshige, writing on CIO, has discussed the importance of giving millennials “lots of space and freedom,” as managers must allow them to run with their projects and make their own decisions. “The tech industry thrives on innovation sprouting from the minds of the younger generation,” Kaneshige says. “Millennials are at their creative best when relaxed and left alone to experiment.”
And the company’s truly succeeded at reaching out to that generation – the Los Angeles Times reports that GitHub is offering its services at a discount to students to help them design websites or apps. John Britton, Github’s Education Liaison, understands the prohibitive cost of many tech learning tools, and emphasises GitHub’s mandate to allow students to “learn by doing.”
And doing is what they do best – Dannen explains how millennials “don’t respect hierarchy for the sake of itself. They want fast-moving, lean platforms on which to build their work.” GitHub’s radical ideas and effective, fluid structure should inspire companies to begin taking the right steps. But is transitioning to an open model feasible for a more traditional, hierarchical organisation?
Overcoming Barriers for Success: Be Open, Not Closed
Preston-Warner helps us envision this process: the first step is to apply these concepts to a small group of perhaps 30 people, which allows lower-end managers to actually become team leaders. He explains: “It becomes turned upside down – your main job as the manager of that section is to communicate strategy, and then let other people determine what’s important in order to accomplish that strategy.”
The idea is to fight our propensity to control. Actually taking a step back – rather than intruding – is usually the best solution. Open, not closed.
Michael O. Church, a successful writer and game designer, argues on Forbes that closed allocation structures often lead to “unnecessary turnover, bad behaviour…warring departments and teams, and extremely low motivation.” In fact, closed-allocation companies operate at only 10–20% of their maximum productivity.
On his blog, Church says, “When you manage people like children, that’s what they become.” Confining millennials to a cubicle or 9-to-5 work hours is massively unappealing, and micro-managers don’t gain any ground by checking in on employees every 15 minutes – the key is to treat them as responsible adults.
GitHub has proven that a flexible, open-source structure caters effectively to a millennial mindset – and more than that, it’s shown to be equally, if not more successful than traditional methods. Part of the trick is to engage millennials by using the latest technology as part the recruitment process. And LaunchPad Recruits’ innovative video recruitment software provides millennials the freedom and flexibility to conduct interviews in the same, open format.