The giants of the tech industry have a lock on employer branding (think: quirky hiring practices, free food, and other perks that make work "fun"), but analysis of the personalities of their staffs presents a different picture of what it’s really like in the trenches.
A study published today by Good&Co analyzed the psychometric data gained from anonymous personality quizzes completed by 4,364 tech employees of what they believe are perceived as the five most innovative companies in Silicon Valley: Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM. In total, the two-year-long study also analyzed 10 million responses from 250,000 users. Questions ranged from thoughts and feelings about networking to how they handle problems at work.
The study concluded that Facebook lags behind the others for cultivating a culture of creativity. Microsoft employees are more innovative than those at Apple. Both Apple and Twitter’s corporate cultures are the most accurately representative of how employees perceived them. (No major conclusions were drawn about IBM's employees in the study, aside from being a point of comparison.)
By now we know that company leadership and employees aren't always aligned in their thinking about the workplace. Fast Company has previously covered the gap between the way each group thinks about a company's culture. Research from the Workforce Institute at Kronos and WorkplaceTrends indicated that part of the disconnect came from a disagreement between HR, management, and staff regarding who was in charge of creating and driving company culture.
The Good&Co report reveals that the discrepancy dividing these tech companies’ true corporate culture from the one perceived by the rest of the world is often a result of timing. Facebook, for example, may be considered among the most innovative companies in the world, as it was the among the first social media platforms on the Internet, but the Good&Co study suggests that its early successes have resulted in a more conservative effort to sustain them.
"They've always had that reputation [of being innovative], and I think that now becomes a subconscious thing, that Facebook is innovative, but the current place they're in as a business doesn't require them to personally be innovative," Samar Birwadker, the founder and CEO of Good&CO, tells Fast Company. "They invented social networks, and there's always been this layer of innovation," he explains, "but with more pressure on revenue, and especially on mobile and ads, I think we're seeing a lot less risk taking and adventurousness by their employees."
Birwadker adds that a series of failed product launches, including Parse and Paper, have led the social media behemoth toward a culture of playing it safe. "In a way they're borrowing that innovation equity, or that halo effect they can get from [acquisitions] like Instagram and WhatsApp," he observes.
At the other end of the spectrum, says Birwadker, Microsoft is often perceived as less innovative, because the more established tech giant has lagged behind the growth of its competitors. That game of catchup, however, led the company to hire more creative and innovative employees, and encourage bold ideas that can help close the innovation gap. "The data tell us that in adventurousness, Microsoft employees tend to be neck in neck with Apple's, and much more adventurous than Google, Facebook, or IBM employees," says Birwadker.
"Microsoft has always made a lot of money doing things the right, traditional, organized way," he says, "but what they realized with the success of social platforms and companies like Google is that they need to focus on consumer first, whereas they've always been B2B." Birwadker says that this wave of innovative energy began in 2014, with the arrival of Microsoft’s latest CEO, Satya Nadella.
The discrepancy between the perception of an employer and the reality is significant, adds Birwadker, as it becomes an important indicator of a company’s likelihood for success. "The way you experience a brand's culture is through their ‘About Us’ page, or a point of interaction with a recruiter, or in their ads," he says, adding that IBM, Facebook, and Google aren't necessarily providing the working atmosphere that is reflected in their recruiting materials.
Good&Co's data indicates that some of the most successful companies have internal cultures synonymous with their external expression. The tech giants that provide a working culture most closely aligned with their external employer brands, according to the study, are Apple and Twitter.
Apple, for example, is organized in a more hierarchical structure, which is reflected in the perception employees have of the workplace, while Birdwadker describes Twitter as "creative chaos," which is reflected in both the company's recruiting materials as well as the platform itself.
"You can't have 10 people in a boardroom deciding what the culture of the company is; it’s defined by the people who already work there," says Birwadker, adding that employees who discover that their company’s culture is different than advertised are more likely to leave.
The Good&Co study also reveals the most sought after attributes of the tech industry’s most revered employers based on analysis of employees' personality traits.
"For managers, for example, being socially bold is really important, especially in the Valley, because people don't just buy into a paycheck, they want to believe they're following a leader who has both their interest and the team's interest in mind," says Birwadker.
Persistence was also a common trait across the industry. "A sense of curiosity is critical, but what we saw overall is that a sense of curiosity is much lower in managers than it was in employees."