Years ago, when starting the company that became Discord, I wanted to build a workplace that was rewarding, challenging, and positive. To achieve this, I started with a simple question, “How do you create a place where people can thrive doing their best work?”
My goal for sharing this philosophy is to give everyone a glimpse into how we do things — especially those of you who may be considering joining the team.
Upside Down Leadership
The answer begins with the way leaders see themselves. We have a tremendous impact on the shape of the workplace and I believe that traditional top-down management fails to bring out the best in people.
At Discord, our leadership philosophy is bottoms-up, meaning managers act as support and guidance for individual contributors. I remember loving the jobs where my boss would coach me and give frequent tips on how to do better. I remember hating the jobs where my boss would micromanage me while giving feedback once a year.
Small & Mighty Teams
Contrary to popular Silicon Valley belief, hiring slow and maintaining a small team has tons of benefits. Hiring slowly allows us to take our time to find excellent candidates who truly understand Discord’s mission to bring gamers together. It means our team has a greater opportunity to gel and develop meaningful relationships. Best of all, it means that each employee has a deeper opportunity to learn and grow with the company.
Furthermore, a small team forces us to choose the work that brings us the greatest results — the path of highest compounding leverage. It forces us to say no to good ideas and yes to great ones.
With all that said, over time I’ve come to settle on four values (inspired by a variety of sources including this talk) which I believe create the kind of environment that talented top performers thrive in: autonomy, mastery, purpose, and compassion
People want the freedom to be creative in their approach to solving problems. I’ve found the conditions needed for someone to be creative boil down to two questions and the space to answer them — what outcome am I trying to achieve and why does this outcome matter?
The entirety of our planning process is about clarifying the what and why of someone’s work. The entirety of our management process is about supporting people to actually do the work which ties into our leadership philosophy as written above.
One of the most motivating things for a high performing person is making sure their work is important and challenging. Their projects should let them stretch beyond their comfort zone, but not so far that they aren’t successful.
To make sure they succeed, everyone provides constant, real time feedback. We don’t do drawn out performance reviews every year. Instead, we shatter the typical feedback process into hundreds of digestible bits. This structure creates an incredibly fast learning cycle that allows everyone to grow and improve in real time instead of accumulating feedback into a grueling annual review. Over time, I’ve seen junior folks grow into strong senior contributors — and even managers — through this approach.
Feedback is a dialogue at Discord and we recruit everyone to participate regardless of position. Team members are encouraged to give their feedback to leadership as much as leadership is encouraged to share feedback with their team members.
Many of the best relationships in my life were built playing games. I have such great memories playing all sorts of games with the people closest to me like my wife, brother, and best friends. Some people here appreciate games through time spent playing with their kids or see it in their spouse’s close relationships.
Whatever the specific connection is, the point is to deliberately hire people who can connect with our mission. When they do, it means they sweat the details. It means people put in the extra oomph to make something great. So many things just “happen” because people care.
It’s not possible to manufacture this — we look for it during our hiring process and only hire people who care about why we’re doing what we’re doing.
At Discord, people don’t leave their personal life at the door. We expect people to show up to do great work. That said, some days you’re just in a bad mood or having a rough time with something at home. We respect each other as people and have come to realize that acknowledging people’s emotions and keeping feelings in the open creates a much more supportive and effective environment.
I remember a day when one of our executives noticed a team member was on the verge of tears at their desk because of a personal issue. At a moment like that, work doesn’t matter — they put it aside and took a walk to chat about what was going on. Not only did it give the team member the opportunity to talk through what was going on in their personal life, it also gave the executive an opportunity to understand what that team member was going through. These kinds of emotionally reflective and vulnerable conversations happen often at Discord.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Sustained productivity comes from healthy work-life harmony. Each person has their own lifestyle and circumstance which informs their work schedule. For example, many employees at Discord have children and keep family hours — working a solid 8 hours every day and then off to have dinner and tuck their kids in.
Everyone does what’s best for their own situation and their team to ensure sustainable productivity. We respect and accommodate what each person needs to be most effective.
Through these foundational principles applied each and every day, we try to thoughtfully create an environment where talented, diverse people from all walks of life feel supported and encouraged to do great work.
Along the way, we make sure to have fun, to celebrate our victories, to eat good food, and to share pet pictures, of course. Take a look:
If this looks and sounds like the kind of place you’d like to work, come apply for one of our many jobs and join us on our mission to bring people together around games.