3 Lessons From "The Year Without Pants"

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As part of a series on must-read books for HR leaders, we're exploring the lessons from "The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work" by Scott Berkun. The book takes a deep dive into the innovative employment strategies at Automattic, Inc. — the software firm behind WordPress.

"The Year Without Pants" follows the work of one manager, leading one team, trying to balance the many different factors that can influence success in the workplace, which makes it required reading for any HR leader or manager trying to discern how agile business and HCM policies can help their enterprises grow.

Here are three key lessons from the book.

1. Invest in Your Culture

Berkun talk about investing in a forward-thinking culture, one that focuses on removing the barriers needed to optimize productivity. However, as he notes, no strategy will work unless it aligns with and is supported by a healthy organizational culture. He writes, "Every year new trends in work become popular in spite of their futility for most organizations that try them." Berkun continues, "The promise of a trend is grand, but the result never is. Rarely do the consultants championing, and profiting from, these ideas disclose how superficial the results will be unless they're placed in a culture healthy enough to support them."

Automattic, Inc. embraced a number of innovative choices — from eliminating email to offering extensive remote work arrangements. For employees coming from a traditional business environment, these choices can feel alien. Yet the founders of Automattic, Inc. built a culture anchored on one truth that every HR leader can learn from — build a culture that attracts and supports the kind of people you want to hire.

Fast Company reports that investments in perks and culture can pay off, but they have to align with the people you're trying to hire. For HR leaders, it's time to ask what aspects of your culture really serve your organizational goals and what elements you're hanging onto simply because of tradition.

2. Adopt an Agile Management Style

At a typical enterprise, managers focus on setting priorities, overseeing deliverables and managing day-to-day contributions. However, Berkun explains that Automattic Inc.'s style is more flexible. The firm consists of small teams with leaders who give significant autonomy to individual contributors. The organization's philosophy is quite striking — management is seen as a support function whose goal is to enable creators to work fast and ship quality products.

The manager's job is to identify roadblocks and work with teams to provide solutions that keep things moving, rather than creating unnecessary processes that slow things down. Ultimately, this alignment could result in more connectivity between managers and teams. Fast Company reports that there are often major gaps between what businesses value and what workers value, and even in which skills they choose to focus on day by day.

3. Take a Practical Approach to Hiring

Rather than using standard interview techniques, "The Year Without Pants" divulges how Automattic, Inc. followed what the Society for Human Resource Management calls "skills-based hiring." Instead of scheduling meetings and focusing on questions, the organization gave candidates a project to work on. Based on the candidate's work style, results and final delivery, managers were able to see their skills in action and make the decision on whether or not to move forward with hiring.

What Berkun teaches in "The Year Without Pants" is that success can be built by your team, and that focusing on people drives decisions from hiring practices to how you shape your organization's culture. HR leaders can use this book to take a closer look at how their organizations are built.

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Other articles in this series:

3 Tips on Company Culture From "The Year Without Pants"

4 Interview Techniques from "The Year Without Pants"

3 Tips on Leadership and Change Management from "The Year Without Pants"