#ResponsiveMoments with Steve Hopkins

Meet one of the original signators of the Responsive.org movement, and an attendee at this year’s Responsive Org Future of Work Conference

On September 19–20, 2016, Responsive Org will host its first conference on The Future of Work. We invite you to attend our conference, check out the Responsive Org movement, or just reach out and say hello!

In this interview, you will meet Steve Hopkinds (@Stevehopkins), one of the original signators of the Responsive.org movement. He currently works with the startup Culture Amp.

What is Responsive.org and a responsive organization?

The world is pretty crazy and different right now. It’s very unpredictable and volatile, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and change. When you think of what Responsive.org is, it’s a pretty simple statement: we need to build our organizations to be more able to thrive and be purposeful in a changing world.

A responsive organization starts off by saying, we are in an environment that’s going to keep changing, and our strategy is going to keep changing — but we’re going to build a culture that’s constantly iterating upon the shape of our organization so that we remain relevant and purposeful toward our mission the world.

What is the origin story of Responsive.org?

The story goes that Adam Pisoni, the co-founder of Yammer and the CTO, went through a journey at Yammer. Basically, it got to the point where Adam and a lot of the other folks who were running Yammer were not necessarily building a product anymore, but a company. Out of that, I think they realized there was something to what they were doing at Yammer — things that they had just kind of come to because they made a lot of sense and worked really well. They were iterating consistently on the shape of the organization and how work got done.

What does Yammer do?

Yammer is an enterprise social network. It was founded around 8 years ago, and about four years ago, it was acquired by Microsoft. It’s used within large organizations, corporations, and enterprises around the world to help connect people, enable them to talk more openly, and communicate better with each other in a more social way.

Yammer was, in some ways, ahead of its time because it used data-driven development to gather customer feedback and then act on it appropriately — so the product was consistently evolving and changing. One of the core ideas that I learned at my time at Yammer was that the shape or your organization is what shapes your product, which is Conway’s law. If the product has to constantly evolve and change to be relevant in that market and relevant in the world, then by default, you must also build an organization that’s constantly changing and moving at the same pace. So as Yammer was building their product, they realized that they needed to focus on building the organization, rather than necessarily putting all of their focus on building the product.

What is Conway’s law?

Conway’s law states that the shape of the organization dictates the shape of the product that it produces. The canonical example is if you’ve got four teams that are building a compiler, then you’re going to get a four-part compiler — because just by default, the teams will split according to how the organization has structured itself. I love working at Culture Amp because we directly target that question of what’s the shape of your organization and how is it performing across a variety of measures.

How do you design an organization?

When you’re thinking about designing your organization, it’s about leadership and good management. The question about how you structure your team and your org doesn’t happen in some sort of ivory tower; it happens in the millions of micros decisions that people make when they’re confronted decisions. Having some sort of data to guide your decisions about what’s engaging people and what’s helping people in the work that they’re doing is a really important to me. That’s how we get to impact ultimate change in the world, by helping companies think more about how they’re making decisions.

At Culture Amp, we’ve recently moved to adopt a model that we’re calling the Team of Teams model, after the book by Stanley McChrystal. We’ve really taken that model to heart. Now, we’re saying that it’s all about small teams that can grow to a certain size and then split — and they determine how to do that themselves. In many ways, we have dissolved the formal hierarchy that normally exists around management, but everybody still has a mentor, even the CEO.

As a leader, what are the daily decisions that you make in the effort of creating a culture that builds a responsive organization?

When I think about leadership, I think about serving the people that I have in my stewardship. When I think about my leadership style, I keep some things in the forefront of my mind. The first is that everyone is an adult, and they don’t need me most of the time. I’m not here to direct traffic or tell you what to do; I’m here to guide you and listen to what you’re doing, and help you work through things together. Then, my role is making sure that you’re connected to the the community inside and outside of Culture Amp.

I’m also here to help you in your career for as long as you’ll let me, post Culture Amp or whatever the case may be. I think that’s one thing I’ve always appreciated from mentors and others that I’ve worked closely with in the past — that I felt like they were looking out for my best interests over my whole life. In a more concrete sense, that actually plays directly into the hands of being a responsive organization.

Where do you see the Responsive Org movement going in the next couple of years and decades?

As a movement, I’m not sure how to define it because I think it’s just happening. I think the thing we’ve always said is that it’s going to happen anyway because the companies that don’t get it will eventually die out. The Fortune 500 churns at about 10% per year, and that’s increasing, so it’s going to happen anyway — it’s just a case of how quickly.

I’m really excited about the future of the Responsive Org movement and our work here at Culture Amp because we’re moving to have much more data and be more data-informed about our culture. That will make the changes that we’re talking about more concrete, tactile, and tangible. As you’re shaping your organization, you’ll have the chance to actually use data to inform your decisions, as much as just your gut feel. There will still be an art to it — just as there’s still an art to product management and product building and engineering — but you’ll be able to use data to inform your decisions, too.

Organizations are realizing that having a staff built around culture that’s fit to their purpose allows them not just to create better strategy, but then go implement it faster than they would have otherwise. That allows them to be more successful in the market and run a better business.

This article is based on The Robin Zander Show podcast titled, Steve Hopkins — Coffee Connoisseur, Yammer, Culture Amp, and Building Responsive Organizations.