It’s a culture of transparency, openness, of collaboration and continual improvement

Stuffy business environments are the absolute worst. Endless paperwork, no-exception dress codes, policy upon policy upon policy — just talking about it has already increased my uptightness and left me feeling ashamed of my suit-less wardrobe. I can’t think of one person who enjoys being chewed out by slick-haired businessmen that take pride in letting you know where you fall on the totem pole. If given the choice, nobody would willingly accept the shackles and chains associated with the stereotypical rules and regulations of corporate America. But how does a company create and maintain a unique culture, one that enhances productivity while also letting each person retain a sense of individuality?

Created in 2004 and currently based out of Farmington, Pluralsight offers the world’s largest tech and creative training library to developers throughout the world. Whether a beginner or advanced professional, consumers can choose from over 3,500 courses located on Pluralsight’s website. But what makes Pluralsight so unique is their specific attention to promoting a unique culture, one free of usual boundaries, where everybody — from the CEO to the newest employee — is created equal and openness takes precedence above all else. Think of it as the business equivalent of a hippie community — just replace the weed, body odor, and general joblessness with motivated and productive individuals. Basically, a place John Lennon would have loved to work at.

“It’s a culture of transparency, openness, of collaboration and continual improvement,” Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard told Beehive Startups in a recent interview. “I want people to feel like they have access to me.”

Because Pluralsight places such an emphasis on culture, they created a guide dedicated to describing what is expected from each employee. It’s simple, basic, but at the same time somewhat revolutionary — especially for the Utah area. There is no dress code, there is no travel and expense policy, and vacation time isn’t tracked. Employees are trusted to make decisions that further the interests of Pluralsight, while never valuing short-term gain over long. As for rules, they’re in short demand.

“We just have two rules,” Skonnard said. “The first rule is be kind, courteous, respectful to those you engage with. Whether it’s partners, customers, co-workers, what have you. And the second rule is to always do what’s in Pluralsight and our customer’s best interests. And so if you always put that lens on then you don’t need a lot of rules, you don’t need a lot of stuffiness, you don’t need a lot of command and control.”

Truth seekers, entrepreneurs, and eternal optimists — Pluralsight takes pride in touting their employees as all three. Leadership is shown through knowledge and force of personality, not through constant and aggressive screamings of “I’m the boss!” Nobody is entitled to anything. Healthy conflict is promoted, even encouraged — if your idea can survive the firestorm of debating co-workers, it can survive in the business world. And everyone realizes that great ideas can come from any person at any time.

“I love the fact that people have meetings out in the open in our open collaboration areas and other people can just walk up and listen to the meeting,” said Skonnard. “It gives everyone just a lot more visibility into everything that’s happening across the company and it also breaks down entitlement.”

Like Ronald Reagan, Pluralsight encourages the tearing down of walls. Walls encourage division, which runs contrary to the idea of a community working together as one. Without walls, there is nowhere to hide.

“We try to keep things really open and encourage collaboration, especially across teams and so walls just don’t help with that in any way, shape or form,” Skonnard said. “So we want teams to be able to see each other and have easy access to each other and we don’t want to build any physical walls that will also help create these virtual walls between teams. And so we really believe that that general air of openness is important.”

Creating and maintaining a culture unique to your company isn’t easy. It’s much easier to fall into the cookie-cutter mold of business efficiency — copying the mundane, seemingly timeless rules and restrictions — rather than building something from the ground up. As this article has shown, though, change is possible. In the course of their 11-page guide, Pluralsight has laid the groundwork for a unique culture that people love to work in, while never sacrificing the necessary productivity required to run a successful business. So put away your suit, throw away your expense reports, and feel comfortable knowing the evolution of business culture is trending into less suffocating territory.

Published 1/20/2015