The workplace culture of Australian software company, Atlassian, is something of a mystery and a marvel to many other organisations in this country.
For so long, we have looked to the US to provide the models of innovative people-management but here, in our midst, a couple of engineering graduates, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, managed to “reinvent the wheel” as they grew Atlassian.
The company, which has 700 employees, scrapped performance reviews, developed a “mood app” that takes the emotional pulse of the organisation on a daily business and rewrote the rules of dealing with recruiters. It now vies with Google as the most sought-after employer in the country for software engineers.
Atlassian ranked second on the 2013 BRW Best Places to Work list.
And so it was probably only a matter of time before the main architect of all that innovation, the vice president of talent and human resources, Joris Luijke, was lured to the US to take on another start-up – even if it is a bit like shipping coals to Newcastle.
In November, Luijke will start at Squarespace, a company that provides tools to build websites and employs 168 people in New York.
Squarespace attracted $US38.5 million ($40.9 million) in investment in 2010 from Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Founder Anthony Casalena started the company from his dorm room in 2003.
Squarespace has adopted one practice that is finding favour among technology companies: giving all staff unlimited holidays. This works along the theory that if people enjoy their work, and want to make a decent income, they are hardly likely to abuse the privilege.
The implied freedom is also a good way to secure people who could otherwise be well-remunerated contractors.
Luijke has 10 years of working in human resources in Australia; five years with Atlassian. He says his initial conversation with the founders was around their desire to make the HR function a point of difference with competitors.
As Cannon-Brookes is fond of saying, he wanted Atlassian to provide the kind of environment that is so appealing, its employees would not countenance working anywhere else.
This is the kind of thinking that is common in the US tech sector, but not in Australia. Luijke says innovative HR is “problematic” in Australia: “If you are a tech company, it is nice to be in Silicon Valley – and HR is a bit the same”.
Demand for innovation
He says Atlassian’s approach is to expect every department to be innovative in its own way. “That’s very special, there are no other start-ups that have that.”
“ [Atlassian] identifies strengths of different human beings and takes the risks of putting them in positions where they have loads of responsibility and they get to experiment in the biggest roles in their lives,” he says.
While Australian companies are generally regarded as conservative in their people practices, Luijke says the easy accessibility to information about other companies overseas means that business leaders can be better informed about what is possible.
“The information is there if you are tuned in enough,” he says.
Luijke says that while the HR team at Atlassian (led by former SuccessFactor chief people officer, Jeff Diana) will continue to provide interesting stories for those interested in pushing the boundaries of accepted HR practice, other employers to watch include Red Balloon, Seek and Deloitte.