How To Scale an Open Culture. What We’ve Learned at Atlassian (Video + Transcript)

Jay Simons, President at Atlassian, talks about the openness at Atlassian and some of the lessons he learned along the way.

“At Atlassian, openness is core to everything we do: every employee can access most information on our product Confluence; “open company, no bullshit” is one of our five values; it’s a rigorous set of practices we work at every day. But it can be risky. Atlassians knew we were going public four months before we filed. The entire company was told about us selling our chat products Stride and Hipchat to our largest competitor in the space, Slack, four days before the news went out. Some would say that that level of openness is unnecessary, but we believe that trust and honesty are essential to maintaining the culture we’ve worked so hard to build.”

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FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Jay Simons–  President at Atlassian

Jason Lemkin – CEO and Founder at SaaStr

Jason Lemkin: Good morning. Hope everybody had fun. So today should be a good day. We sort of have two themes today and just to give you a maybe 120 seconds on the plan today and then we’ll bring out Jay Simons from Atlassian, which will be great. There are really two themes today. The morning is about the journey, on our third day. So we’ve got some great content. We’ve got Jay Simons from Atlassian coming. We’re going to talk about openness and a bunch of other issues. We’ve got Matt Mullenweg from WordPress and Automatic, which is something I’d love to hear. We’ve got Claire Hughes Johnson from Stripe and a bunch of others.

Jason Lemkin: And in the afternoon we’ll have a topic that I always find very boring, but everybody loves, which is money. Raising money, how to raise money, the secrets from VCs. We’ve got maybe 60 venture pitches coming back and others. And those sessions tend to be packed. Some are here and some are on stage, but I think some are still open. So that’s the goal. And then just as a reminder, we stay late. So the expo will be open, we’ll modulate the music on the forest R-car, but I’ll stay until they kick us out, eight or nine or 12 or midnight, whenever they kick us out of Hall 2.

Jason Lemkin: So I’ll be there and it’s actually probably the most fun time to connect with people. And then finally, in terms of content, our number one goal is mentoring. So hopefully this was day three, you’ve had a chance, but if you haven’t done any great brain dates, just go to the Twilio brain date session in the middle of the Expo Hall. Just grab ’em, find a great mentor to meet with or go meet with a Brella in SaaStr Square Park and meet a friend because that’s what we really most want you to take out of here is getting mentored and learn how to do better.

Jason Lemkin: So with that, just a minute we’ll bring out Jay, but this is great because remember, we had two sort of themes or sub-themes this year, generational companies and equality. And Atlassian is one of these generational companies that I want to talk about with Jay. And one vector for equality is openness and how openness works. And Jay’s going to talk about how Atlassian … We’ll talk a little bit about generational company, but also how Atlassian has been pretty radical in openness and what’s worked and what hasn’t. So we’ll do a little intro video and then we’ll bring Jay out and dig in on these topics.

Intro Video: I invited Jay Simons into the studio to list off three things that he’s most proud of from 2014. Welcome Jay. Thanks Mark. Number one for me, All things HipChat. We had video, audio, screen sharing. We’ve made all the clients updated. We made it faster, we added an emoticon auto complete. And then not to be outdone, we made HipChat 3 so everybody can enjoy the fun with HipChat. But I thought this was supposed to be Fun Fridays. This doesn’t feel very fun. You know, you’re right. Our products are bought, not sold. In place of a traditional sales organization, we’ve invested in easy to use products. An online commerce experience that helps customers get started in minutes. Our goal is to make the customer’s entire experience dead simple and delightful. And as a result, we see a very high volume of customer activity on a daily basis. We believe there’s no single company that offers the range of products and capabilities we do with a combination of product quality and affordability.

Jason Lemkin: Let’s welcome Jay Simons back to SaaStr. Alright, thanks my friend. Thanks for coming.

Jay Simons: Thanks man.

Jason Lemkin: So just a quick anecdote that in terms of how great Jay is and actually how great the community is, Jay spoke here at the second annual, I think. This is the fifth. So 2016-

Jay Simons: 2016.

Jason Lemkin: Atlassian had recently IPO’d, we’ll talk about in a minute was worth $4 billion then an amazing $5 billion. It was an iconic company, but that’s not really the story. We’ll get into it. Actually what happened was we were about five weeks ahead of annual, and I just needed one more iconic company, one more great person. And actually I think it might’ve even been over Christmas holiday. And I’m like, boy, I need … And I DM Jay, who I didn’t know, but he was kind enough to follow us on SaaStr. And I said “Could you please do all these founders of favor and come speak as SaaStr like 60 seconds?” He said “I’m in.” And you came, it was one of our top rated sessions and it was terrific. And so thanks for coming back a second time.

Jay Simons: Thanks for having us.

Jason Lemkin: Those are the great moments. And so I want to get into openness and talk about some of these things, but let’s step back for a minute. So I got some numbers on generational companies, but when you came before we were talking about backstage. So much has changed in the cloud in the last couple of years, hasn’t it? So you came three years ago, I was writing the title for the presentation. It was how to build a $4 billion rocket ship. By the time you got here, it was a $5 billion rocket ship, which seemed crazy. It seemed crazy. And today market cap is just a number, but Atlassian is $24 billion market cap, plus or minus? That’s a lot of growth isn’t it? Crossed a billion in revenue. But actually more interestingly, at least historically has grown in about 40%. Right? And that’s a jaw dropping number, isn’t it? Based on our history.

Jay Simons: It is.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. So I know some of that’s execution and having world class products, but what’s happening on the internet, in cloud, in business software, what’s driving this 40% growth at a billion? What’s really happening?

Jay Simons: Well, I mean, for us it’s the nature of work is changing for a lot of companies. And so I think the kind of macro theme that drives a lot of Atlassian’s growth is teams are basically the currency of productivity inside of companies. We tend to celebrate kind of a single idea or lone genius. But any great idea, including in all of your companies, is only realized through the hard work of people that are trying to accomplish something together. And Atlassian’s mission is to unleash the potential of every team. And so I think we’ve focused on a ripening market. Nature of work is changing, people are looking for technologies and practices and basically better ways to move forward faster. And in addition to sort of like the secular shift towards cloud, and a lot of you have heard every company is becoming a software company or software is eating the world. Companies need to operate like SaaS companies effectively. And I think that’s fueled a lot of our growth.

Jason Lemkin: On this sort of early adopters to late adopter phase, where are you with Atlassian’s customers? Are you getting the late adopters? Are getting folks that are just leaving the air gapped world? Where are we on this continuum?

Jay Simons: I think we’re still early. I mean, I think there’s just still a lot of change. If you take the roof off of a lot of buildings and look at the way that people work, it’s still pretty antiquated. I think there’s like a lot of collaborative workflow that is trapped inside of email inboxes. That are kind of these atomic blobs of documents or spreadsheets that people attach to an email and fling to 50 or five people. And that’s just a broken way of working. And so I think as more and more people shift to kind of dynamic, real time ways of managing projects and creating content and communicating, there’s just a huge ripening audience I think to move them from the past to the future.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. And when we kicked off the event, we talked about crossing the billion, and not inevaluation on unicorns, it was 100,000 unicorns, but a billionaire, you building a generational company, how far out do you guys talk about today? How far out in the future you planning? Are you planning five, 10, 20 years out? Can you see Atlassian in 2039? In 2059?

Jay Simons: We do an exercise every couple of years we update that we call painted picture. And the painted picture is … And it’s kind of crowdsourced within the company. But the idea is if you close your eyes and you’re to open them 10 years into the future, what do you see? And we try to think about things like how big would our customer base be or what kind of revenue or what would our product portfolio look like? But in sort of other things like we would imagine, boy, in the next 10 years, Atlassian would have delivered a TED talk or we’re sort of the shape of kind of the economy around us and to relate it to what we’re doing might look this way. And we get probably, remarkably, about 60% of the things that we kind of imagine, we’ve been able to kind of realize.

Jay Simons: And so that’s sort of like the longterm horizon thinking. And then I think like most of you, there’s things that are in front of us that are two to three years out that we’re trying to build an architecture for. Kind of make investments to sort of like get a fly wheel around a particular market or product moving. And then we are obsessed about execution over the next year. And so the key strategies and objectives that we lay out for the company that we need to make sure that we nail. There’s a lot of energy and attention on making sure that we’re measuring the right things and we’re moving at the velocity that’s going to set us up for the two and three and then eventually the 10 year goals.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. Part of this underlying theme is … You know, we probably thought … Some of us were talking about this backstage, probably in 2011, 2012 a lot of this stuff, these paradigms were kind of set and one of them was collaboration. But collaboration is much bigger than we thought. What’s the next phase of collaboration? Do you guys have a vision to help all of us think about it? Can you see things we can’t see? How will we be collaborating that’ll help other founders out there?

Jay Simons: Well, I mean going back to this sort of like the keyword in the title, the presentation is on openness and I think openness, we believe, is a way that we can better unlock the potential of teams. And a lot of the way that most businesses are structured is sort of trapped in some of the antiquated organizational structures of the 1950s and that sort of command and control and we compartmentalize and we have one group that does one thing in isolation of its connection to the rest of the company. And you know, as a company in part because we started in Australia, and we were sort of a distributed company from day one. We actually had to be open and we had to level the playing field for people to contribute to our ideas and kind of the work product and the things that were in progress because they were everywhere around the globe.

Jay Simons: Now you fast forward 16 years later as a company with 3,500 employees, like the way that we work in the open is a force multiplier in everything that we do. The fact that our ideas and our strategies and our objectives and all of our key projects are basically in systems that are accessible to everyone, not just where they can read and learn about them, but where they can challenge them and contribute to them, I think is a very different style of working. And when I think about collaboration, like that’s actually what we see is we look inside of ourselves. There are other companies that both use our products and practices that work that way. We’re just sort of at the tip of the iceberg and I think there’s pretty significant change that comes from kind of working in that style.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. Maybe hyper-collaboration instead of little moments during the day or the week everything’s shared, which is what Atlassian’s doing, right?

Jay Simons: Imagine just the concept of the beginning with a page that is open to everybody in the company as you draft it. Pick on Google Docs for a second. Google Docs is a page that only you can see unless you actually open it to everybody. And typically most of us, because we might not be comfortable with the vulnerability, began to share that and sort of progressively disclosed it to more and more and people because we’re a little nervous. Like what if people don’t like it? What if they’ve got a different idea? What if they want to challenge it? And I’m like trying to get over the hurdle and I just want to get there. And sort of all of our products began kind of inverted. You begin with a page that everybody can see and you have to sort of like claw it back a little bit. But if you really lean into that vulnerability, some pretty awesome things can happen.

Jason Lemkin: So I want to talk about some of these stories. We’ve talked about how fairly radically open Atlassian is. But let me step back to a metric. We did a spring soiree and Eoghan McCabe from Intercom and we were talking about transparency. And we tried to make up a metric. Like everyone today wants to be more transparent. I love to be transparent. SaaStr’s pretty darn transparent, but how much can you share? And two thoughts I came up with. One for me, 90% about the right amount to share. There are some things that I’m not comfortable sharing. And then Eoghan had a different point, which I want to tease in this question. What he said at Intercom is that Interom now at nine figures in revenue, there are so many issues and so many problems. If everything was shared with him, he couldn’t get through a day. Like too many bombs, too much drama. He couldn’t physically, mentally process too much.

Jason Lemkin: And Atlassian’s pretty crazy. Everyone’s an insider, right? You can tell us about the HipChat-Slack transaction. Everyone knew, right? At Atlassian. So we want to share more, where’s the line? Is there a line? Is Atlassian crossing the line and enjoying crossing the line, but where is too much information?

Jay Simons: Well, I think it depends on sort of the topic. And yeah, everybody is an insider in the company. If we were to work on kind of M&A, you know begin sort of with a small group of people and kind of the circle’s widen as more people kind of become involved in it [crosstalk 00:13:08]

Jason Lemkin: Not everyone’s in M&A team [crosstalk 00:13:09]

Jay Simons: Yeah. And there’s going to be ideas that that could be potentially disruptive to a wider group of people until they become more fulsome. But I think broadly, what we think about in terms of openness is think about culture. I think two of the most important things for great cultures are empathy and trust. And both of those two things are hard earned. Like even think about society today and kind of the state of politics. I think if empathy and trust were stronger, like we wouldn’t have sort of the same tension and dynamic. And I think those empathy and trust are easier to acquire inside of a company ’cause we all know each other and we might have a shared mission but they’re still hard earned.

Jay Simons: And the architecture to generate empathy and trust needs to include shared understanding. And openness again is a force multiplier for shared understanding. So what we think a lot about are kind of the directions that we’re heading and then sort of key strategies and keys objectives. Those things actually should be constructed and collaborated and changed in dynamic where everybody can see them. And Simon Sinek, probably everyone in the room has seen his video about how important why is, and we think that why in the context of the decision that we made as equally important. So when you think about the HipChat decision, we had 3,000 Atlassians that all knew well in advance of disclosing that to the public. And what’s remarkable about that as it didn’t leak.

Jay Simons: I mean there were 3,000 people, many of who’s jobs and sort of emotions and energy had gone into building a product that we were discontinuing, kept that private I think because trust is a really important thing at Atlassian and it’s earned and they kind of recognize that we’re treating people with respect. But the other important part is they had weeks to kind of understand the why. And so when we are communicating the what, everybody was deeply connected around why we made that decision. And I think that’s really important along the way. So when we think about where are you open and sort of the benefit of it, I think people are really connected to the why of a strategy or an idea or a product or a change of direction or a color.

Jay Simons: And you know, the last thing I’ll say is technology, like the products that you use, I think to fulfill this promise of openness aren’t necessarily as important as the culture that you build around them. But the posterity of the things that you do are really important for companies that are multi-generational. Like in our company, when we hire someone that joins today, they actually get a look back through 16 years of why. And they might not have the capacity to read it all, but they can actually transport themselves to the moment in time inside of Confluence, which is the product that we use to kind of collaborate on content. And they can see the discourse that we had as a company and the tension and the joint anxiety-

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I can see it, right? [crosstalk 00:15:59]

Jay Simons: They can relive it. And so, when those things are sort of trapped in email inboxes, it’s the opposite of openness. When somebody leaves the company, that wayback machine leaves with them.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. Well, let’s just talk about because some of this may be … The folks that haven’t worked at public companies may not get it. This HipChat, there’s a couple of interesting things about HipChat, but you’ve decided that you’re going to focus on other core products. You’re going to spin HipChat IP out to Slack and invest in Slack. I don’t know what Wall Street thinks, but that’s potentially a material decision, right? People are going to be interested. It could influence the stock price. You trust 3,000 employees to hold that information confidential for a month, for two months. For how long before it gets announced?

Jay Simons: It was three weeks.

Jason Lemkin: Three weeks. But that’s a lot of time.

Jay Simons: It was a lot of time.

Jason Lemkin: You don’t worry about employee number 2998? The one that they gave you one star on Glassdoor? How do you make that trust circle work with the edge of trust? ‘Cause that is fairly bold.

Jay Simons: Yeah, I mean, you invest in it. Like I think you invest in it with that exact example. You say it could be employee number 3001 or sort of somebody that that is disgruntled for whatever reason that decides to kind of challenge the system. But I think that’s a great example of where the 3,000 people, you know, what they’re seeing the company do is walk the talk. And we can say “Hey, we’re all insiders and we make decisions that are going to impact all of us. And we’re going to share them and we’re going to explain why.” If we wait until the last minute and we say “Hey, here’s this decision.” And now you get a deal with the rest of the market and sort of our customer base and everything else, I think we’re not investing in what we really believe, which is trust is the core advantage and strength in our culture. And we’ll lead by example.

Jason Lemkin: So I guess maybe the learning, which I still think about it, is that trust scale. You literally had 3,000 people keep a piece of confidential information from public for three weeks.

Jay Simons: Correct.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, it was pretty crazy, I think.

Jay Simons: Yeah. By the way, on our side, I don’t know if it was all of Slack, but a huge contingent of Slack. And I think through the cultures between Slack and Atlassian are really similar in that regard. I think they’re equally a company that invests in building trust ’cause we’re all part of the same organization trying to do the same thing.

Jason Lemkin: So I want to dig into openness, but just one before we leave that, I do think it’d be fun for folks. So you as the senior team made a decision, a lot of folks love HipChat, but it’s not going to be where we’re going to focus in the future. Right? We’re a billion dollar company and we got to get to 10. And at the same time you buy something we all love, Trello. Right? So you take one beloved product and sort of sunset it in some sense and take another one that’s beloved but early in the revenue cycle and go all in on it. So what’s the thought process there? How do you decide how many core projects can you sustain? How many is too many? And how do you load balance when both … Maybe one’s growing more slowly, but both have a lot of positive attributes?

Jay Simons: Yeah, I mean sometimes it is just going to be the dynamics of the market, the competitive landscape, sort of the momentum and velocity in each of those products and what it will take, I think, to continue to grow them and carve out a really unique winning positional [crosstalk 00:19:11]-

Jason Lemkin: One. Is it as simple as that? The decision?

Jay Simons: I mean there’s a lot that goes into it. It’s sort of the dynamic of what an individual product gives to both the customer base and sort of the rest of the portfolio. The things that surround them. But I think in HipChat’s case, it was a very, very competitive market with a product that in order to fully fulfill the promise of what we would need to chase as an individual company, there’s opportunity costs there. And so there’s other things that we could invest in, to make Trello better as an example, or to go deeper and do another market category where we’ve got more advantages that we can lean into.

Jason Lemkin: Is how many … ‘Cause this is interesting for founders and let’s rough and tough, like you could have 400 engineers working on HipChat. Right? I don’t know what it is. But it’s probably triple digits, right?

Jay Simons: It was over a hundred.

Jason Lemkin: Over a hundred, right? They’re good engineers?

Jay Simons: Yeah.

Jason Lemkin: So you have to decide at some point where could those hundred people work on Trello-

Jay Simons: What else could they be doing?

Jason Lemkin: And all of the sudden with Trello, I mean when you bought Trello they probably had 40 engineers, right? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s double digits. You had a hundred great engineers. Which one do you go? Even at Atlassian’s scale, resources are finite.

Jay Simons: Yeah.

Jason Lemkin: Right?

Jay Simons: And so it’s about the opportunity cost. So like what opportunities are we not investing in, that we’re not seeing? And stopping something is really hard. It’s really hard and it’s doubly hard when customers have made commitments to that and they’re relying on that and they paid you money for it. I mean, it’s a really hard thing to do. But when you’re thinking also long term and like back to the generational … Like the easy short term thing to do would be just to continue to plow forward.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. Revenue [crosstalk 00:20:46]-

Jay Simons: The harder long term thing to do is what are the things that we could be creating that’ll have more material of value to us and to the customers that we either have or we’re trying to win over the longterm. And that’s what we prioritized.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. I want to make sure … We’ve got plenty of time, but I want to make sure we hit two things on openness no matter what. One is ideas and the second one’s inclusion. So when we’re small, it’s really easy. 20 employees, 50, even 100 for everyone to contribute ideas. Right? And the best ones go to the top. Sometimes when you have thousand … When you cross the line, how do you process ideas from how many employees does Atlassian have today? I should know. Exactly how … 4,000?

Jay Simons: 3,500.

Jason Lemkin: 3,500. How do you process, especially in an open culture, how do you surface the best idea out of 3,500?

Jay Simons: So lots of different ways. I mean one thing that we think a lot about is, is I think just this notion that when you think about scaling culture and scaling kind of the way that teams come together and create ideas. Like when you’re five people, you’re 10 people. Like of course it’s easier. You’re all in the same room and you’re like what about that? And everybody can kind of contribute to that. And we think a lot about like how does that particular capability scale? And it’s going to be different when you’re 3,500 people. There’s going to be different mechanisms.

Jay Simons: But I think if the underpinning of that is again, back to openness, like a culture where people feel the courage to contribute, where people feel, even when a new Atlassian joins, I think the first thing they hear is … And by the way, this is hard when things are going well, but the first thing they hear is like don’t be shy. Come in here and tell us what you think is screwed up. What do you think could be better? Challenge something that we’re doing that you don’t understand. Like that’s what we need from you. If we wanted to hire you just to sort of like incrementally make us a little bit better, we could have saved the effort.

Jay Simons: And so I think it takes a lot of work, but scaling the kind of collaborative culture that you have in the same room with five or 10 or 15 people up to 3,000 takes a lot of work. The mechanisms for us are going to be a lot of our products. We build products that I think lean into kind of open contribution and collaboration. And so, a version of Jira that we call Project Central where basically every key project is described, the key teams that are working on that have a regular cadence of updating, whether it’s on track, off track, and what’s happening. And that is sort of an open system that everybody can access anything. And so when you get to “Hey, like this thing bugs me. I’m a user of this thing and I’m not necessarily working on this particular product, but what if …” and they have a way to kind of like insert that into the flow. And then I think we have a culture that’s receptive to that sort of insertion, that says “Oh shit, that’s not a bad idea. And maybe we should prioritize that.”

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. And use any sort of point system or karma or anything to bubble up the best ideas at scale? Or is it qualitative?

Jay Simons: Yeah, not really. Not really. I mean, sure there’s going to be things that we prioritize, sort of specific features inside products and there’s a lot of customer feedback mechanisms and they’re sort of a lot of looking through actual usage data, of sort of like features that were kind of trying. There’s sort of a lot of that mechanism, but I think the what about this particular thing? There’s going to be sort of a cultural energy that spins up over something that I think is a pretty strong signal. And then we’ll do the things that you would expect that all of you do, which is study the crap out of it, analyze it, talk to customers, make sure that you get kind of validation that that’s actually going to be something worth doing.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. The other thing beside generational as a quality. So we’ve got two white males of privilege on stage. So let’s talk about inclusion and how openness has or hasn’t helped. We had yesterday, we heard the story of building the first inclusion program at Salesforce and how it took Molly Ford two years to get up the courage to bring up her idea to build the first inclusion program, even in a relatively open culture. Right? So openness doesn’t cure all ills, does it? It helps, it doesn’t cure all. So what are you doing at Atlassian in terms of equality and inclusion? How has openness helped? And are there things that maybe it hasn’t helped as much as you thought?

Jay Simons: Well, so a couple of things. One, I think it levels the playing field. And I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I think there’s just danger in sort of closed systems where kind of the idea or kind of the work product or the progress around something is compartmentalized, and people can’t see it or contribute to it. And so then potentially like you’ve got parts of an organization or parts of a company that aren’t diverse and aren’t inclusive, that are sort of driving part of the company forward. And so I think when everything is out in the open, it’s just a level playing field and you can see the participation. People feel the freedom and courage to challenge something or to contribute an idea.

Jay Simons: The other thing that we’ve worked really hard on with D&I is we believe, and if you believe that diversity is a strength, that the best ideas will come from the most diverse contribution in teams, then you would focus your D&I efforts at a team level and not just the company level. And I think one thing that’s broken around the conversation is it’s easy to sort of project big numbers where you’re like “Hey, look at our percentage of x or our percentage of Y.” But that could be, again, in some function in a company or some part of a company or some geo of a company.

Jay Simons: And so we’ve worked really hard to say like at the most atomic part of our organization, the team, a group of five or six or seven or eight people that have to work together every day in a particular thing, how diverse are they? And if they’re not, that’s something that we need to fix and improve. And so we analyze and study and share diversity at the team level and not just kind of like the aggregated level.

Jason Lemkin: I tried to be a student of this and I went to one pretty great talk on next generation thoughts on inclusion. And one of the speakers was asked by a white male attendee how should I talk about a certain thing? And what the panelist said was “You know you don’t have to talk about everything.” It was a troublesome topic that maybe shouldn’t be discussed. Has openness sometimes it created some discussions that you have to bound? Or has it accidentally created any issues that you wouldn’t expect? Nothing?

Jay Simons: Not really. I mean, no, not really. I think that the culture itself has-

Jason Lemkin: People speak up on things. Do they speak up too much? Do they speak too far?

Jay Simons: No, I don’t think so. I mean the culture does a good job of kind of balancing that so far. And again, I think it’s a strength. But you know, back to the thing I mentioned earlier that shared understanding inside of a company or whether it’s five or 5,000, that’s sort of key. And when we think about D&I, again, the way that we have a very active blogging culture. I think every company should have something like Confluence. If it’s not confluence … Confluence is sort of like the Slack of long form content and when all of our-

Jason Lemkin: Blogging’s back, isn’t it? It’s 2019. Blogging’s back.

Jay Simons: But I mean it-

Jason Lemkin: Not that it ever went away.

Jay Simons: But blogging is just another way of saying like I’ve got something that I can’t communicate in quick form text in a channel. I actually need to describe my thoughts. And so we’ll have pages inside of the company that talk about … You know, the most recent one that I read that was really impactful was just the notion of pronouns inside of the company. And there’s a growing contingent of transgender inside of Atlassian who understand that hey, you might not understand sort of like how this makes me feel or what the issues are. And so from my own voice, I want to tell you like when I’ve changed my own pronoun or there’s a different pronoun that that would make me happier and actually like I get it, that it might take you awhile to change.

Jay Simons: Like there’s all of this long form content and then what you see in our culture is 3,000 people that read that and then have a discussion about it. And again, that discussion is sort of a living, breathing thing that isn’t lost inside of a channel. It’s on a page. It’s a just a huge part of our culture that I think, in addition to having a realtime mechanism for people to connect with in the moment, I think these long living long form discussions about something like that or about strategy, like where is your strategy written down? Is it written down somewhere where everybody in your company can challenge it or can voice support for it, or can just say “Heck yeah, this is what we need to do”? And is that a reference document that is a living, breathing expression of what you’re trying to accomplish that everybody can contribute to? If not, you need that. It can’t be an email. It can’t be a word document, god forbid, it can’t be something that’s just lost.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. Okay. And last one, ’cause well we’ll run over. We could forever, but I know you wanted to if you have some, for folks that want to be more open, what are a couple of learnings? What are a couple things that are actionable that folks can take to their company?

Jay Simons: So I would start there. It’s sort of like you don’t have a system, some technology that you can use to sort of have everyone contribute to what you’re trying to express. And I think you need something like that, you know? And I don’t think it’s Google Docs because again, I think the technology is an enabler here. Like technology isn’t solve the problem because a huge part of it is culture. Like if you have a system, even if you’d take a product like ours like Confluence and your culture doesn’t embrace it or use it, it doesn’t matter. Like the product isn’t going to get you there. And then I would start small. I would say pick a topic and again, as leaders of the organization and I assume a lot of you are leaders here of your companies.

Jay Simons: Start with something that’s hard. Like whether it’s here’s what we’re trying to go, right? Here’s our 12 month plan or 15 month plan. And then by the way, invite challenge to that. Be vulnerable whether, again, there’s a period where it’s going to take shape, but be vulnerable to have that critically challenged inside of the company. And get over that hurdle of where you’ve resolved the challenges or you’ve agreed to disagree and commit to them. But you’ve got a plan. And I think the plan on the other side of that process, that open collaborative process is much stronger. And I think people are more emotionally committed to helping achieve it.

Jason Lemkin: All right. Last one real quick ’cause I never go over. And maybe there isn’t something. Looking back on openness, is there one thing that stands out that you wish you’d done earlier or faster or different?

Jay Simons: Yeah, that’s a good question. I dunno. It’s been a birthright for us. I think it’s the way we started and it’s the way we’ve scaled. I think the thing that we work a lot on now and maybe we should’ve done this earlier, I’ll pick this one, is new Atlassians that join kind of get indoctrinated really quickly, but it takes a lot of courage to participate. And the thing that we work on really hard now is if you’ve come from a company, you’re not used to that style of working. That everything that you do is in draft and you wait until it’s perfected before you share it. And then you share it with a small group of people that you think are really going to be supportive. And so you get those positive signals early on and you’re sort of building consensus along the way.

Jay Simons: That is not the way we do things. And so I think what we try really hard is we try to get people to come in and say “Man, you’re going to have to let your guard down and just be yourself and you’ll rock it. But you’ve got to switch into a completely different mode.” And I think that we need still do that ’cause in 3,500 people, especially where there’s a big consensus that do work a certain way, it can be hard for new people to come in and be like here I am and I’m going to do it this way. And it takes some change. So I’d probably do that earlier.

Jason Lemkin: That’s good. All right, let’s thank Jay for coming again.

Jay Simons: Thanks guys. Thank you. Thanks man.

Published on March 5, 2019

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