The Barefoot Philosophy
The Barefoot Philosophy is grounded in what is often referred to as "The Grand Experiment." This phrase is heard rather frequently at Barefoot, and sometimes its exact meaning can be elusive. Buddy Burden, our founder and CIO, defines it as the search for the answers to the following questions:
Can a business ...
* allow employees personal freedom (e.g., not dictate a dress code or demand 9 to 5 hours)
* be completely honest and open with its employees, and honest and pleasant with its clients
* listen to and actually implement employee feedback
* allow employees to have many of the benefits of being self-employed (e.g., set their own hours, choose from working on-site or working from home, share in profits) without being subjected to many of the disadvantages (e.g., having to handle marketing, billing, taxes)
... and still be profitable?
So far, the answers all seem to begin with "Yes, if ..."
We are constantly refining those if's to make Barefoot operate more
efficiently and be more of a great place to work. Also notice that the
questions are phrased in terms of "profitable" and not "fabulously wealthy."
Barefoot was never conceived as a get-rich-quick scheme. First and foremost,
Barefoot is a place where people can do what they love and get paid
moderately well for it. It isn't about the IPO; it's about an ongoing
haven for creative and sometimes even eccentric programmers. The explorations
of the Grand Experiment revolve around five basic concepts, which together
form the Barefoot Philosophy: freedom, honesty,
Freedom is often tough to implement in a real business, which has real goals and real deadlines, and needs to make a very real profit. At Barefoot, we believe that all employees have fundamental rights: the right to work during the times when they are most productive, the right to work in an environment that is most conducive to their personal productivity, and the right to have a say in decisions that affect them. This doesn't mean that employees can do whatever they want whenever they want. Rather, it means that we believe that we can balance the desires of the individual employees against the desires of the other employees, the goals of the managers, and the needs of the business to remain a viable, profit-generating entity, and still maintain a work environment that employees will treasure.
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Barefoot also believes in freedom for its clients. Clients need—and expect to receive—Barefoot's professional advice, but the final decisions must always belong to the client. We don't believe in trying to force our viewpoints on our clients; if, after careful consideration of our advice, the client decides to go against our recommendation, we accept that and do our best to implement their wishes.
Another way that Barefoot gives clients freedom is to promote code ownership for them. Clients should always have the freedom to choose another source for their programming needs, whether that means hiring another consulting firm, or taking over development in-house. To this end, it is vital that clients always have the complete source code for programs that Barefoot writes, and exclusive ownership for as much of that code as is specific to their business. Barefoot retains the right to reuse code that is not specific to a particular industry—and thus build up a library of reusable components that it can bring to the table when starting a programming job—but we still provide this source code to our clients.
In most modern corporations, there are many secrets. Employees are not supposed to know how much other employees make. The exact methods of determining profit—and especially how much profit is being made on a particular employee's work—are kept under wraps. The mysterious decision making processes of the executives are revealed only through vague mission statements and confusing and sometimes even contradictory policies.
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At Barefoot, we employ the exact opposite strategy. We believe that every employee is entitled to have all the information that he or she can about the operation of the business. This ties in closely with the other tenets of the philosophy as well: honesty with our employees allows them to know the reasonable limits of their freedom, to be able to give incisive feedback, and to demonstrate independence more effectively.
Honesty with clients is important as well. While the principle of freedom dictates that clients have the final say, honesty discourages us from simply agreeing with a plan when we feel it has flaws. We also believe in being up-front with our clients when discussing deadlines and budgetary matters, even though these matters can be unpleasant. But building reasonable expectations tends to make a project go more smoothly overall.
At Barefoot, feedback from employees is both a privilege and a duty. Too many of us have experienced that frustrating situation where you know exactly what the business should do, but no one will listen to you. At Barefoot, everyone has the right to speak up and provide input to all business decisions. Even further, employees are expected to do so. While no company can be a true democracy all the time, Barefoot comes close. And we consider it the duty of a Barefoot employee to offer advice and suggestions as much as it is the duty of a citizen to vote.
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Management must also give employees feedback on their progress. In fact, employees are encouraged to give feedback to their co-workers. Our performance evaluation process states that every review must be given by at least two other employees (preferably three), and at least one of the review team must be outside of management. Managers themselves are reviewed by the employees they supervise as well as other managers.
Clients also get constant feedback from Barefoot on the progress of their projects. Additionally, we solicit feedback from our clients: this helps us understand and manage their expectations (as demanded by the principle of honesty).
Many people believe that working for oneself—being your own boss—is one of the most rewarding endeavors one can undertake. Many other people have done it and given it up. They realized that while it is certainly rewarding, it also requires an immense amount of work and dedication. It can sap your time and leave you with little left over for family, friends, or hobbies. Running your own business is definitely a double-edged sword.
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At Barefoot, we want to provide our employees with many of the advantages of being an entrepreneur without the corresponding disadvantages. The philosophies of freedom and commitment help play into that. Let Barefoot as a company handle the dreary parts, such as invoicing, marketing, contracts, accounting and taxes (or, if you don't think those are so dreary, by all means pitch in). And you concentrate on the rewards.
We encourage our employees to be self-motivated. We encourage friendly competition amongst the employees for the best gigs. We encourage them to set their own hours, and telecommute when practical. We believe in tying employee compensation partially to the company's profitability: when the company improves financially, there are direct monetary benefits to our employees.
While the other tenets of Barefoot's philosophy are important, there has to be something to tie them all together. That thing is commitment. It takes commitment to make freedom, honesty, feedback, and independence work, and work well together. It also takes commitment to maintain this "grand experiment" and still provide great value to the customer; maintain a working environment others will envy yet still make a profit in a very competitive market.
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Barefoot fosters commitment by giving freedom to its employees, being honest with them, listening to their feedback, and allowing them a measure of independence. We also make every employee a shareholder in the company (after a brief probationary period) with the award of a single share of stock, and we reinforce that at the end of every year with a further award, which is determined by the profitability of the company (as compared to last year). Thus, every employee not only gets the chance to speak their mind as an employee, but also as a shareholder, including helping elect members of our Board of Directors and voting on proposed changes to our Articles of Incorporation. Every employee can say "This is my company."
We demand commitment for our clients too. We push ourselves to learn more, explore new technologies and methodologies, improve our knowledge and skills, and work more efficiently. Having employees who are deeply committed to their job and Barefoot's philosophy results in better results for our clients.