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Spotify's Past and Future Success Cannot Be Placed On The Shoulders Of A 'Savior'

LONDON (Hypebot) – We often speak of big companies as if success or failure came down to individuals though the political paths that take people to the top should be evidence enough that corporate success is never truly due to one person. But individuals do allow us to project our desires onto others, as no doubt many are doing with Daniel Ek, Wired UK's cover "Saviour Of Music," giving those in need the father/leader/ceo of their heart's desire. But deep within the modern corporation lurks a complex beast known as "people" and, as it turns out, Spotify is trying some approaches to building a corporate culture that may make them a more resilient, and therefore winning, organization.

Daniel Ek: Saviour of Music

I discovered Daniel Ek was on the cover of Wired UK by accident in a bookstore of all places! But that rare visit revealed to me the cover shown in the above thumbnail, one that deifies Daniel Ek as a European "Saviour of Music."

Even Jay Z never claimed to carry a continent on his back (just Biggie Smalls and the whole BK) but Spotify's success is apparently becoming symbolic of European strength in the tech and culture sectors which is potentially a heavy weight to bear

Whatever Ek symbolizes for people, and he symbolizes a lot apparently, he can't claim sole credit for Spotify's success. The disconnect between the CEO and what happens at levels below cannot be overstated. Generally it's downplayed but if you've seen multiple levels of a company at close range, you know that those above have no idea of what's actually happening below, just like on a big battleship (ask a sailor!).

The development of concepts related to "company culture" are one response to the need to develop something cohesive within a corporation that allows the individual to feel a part of the larger whole and to inspire forms of self-motivation that support the corporation in its drive to greatness.

As an unidentified writer at iDoneThis discusses, Spotify's approach includes some surprising as well as just plain smart elements:

"Sometimes, failure calls for cake."

Jonas Aman, a member of Spotify's People Operations team (I'm assuming that's similar to HR), shared an anecdote about a failed motivation experiment involving extrinsic rewards. Instead of its obvious failure leading to bitter recriminations, the participants were thrown a party:

“We bought a bunch of cakes, invited everyone who had been in the experiment, and celebrated our ‘failure'…Now we had actual results instead of just speculation! There were some really interesting discussions during this celebration, and most people liked that we weren’t trying to sweep the results under the rug.”

Now I admit, I'm rolling my eyes like crazy right now but it is a clear example of communicating a different message in response to failure. And maybe my eyes just need to chill out.

"What can we do better next time?"

Aman also maintains that:

"We’re very adamant about not trying to find scapegoats. Maybe we haven’t had the right tools for the job, maybe teams have gotten different instructions or priorities, or maybe there is a feedback loop somewhere that is broken. When and if things don’t go as planned, there are systematical reasons to be fixed!"

This attitude is really important and workers will recognize whether or not it's an honest statement of company values as they are put into practice.

Eric Ries's Five Whys for Start-Ups gives a great explanation of how one can figure out what went wrong once one stops looking for scapegoats.

Developing a 3D Workforce

In a panel discussion Matt O’Leary, head of Spotify New York’s People Operations, stated that they focus on a "three-dimensional model of how you can grow in the company."

The blogger described the process:

"This richer model removes the emphasis off power plays and focuses on broadening your horizons. At Spotify, that involves structured learning opportunities such as attending or leading trainings, courses, workshops or moving within the organization for a new position or perspective."

"The company’s 'add-on' option allows you to work on new skills outside your role, including training on how to mentor, write, and coach. A public speaker add-on, for example, would provide training to prepare you to speak at conferences and give talks."

While this approach still leaves room for power plays, it does reorient the landscape to more completely meet the needs and motivations of workers in a manner that can create a more productive and positive workplace.

Does This Mean Spotify Will Win?

Given the challenges facing Spotify, it's hard to say how creating a positive corporate culture will affect the outcome of the current battle for streaming music supremacy.

It's pretty clear that consumers aren't basing their listening decisions on which service pays the most to musicians so I doubt satisfied employees will be taken into account either. And given that most of the visible consumer touch points for Spotify are user interfaces and the like, positive employees may not have an impact on word of mouth regarding service.

Nevertheless I hope what I'm reading about Spotify is true and that creating a positive corporate culture based on treating workers as multidimensional humans does result in a more resilient and therefore competitive company.