The paperwork that Nimble Storage filed with the SEC prior to going public last month contained a lot of statistics, but here’s one that really stands out – between January 31, 2011 and October 31, 2013, the company’s headcount sky-rocketed from 47 to 528 employees. Yet today, when I go into meetings or sit down for lunch with people, regardless of their department or function in the company, they inevitably turn out to be very, very smart, capable and interesting people.Nimble_People1

How has Nimble Storage managed to hire such an extraordinary group of people? As the hiring landscape gets even more competitive (here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere), what does it take to keep them happy so they don’t go elsewhere? And what are we doing to ensure we continue to attract the very best of the best?

I sat down this week to talk with Paul Whitney, vice-president of Human Resources , and he started by pointing out that the whole employment dynamic is changing as people increasingly choose companies, not jobs. “People care about the kind of company they work for, including its social conscience, and how it cares about its employees. So we need to make sure they have the best employment experience of their life.”

The process begins with listening. “We focus a lot on how to access the voice of the employee through multiple channels, whether that’s all-hands meetings, employee roundtables, surveys, or informal conversations,” Paul said. “We pay close attention to what people are telling us; around here people are not shy about voicing their opinions. We treat all of that as valuable input.”

In response, Paul’s team have introduced a number of enhancements over the past year, including:

  • An improved vacation policy. As a young company, Nimble provided everyone with 15 days of vacation annually, but a recent employee survey revealed a need to improve policies in this area. A company-wide team looked at a number of options, including unlimited vacation time, but found widespread consensus against it. Surprisingly, feedback from our employees showed that neither managers nor employees were in favor of the unlimited vacation option. Managers felt they would be required to make judgments around fairness, while employees felt they would now be put in the position of asking their manager for a “favor”. Instead, commissioned sales people now have unlimited vacation time – which makes sense for the way sales organizations work – while all other employees have 15 days annually, plus enough company-funded holidays to take off the entire week of July 4th and the entire week at the end of the year.
  • Separating sick time from vacation time. In addition to pure vacation time, all employees now get up to three months of sick time, fully paid, per incident, which lets them get fully healthy before returning to work. The same three-month policy also applies to employees on maternity leave or those affected by any other medical condition.
  • Extremely competitive Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP). Nimble Storage’s shares are now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and employees can allocate a portion of their net pay to purchase shares – discounted from their lowest price over a 24-month “look-back” period, when the norm is for a six-month lookback. Why such a generous provision? Paul Whitney: “After we’ve spent all this time and effort in getting outstanding employees in the door, it makes sense to invest in getting them to stay with the company for an extended period of time. We want to give them lots of reasons to stay.”

I’m sure these programs are all important for attracting and retaining top talent, but it was something else that Paul mentioned near the end of our talk that particularly resonated with me – Nimble’s “no jerks” hiring policy.

“It’s a fundamental part of our employment philosophy. What matters to people at work is: the people they work with, the person they report to, and the quality of the work. Of those, the manager is often the most important factor. We’re trying to make sure we maintain an environment where the way you get things done is as important as what you do. We drive ourselves to achieve here. You can be direct, you can be assertive, but it’s essential that you come to that conversation with respect.”

Paul added: “The culture of innovation here in Silicon Valley is about people debating with each other; if you stifle that debate, you lose the best innovative ideas. The easiest way to stifle a debate is to have a jerk for a manager. That’s why, no jerks.”