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Basecamp’s respect problem could be yours

Basecamp's attempt to fix its culture in public didn't go well, at least in terms of employee retention. Learn why respect is at the crux of the issue.

3 min read


Basecamp's respect problem could be yours

Pexels image/SmartBrief illustration

Basecamp’s recent culture implosion was unfortunate. Every business leader can learn from the incident — and the fallout.

The company’s issues and employee frustrations are not unique to Basecamp. Many companies face similar challenges.

Because Basecamp’s founders chose to “fix” a problem in a public forum — their company blog, before inviting feedback from employees — the back and forth has been widely reported.

The incident was prompted by an internal document of customers’ “funny names,” which had apparently been in existence for many years. Internal chat conversations on the company’s platform raised issues with that document. Discussions got heated when one employee expressed concern that the document was an example of racist behaviors in their workplace.

One employee told The Verge’s Casey Newton: “My honest sense of why everybody is leaving (is) because they’re tired of (the founders’) behavior — the suppression of voices, of any dissent. They really don’t care what employees have to say. If they don’t think it’s an issue, it’s not an issue. If they don’t experience it, then it’s not real. And this was the final straw for a lot of employees.”

The core of Basecamp’s culture implosion is a respect problem.

The “funny names” list? The fact that it existed and was a source of entertainment for years demonstrates a clear lack of respect for the company’s customers.

Why was the list allowed to exist at all? By tolerating that list (and the laughter), Basecamp’s leaders validated disrespect.

By suppressing employee voices and concerns, Basecamp’s leaders demonstrated disrespect.

That lack of respect — for customers and employees — has led over one-third of the company’s employees to quit.

Effective leaders make respect as important as results. They don’t leave the quality of workplace relationships up to chance. They formalize ground rules for respectful interactions, and those leaders model, coach, measure and celebrate desired respectful behaviors every day. If people miss the mark and behave disrespectfully, leaders engage promptly to coach and mentor players back to respect.

Or, they mentor them out of the company because disrespect is not tolerated.

Managing results is half the leader’s job. Managing respect is the other half.

If you find the health of your work culture lacking, it’s time to engage your senior leaders in culture refinement — by defining, aligning, and refining your desired work culture. Learn more at

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