I have been at Uniface for 23 years. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about creating a culture that breeds success, attracts curious, ambitious development professionals and enables the company to focus on delivering clients first-class services and products.
Many companies tout a family-like environment. For a lot of them, it’s just lip service. It’s not by accident however that many of our 34 development lab employees have been with the us for at least a decade. That tenure is the result of an intentional effort to keep our workforce happy and engaged.
Here are four main beliefs we follow to ensure the deliberate culture we’ve created remains healthy and creative.
Create an Innovative, Open and Trusting Environment
Company managers and leadership need to work to create an environment in which employees are trusted and can openly collaborate and innovate without the risk of being burned.
In the lab, we have organized ourselves around Scrum. We run with several Scrum teams, where each team holds a Scrum master, a product owner, and several engineers. The whole team is responsible for ensuring what it has committed to deliver. This means they must meet self-imposed commitments by properly coordinating sprints, and must always keep a lookout for what’s coming up.
While I, along with other lab leads, work with the Scrum teams to serve as a sounding board, the team has to figure out how best to proceed on their sprints with minimal direction. They have to experiment and collaborate with other teams to find best practices moving forward. This is because we trust that the ones doing the work are more knowledgeable about the task at hand—and how to accomplish that task—than we are.
Similarly, I believe that when an employee is faced with a life-changing event, good or bad, it’s important to deliver a message of, “Drop what you’re doing and take the time you need to sort it out.” And that’s what we do. To build loyalty and engagement, employees need to trust that they’ll get support from their employer. In the end, you need to realize that if an employee can’t take the time they need when something happens in their life, the relationship isn’t going to work.
Empower Employees to Succeed
It’s important that employees are empowered to do their best work. In our Scrum setup, teams are challenged to come up with the best way to tackle what they’ve been asked to deliver. There is a framework they have to adhere to, but they are given a lot of freedom as to how they achieve their goal. Even if I think, “They should be going right, but they’re going left,” I might still let the team go left. For one, they might surprise me. And if left proves wrong, they’ll soon find out. Mistakes simply enable the entire team to learn. We encourage teams to experiment, to find out and learn by doing.
Similarly, when we do need to step in to course correct, we do so by asking the team about why they’re doing what they’re doing so that we all can understand their thought process. We continue to ask questions so they can see where they may be going astray. Often, they come to the conclusion that they need to course correct without our directive to do so.
Hire For Fit
Of course, in order to accomplish the two previously mentioned goals, you need to have the right people on your team. At Uniface, we have a Golden Rule of hiring: Whenever there’s a doubt, don’t hire.
Candidates complete two interview rounds, during which management and Scrum team representatives have an opportunity to interview them. I’ve found that when it’s the right candidate, agreement from the interviewers is most of the time unanimous. There have been times when we’ve hired the wrong person and waited too long to remove them from the team, but those missteps are few and far between.
It’s important to understand what types of behaviors and personalities will fit in with the rest of your team and to look for those qualities in your potential hires. For us, emotional intelligence is pretty important in what we do. We are a people business and our teams needs to be able to work together.
There’s a stereotype in the development community that developers prefer to be left alone. That isn’t the way Uniface wants to function. Everything we do is based on teamwork.
Communication is very important and developers have to collaborate. Diversity, having a basic understanding that people are different and being able to nimbly work with different types of individuals is critical.
As such, when interviewing, we look for social skills.
If given the choice between someone with high social skills and lower technical skills or someone with incredible technical skills but lower social skills, I’ll hire the person with the social skills. You still need to have a proper understanding of the position, but it’s much easier to grow technical skills than social skills.
Commit to Training the Right People
Once you’ve hired the right people you need to invest in them and their continued learning.
We believe strongly in coaching and tutoring and that the small Scrum teams have a responsibility to get new team members up to speed on how they operate, technical skills and working together to finish the job at hand. We aren’t afraid to throw a new hire into a project that might be a bit over their head technically. We know that if we do all we can to nurture our culture, work as a team and invest in our people, these kinds of assignments will be important learning moments for the new employees.
Maarten van Leer is the Vice President of Technology for Amsterdam-based Uniface. Van Leer has been with Uniface, a provider of model-driven, low-code application and deployment software, for more than two decades.
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