Every day I interview dozens of engineers for open positions on my own or in partner organisations. Most of these people have a job or just left their current position. This is the case because the existing market allows even beginners to easily find a job. The universal truth is that good engineers always have stable work.
You may ask yourself why people seek a change and guess what? Almost every engineer I interview says they are experiencing a toxic political environment in their current organisation, doesn’t feel ownership in the organisation or is a victim of bad management or not transparent communication.
This is not a surprise for me. Being internal and external in many organisations throughout the world, whether I was an engineer, lead or onboarding one of my teams, I experienced a lot of political tension. I have personally left stable workplaces or refused to work with a customer because of extreme political issues that produced a toxic environment, and usually because of the personal ambitions of several executive members in those companies.
Lately, I have been participating in a lot of discussions regarding matrixed organisations and how agile transformation can increase productivity and ROI, and I absolutely agree that the agile, lean approach is definitely a good direction to go. But, there is one big, bold BUT. No method or approach can save an organisation from people acting only for their own profit and create sophisticated, political rules of the game that serve their personal goals.
What does it mean for a business owner?
The reality is that businesses who experience digital transformation still depend vastly on the people who are coming from mostly conservative management backgrounds with a standard conservative education where University degree and the brands of consultancies you worked in mostly decide your position in the organisation and not necessarily skills or experience. I do not want to name classical consultancies which produce tonnes of C-level executives or business consultants, most of them get the desired positions in the companies without understanding digital business and the people who work there. They are trained to be politicians as well as the standard way of organisation is the only way they follow but that does not mean it’s the most beneficial way for company or business owners.
Politics and processes do not grow great teams and products, culture does. Culture in the organisation, especially in digital business, is the most important aspect. Only great teams create great businesses, and that’s what makes the IT ecosystem so successful and IT companies outperform standard industries in revenue and growth.
And yet culture is often misinterpreted. Some managers, especially HR managers, are still coming from the same conservative companies I have mentioned above. They try to create dogmatic values for the company, or even rename HR to something like the “People and Culture Department”, but believe me, that does not help either.
No matter how many team events you organise or how many values you create in the company, engineers are a totally different kind of people. Being an engineer and switching to the business line I understand perfectly, we the IT people are very rational and look at the bottom of things, things, like having a list of top 5 company values and repeating them every morning, does not make the company better when you notice political motivation behind it. On the contrary, transparent, clear business goals and good communication makes the company better and keeps the team motivated.
One of the cases I experienced during my consulting career is a very common example.
A company and a team work toward a common goal and a lot of time and effort have been spent on their product. Then, suddenly a new C-level executive joins the company. He comes from a traditional consultancy without any IT background and changes the whole strategy of the organisation.
You would ask yourself why would that person do that?
Simple answer, they need to show a change, justify salary, bonus or even shares in the company. Sometimes they could even use political ambition to get more power or eliminate the competitors in the company and neglect common sense and close down projects out of his control in a night without proper communication or transparent reasonable answer and fires people responsible for them.
Now as a business owner imagine the feelings of your best engineers who believed in something? Does not matter what you do for them or how many values you create you just erased part of their life just because one of your C-level reps acted for his own political benefit. Do you think the team will continue work for you with the same pace or they will suddenly believe in your new values after you decided to destroy the business for the sake of the new approach of a person whom you hired because of his name or University degree?
The answer is one big bold NO, this is the perfect timing when organisations start losing employees, basically what happens is employees start playing the same politics. They pretend they believe in values but use every second wisely to change a job or find a better place, even with same conditions but without politics, organisations that will value them and move to the common goal without buzzwords like “meritocracy” or “high values” that have one purpose make the politics in the organisation even more successful.
I understood this lesson very good and now managing more than 200 Engineers on a daily basis I have understood one thing, I should never play politics, all people in the organisation should have one goal and this goal should be measurable, organisation should have clear revenue goals and everyone should know them, all team members should be in constant communication with me and not through surveys but through one to ones and be free to express their opinions. People should exactly know what is the goal of the company, how to achieve it, the direction the company moves to and what is their benefit when the company gets there. You can not trick engineers with “we work for the stability”, finding a job for an engineer is a no-brainer so stable salary is not an incentive anymore, people should enjoy their work and should be motivated to outperform. Company policies or values should not block people, they should push them towards achieving greater results for themselves and if the company is structured wisely, achieving a greater value for an employee means achieving a greater value for the business and increasing ROI. The best feedback I have heard in my life that there is no politics in our company, personal tensions are not actual because people have a common goal and their goal is going to the same direction as company goal both culturally and financially.
Acting as a leader and business owner I will always do my best to avoid hiring people who will make the company environment full of politics. Also every leader should on a constant basis identify those people who act only in their own political benefit because from my experience people who lack self-confidence or skills usually behave over protective and move the reality into political background to have a chance to survive and grow in the company and as a business owner I try to do my best to avoid these people in my organisation and would advise other business owners to do the same.
- Company Culture