People Can't be Programmed: HR for Tech By: Kate Ciborowski Photo: BergMedia Creative Long gone are the days when developers were considered socially awkward and siloed in an organization. Today, software development is understood as a social endeavour that requires working and learning effectively with others, impacting entire organizations. More than ever before, software development methodologies, designed to improve efficiency and flexibility for products, are being applied to people and teams. My experience working at a coding bootcamp has given me a unique perspective on how common practice approaches to software development such as open source and agile methodologies are driving fundamental changes in how people work. This is driving the need for a more progressive HR function in tech. I’d like to share some of my key insights in this post. Open Source In software development ‘open source’ refers to apps and technologies that can be freely built, changed and shared by a community of developers. The principle of open source is informing how tech leaders organize and manage their people, such as encouraging a wider span of control through decentralized decision making and transparency. At Lighthouse Labs, the community drives both curriculum and the business. As a bootcamp, developers are brought on as contractors to train students contributing their individual expertise. As an organization, a wide span of control tasks all staff with greater responsibility to challenge existing processes by introducing novel insights and improvements. This inspires accountability meanwhile creates a need for open source organizations to place an emphasis on developing their employees. Developing People Without the design and implementation of talent and leadership programs, even carefully selected employees might not be set up to thrive in open source environments. Leadership programs can equip staff with skills, such as accountability and good decision making allowing those in leadership roles to effectively empower others as the company grows. Learning and development initiatives improve engagement and expose employees to innovative ideas and instill a mindset to knowledgeably suggest and implement new ideas within the organization. Agility The agile movement in development is a collaborative approach to iteration, which is being applied to how teams work together. In the process of shipping a software product, agility might include adaptive planning, early delivery, customer involvement, and continuous improvement. Agility in organizations allows for rapid and flexible response to change. Therefore, staff must adapt to flexible goals and an evolving organizational strategy, which requires both constant communication and collaboration. LHL has implemented an agile framework called SCRUM, which encourages close physical co-location as well as daily face to face communication among team members and across disciplines. Staff attend a 10 minute morning meeting covering accomplishments from the previous day, priorities and any roadblocks other team members can remove. In addition weekly meetings allow staff to share top priorities and updates. SCRUM provides endless opportunities for communication across an organization. However, culture and teamwork efforts might be necessary to actualize the degree of collaboration necessary for people and teams to effectively evolve with changing strategies and goals. Creating a compelling culture Culture is the largest factor that inhibits improvement and change in organizations where as compelling cultures enhance engagement and empower employees to thrive. Culture can be understood as “how we do things around here.” Early staff understand founding principles of how decisions are made and what the company values by “being in the garage” with founders who lead by example. As organizations grow, HR initiatives should evaluate and change culture to remove obstacles impeding performance, reiterate founding values and reflect evolving needs. A flexible and engaging culture will provide the container for all staff to effectively collaborate and innovate. Take Aways It’s important to recognize that unlike software people can’t be programmed. In addition to implementing methodologies that provide a framework for innovation and collaboration, HR’s role should support strategic renewal by acting as a progressive force constantly re-designing and implementing people and culture initiatives. Below are some actionable steps that can be applied to build out opportunities for development and understand potential obstacles impeding performance. Establish explicit core values with staff and discuss how they can be embedded in everything they do. Try a culture change exercise that can provide insight into staff assumptions guiding decision making, problem solving and how they work together. E.g. “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture” by Cameron and Quinn is available online. Brief and frequent performance check-ins with staff offering constructive feedback and how they can best utilize and develop their strengths. Ensure managers are effectively supporting staff through 360 Performance reviews. Intentionally expose staff to leadership experiences and encourage them to actively reflect on how they make decisions, problem solve, etc. Have a learning budget to send staff to conferences, speakers, workshops, etc. Address conflict in teams and develop principles to guide productive behaviour, clear purpose and healthy dynamics.