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Issue 13

Towards An IT Community – via HR (II)

Dan Ionescu
Executiv Director
@Danis Consulting



Cristina Nicule
Consultant
@Danis Consulting
OTHERS

We come back with the second article which presents the opinions of several HR representatives from well-known Cluj IT companies. These opinions were gathered during the second workshop from the total of four that we planned for 2013. We aim to identify past and present HR best practices, possibly useful for the process of creating a mature IT community in Cluj. We would like this initiative to be followed also by other professions in the region. For now, we believe that IT industry, being "on the top", may constitute itself in a real model for success, setting working standards for others too (good income, exciting working environment, managers close to people). But, for this, there is still some work to be done!

In the previous article (from TSM no.11) we presented what IT companies did in order to develop in the past few years and what management practices were most appreciated. During the meeting from June, 11, at Danis office, we approach some of the most actual concerns in IT companies, from the Human Resources point of view. These topics were developed by HR representatives from the following Cluj IT companies: AROBS, IQUEST, FORTECH, RECOGNOS, to whom we thank a lot for dedication and honest interest!

What are the main issues that challenge HR now in Cluj IT companies?

From the very beginning, we would like to point out that it is more than obvious for all of us that THE BIG PROBLEM of human resources professionals in Cluj IT companies is recruiting and retaining people. This process has become a kind of "obsession" and a key-competence for a HR professional in IT company. In the same time, this has also become a "tabu" subject, due to the difficulty of the recruitment process. We DID NOT approach this topic during the workshop because it is rather saturated and, we believe it is almost useless to do it: there is quite impossible to find methods to bring new employees (without "stealing" from other companies…) when there are not enough people on the market. The difference between the request of IT companies and the number of IT professionals available is so big, that we found useless to talk about efficient recruiting strategies… Maybe this subject will reappear as important when we will approach discussions about a mature community of IT professionals, here in Cluj…

But, until then…

The topics approached during this second workshop were based upon the participants" suggestions and the debates from TSM launching panel discussions. The main ideas that will be presented here may be structured into two main categories:

  • The process of employees" development in IT companies - some particularities in the way of approaching own development, techniques of gaining the involvement of people into these actions, the challenges given by IT employees (versus other employees from different industries);
  • Ways to build and maintain performing working teams in IT domain - practices for reaching quickly a certain level of maturity and results; way to overcome challenges regarding high level turnover;

The ideas and opinions shared in this article may be useful to any Human Resources manager / specialist from an IT company, and also to any leader (from top level until team-lead level) who really assumes the responsibility for raising the performance of people that he manages. If these ideas are new to you, please, feel free to test them in your organisations. If you have already used similar practices or other more efficient, we would be happy to debate them during the panel discussions on the occasion of launching TSM.

The process of employees" development in IT companies

Why this process of employees" development is a challenge for HR professionals in IT? There are at least two reasons: 1) the IT professionals are technical, logic, rational people that need practical things - this is why the learning actions that they participate at need to be very qualitative; 2) people from IT industry find themselves in a favoured, positive context: they gain usually very early and quickly good jobs, they are "fed emotionally" in their working environment (with all kinds of benefits), they are involved in cool projects - all these represent a set of advantages, but in the same time may slip into a trap of self-sufficiency that can impede some of IT professionals to develop internal motivation to develop themselves, considering already good enough. These challenges were solved in good amount in the companies present to our workshop, by a set of practices meant to raise the degree of determination, involvement and real desire for their own development.

The tendency to manifest resistance in the face of development proposals come from the company, HR or managers seems to be bigger in the case of IT professionals that employees from other fields. The IT people are intelligent people and far more independent, than those formed in different professions / companies. Therefore, any form of imposing - even gentle - will not work!

This is why, in order for the development actions (trainings, programs, conferences etc) to work out, people need to be involved in the decision-making process. This thing can be done in several ways. Monica David from AROBS shared the idea of internal surveys - in order to evaluate the needs and interests of the employees for the development, what are the areas of improvement, who are the persons that wish to be involved in learning and development actions. "If a person doesn"t feel the need for development from the interior, it"s useless!". The other companies preset to this discussion also support the idea of using any form of analysing and evaluating the development / training needs in their company - periodically or linked to internal performance evaluation systems. Through these surveys, you may also make comparisons between what people want and what their managers want (for their people) in terms of learning needs. If discrepancies appear, you may analyse where they come from / where the rupture in the direct communication between manager and employees is. But our participants in the workshop said that, usually, they didn"t observe big discrepancies between these two perceptions: IT professionals and their managers had, most of the time, similar opinions about development objectives - in Fortech, for example. After probing all these views, it"s much healthier to organise any form of training / development, based upon the survey"s results. The tendency of rejection will be smaller. These surveys may offer you valuable information, but sometimes too general: you may found out "big chunks" (= big categories), desired patterns, but not specific, personalised needs (as Razvan Voica sustains).

This is why, a method for establishing detailed development needs - complementary to surveys - may be the performance management system in the organisation. In iQuest, for example, the system - mentioned also in the previous article - of "career management" has, from the beginning, also the objective of helping employees to develop, not only to evaluate performances. Thus, you may obtain "fresh" information about development needs, because the manager who conducts monthly discussions with employees is also a kind of coach for them, offering support and guidance. In addition, when at least once a year every employee has the opportunity of a 360degree evaluation, there is a raise in the acceptance of individual development needs because they came from such a complex feedback.

For all these suggestions of approaching the development process in IT companies, the main principle is transparency - explicitly valued in Fortech, too. IT professionals - more than professionals from other domains - need clarity and good arguments, "need to know why they were selected for a certain training" in order to obtain their real engagement in the development process (Alexandra Bayer).

The tendency of IT people to reject a development action is stronger regarding the "soft-skills" development. It is quite easy to understand why: IT-ists are technical people that operate easily with exact information and with computers. When it comes to human relationships, interpersonal communication, various information regarding human nature, things are not so exact anymore and HR has a supplementary challenge in "selling" needs for development in this area. In this case, the most successful strategies are close, repeated discussions with people regarding the importance of these abilities in work, in the team and in the relationships with clients. The most impact messages will not necessarily come from HR, but may be those who come from recognised, appreciated persons in the organisation (strangely, these persons are recognised and valued for their technical and business competencies - "hard-skills"). In other words: IT professionals will come to believe that soft-skills are important, if the most hard-skilled persons among them will tell them this! If competent leaders from organisation will practice and "preach" learning in the human relationships area, communication skills, team work, then the employees from that company will accept far more easily to participate into these kind of development actions.

Regarding using intelligent development actions for intelligent people from IT, Monica David, for example, advocate the idea that the training / conference / workshop provided to IT professionals need to have a direct applicative component that will lead to immediate results - otherwise, participants will signal immediately the usefulness. Razvan Voica and Cosmin Molnar from iQuest support this idea and shared with all of us the experience their company had a couple of years ago, when they start looking for very valuable development actions in order to be naturally accepted in organisation. Successful practices turned out to be: on one hand bringing famous providers / trainers (who"s quality was already recognised) and, on the other hand, conceiving long-term development programs. Simple trainings were completed with follow-up sessions, scheduled after several weeks or months. This technique raises the possibility to apply and retain the things, concepts discussed in the training and therefore to determine concrete results. This technique is even more valuable in the case of soft-skills that need time to provide visible effects.

In Recognos, until now, it has been applied the technique of internal trainings, that are very well received among employees, gathering weekly a big number of developers - both juniors and seniors. The continuity of these training sessions shows the real interest to learn new technologies and tendencies in this field that is in a constant change.

Ways to build and maintain performing working teams

Team work is the most usual way of organising in IT companies. More than that, forming a team is usually a challenge for HR and for team leaders, because the team must obtain the results and to work good together quickly, even if it"s newly constituted. The short amount of time available for reaching high performances is clearly a particularity in IT field. In addition, the turnover and the dynamic in an IT team - at least in Cluj - can be very high. New people may enter frequently in the teams, determining the need for a permanent re-adjustment.

This is the reason for discussing together with the participants in our workshop how can be overcome this challenge for the IT teams.

A performing and mature team in IT field is a team that first of all, have the results, and in the same time all the members work together well; it"s a team that reflects company culture (it"s not a separate entity) and it"s formed from all the diversity of roles and personalities necessary (you have creative people, but also good implementers and finishers; you have both good organisers and also good communicators etc.). In the same time, a healthy team is a team that has a natural "self-cleaning" system, through which members that don"t match with the culture and the team working style, can leave the team when their performance become an obstacle for the rest. This mechanism is important so that the team activity should not block.

Cosmin Molnar from iQuest considers that the most efficient way of creating a performing team in IT is making a well-balanced mix from seniors (or longer employed in the company), mid-level developers/ testers and juniors. The percentage may be different according to what you allow yourself in terms of resources, but the presence of seniors is vital from at least two reasons: 1) the technical skills of the seniors may be transferred quickly, through mentoring, to the juniors; 2) people that are longer employed in the company may determine a quick infusion of accepted and valued working way - a cultural infusion. The presence of seniority in a new team has also the advantage of gaining recognition from the other members that will follow naturally the track given by the seniors, leading to rapid, good results.

The other participants to our workshop agreed upon this idea; Alexandra Bayer added the fact that, in Fortech"s experience, there was enough a couple of seniors / longer employed in one team of new employees. In addition, she stressed the importance of "on-boarding" / induction process of the new-comers in a team that is already formed. This process is important to be made quickly, efficient and to contain both technical and working behaviour elements. In case of long-term projects, in Fortech, some video-tutorials were created. The new-comers had to watch these tutorials, thus raising the team"s efficiency.

Regarding the case of constituting an entirely new team, with new people and no possibility for using older human resources from the company (i.e. a branch of the company in another location, or a team for a new client / product), the top priority for Human Resources and the management of the company has to be the transfer of the organisational culture. This process may be unfolded through systems like tutorship, buddy system, mentorship - each new employee being taken over by an older employee (from another team) to receive help in the induction process, especially in transmitting that code about "how we work in our team". In the same time, the longer employed people in the company must be present as often as possible in the new team: through visits, explaining procedures, systems. One test that shows if the process of creating a new team has succeeded (not only the technical results) is that when you go visiting this team, you feel that you are in the same organisation, not in another one - you feel like "home".

A quick and often-used method in the IT companies for raising the level of cohesion in a team is the famous "team-building". But also in this area, there are some particularities in case of IT professionals, that need to be taken into account for good results. The team members need to be involved in choosing the type of desired actions, location, services. In the same time, the planned activities need to guide participants to do things all together! It"s useless to send a team in Barcelona, for example, all-expenses ensured by the company, if everybody will do different things or if small sub-teams will be set up ad-hoc. It is important for the whole team to do activities together, activities that are full of meaning for them and are very attractive. In some cases, professional facilitators will help a lot, by analysing the participants" behaviour and helping the team members to give feedback to each other, to become aware of each contribution to the team"s results. In the same time, in our guests" opinion, the percentage and depth of these facilitated discussions must have a limit, because IT professionals may be very easily invaded if these analyses become too personal.

***

As we can see in all these opinions of people who care about people in IT companies, the employees from this industry have a series of particularities regarding life experiences, way of approaching things, intelligence, working style, economic context etc. that must be taken into account when we try to identify successful practices in IT organisations. We are very anxious to reach to the point when we will discuss how all these particularities - challenges - may be taken into account in the process of crating a mature IT community in Cluj… A community in which innovation, efficiency, quality, professionalism should be the strengths that create an image in the eyes of clients all over the world that Cluj is "the place where we can find those super-intelligent, good-working IT professionals that deserve our attention". What do you think: does it worth the effort of thinking about it?

Monica David (Arobs Transilvania Software) - a psychology-pedagogy professional, who started the HR career in 2008, in a well-known, old IT company from Cluj (Brinel). Recently she became HR Coordinator in Arobs. Before trying the private business, she gained a lot of experience in NGO-s field, where she learned a very structured way of working - imposed by foreign investors. Comparing private and non-profit working field, she finds a big challenge in both: working with people. Joking, she likes to say that, if in NGO-s she worked with "disadvantaged" people, now, in IT, she clearly works with "advantaged" people!

Alexandra Bayer (Fortech) started the works in IT field seven years ago, when she became a member of Fortech. Practically, she grew together with the company and learned together with their management colleagues how to gain the trust from the IT people: with logical, concrete, statistical arguments. The basic engineer profession helped her a lot in this structured approach of the Human Resources activity. Even now, when in Fortech are almost 300 employees, Alexandra sees herself as a helped for the entire company, as having "eyes and ears" for everybody, although it becomes more and more difficult to accomplish this considering the size of the company.

Răzvan Voica (iQuest) has an "old" background in IT (from 1997), having a great diversity of professional experiences, including that of a programmer. From 2011 he joined the management team in iQuest - one of the important players in IT market in Cluj (and not only). He admits that this job - a managerial position in Human Resources - was difficult and very challenging for him. Since his start in iQuest, he initiated and developed many HR Systems and processes, about which he is willing to speak with pride and passion for hours!

Cosmin Molnar (iQuest) psychologist as a profession, he has an experience of seven years in Human Resources field, passing through very different organisations: automotive, production, distribution, human resources and now, IT. Having these experiences in different domains he is able now to analyse objectively the profile of an IT professional and the specific differences from other industries. In iQuest, he is responsible of the biggest challenge of HR from IT field: personnel recruitment and selection…wish you all the luck!

Andrea Chaimovits (Recognos) is a devoted employee - from 2007 - of a tradition company in Cluj: Recognos, passing through different positions in organisation: technical, administrative and now, human resources - adding to her expertise in this latest field an HR master education. She experienced, along with Recognos organisation, the specific changes due to continuous growth from a small company to a bigger one. Because of these direct experiences, she may be able to understand from different points of views the needs of her colleagues.

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