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Work Culture

Is company culture in IT unique?

Grace Macej

The IT industry is young and quickly learning by continuously taking inspiration from other industries. Join us as we discuss how the new generation’s view of IT company culture impacts its creation as well as valuable tools and strategies that IT companies can use to nurture company culture.

Take a look back at our first and second blog posts that cover the full range of topics explored in the referenced podcast episode of Porozmawiajmy o IT.

Picking up where we left off in the previous session, let’s come back to the point of the environmental bubbles that form through the process of being exposed to various means of communications and company workflows. How does this bubble impact work cultures within IT companies specifically?

On this point, Kris put his thoughts as follows: “I have the impression that we are convinced of the excellence and a certain uniqueness of this industry. Over time, I’ve learned that there are some differences that set us apart from other industries, but nevertheless, we continue to repeat established patterns that are noticeable outside our industry.”

How is IT company culture unique from that of other industries?

This is a question that Kris posed to Lukasz, asking whether Lukasz sees IT really does see IT culture as being different, unique, or characterised by qualities in relation to the company cultures in other areas of expertise.

Lukasz responded, “Being in the IT industry, you have to be careful not to wallow in a sense of self-importance or arrogance. Here, there is a great deal that is disconnected from this reality of other professions, starting with how  easily you can work remotely. Our work tool is a laptop and we can be anywhere in the world, and that's not the case in every profession.

The key thing is to get to a stage in an IT organisation where everyone understands that the days of the 19th century — during which a entry-level employee was in a factory behind some sewing machine or punching newspapers from a templating machine and had little to no say about the company’s direction — are long gone. Today, the intellect of the people involved in the company or a certain process, even at the entry level, contributes to the development of that company and the potential optimisation of the given process. And if the management of that company doesn't realise this and doesn't promote it, then that company will naturally be defeated by the competition over time as a result. That seems to me to be a universal truth, even if we look beyond IT.”

Continuous inspiration from other industries

Building on the point above, Lukasz explained, “These processes in IT happen much faster, and that's because when we work with technology, we have exposure to many different companies that modify and often challenge the status quo.

Through my own cognitive bias within the IT environment, I sometimes don't realise that there are certain topics that other professional or social groups more thoroughly understand; in these areas, they are the ones doing things better. Here, I come back to the first argument: It’s important to have the kind of openness, not an arrogance that we (as IT professionals) know better, and to be able to challenge the arguments of other groups to see what they contribute. There's a lot of interest in this field in IT to improve employee wellbeing and to balance one’s professional life, exercise, extracurricular activities, and mental health. And these are all very cool things that have come out of other environments and into the IT sphere.”

The IT industry: Young and learning quickly

Compared to other industries, such as architecture, IT is in its infancy stage. We're de facto competing with hundreds or thousands of years of laying out processes and so on.

Kris emphasised how he agrees that IT is learning very quickly as an industry as well as how not taking care of an IT company culture can be downright lethal to the company in the long run.

“We have such a labour market, which is associated with a shortage of specialists. At the same time, there’s a different mindset of the new generation that is just entering the labour market. This generation is heavily vetting the culture before taking a job — furthermore, they won’t hesitate to leave the company if the company isn’t aligned with their values.”

How does the new generation’s view of company culture impact its creation?

Building on his comments above, Kris asked Lukasz about his thoughts regarding the new generation’s concept of company culture. More specifically, since the new generation has entered the labour market with a more in-depth, potentially more critical view of company culture, does this cause companies to have to put more effort into or showcase their individual culture? Finally, is this a challenge or a card to grab the best talent from the market?

Lukasz responded, “For me, the new generation’s expectations around company culture creates a competitive advantage. In a world where salaries and company benefits are equalising, companies have to look for something that sets them apart: Innovation not only within their business domain, but also for those people who work there.

Today, people choose a company in which they feel they are respected and, most importantly, in which they feel that their work has meaning. This is all at the heart of a well-defined company culture. Importantly, company incentives should be standardised and must come from the right place in order to prevent the growth of toxic environments. This will encourage the attraction of employees who join the company for the right reasons, regardless of their generation or years of experience.”

This being said, it's not just young people, but people who have noticed that it's possible to work and develop themselves in a better environment. They, too, want change, despite the fact that they have sometimes spent many years in somewhat toxic environments. This is where a huge task arises for IT companies: Not only to create a healthy culture, to sow it, but also to nurture and develop it.

Which tools can IT companies use to maintain their company culture?

As we mentioned in a previous post, company culture is ultimately introduced and moderated by a company’s HR team. During the recruitment process, HR professionals demonstrate how a company operates and fosters the attraction of people to whom their culture will be a good fit. Kris’ question to Lukasz on this topic was this: In practice, how can HR teams accurately and effectively showcase company culture?

Lukasz said, “It seems to me that the proper demonstration of company culture is carried out through referencing examples that either support or go against a company’s set of values. Through leaning on past events, HR is able to document examples and create a sort of ‘checklist’ that new employees can lean on in future cases.”

Trust is the currency of the future

When looking at company culture from the viewpoint of employer branding or the customers’ point of view, it can be difficult to find a happy medium between a company’s internal culture and what’s visible externally to stakeholders or customers.

“On this point,” added Lukasz, “It’s crucial to keep in mind that at the end of the day, it’s the team members who are the most important. Although this sounds like an obvious statement, it can be very unintuitive in terms of behaviour to the customer, since it’s necessary for us to clearly communicate our company values to potential customers as early as during the negotiation phase. When doing so in the past, we’ve seen that the best relationships that we’ve had with customers have resulted in the best practices within our company culture being ‘absorbed’ by the customer’s own company culture. They liked it so much that we could implement things on maximum transparency and respect for the other person. When you demonstrate transparent values, people stand behind you because they have full trust and confidence in you. That's my experience.”

Finding a balance between the maintenance and rapid evolution of company culture

Wrapping up the session, Kris remarked how the IT industry is extremely changeable and is influenced by various forces. He went on to say that despite the fact that it seems to be an independent industry, recent situations have shown that the economy and people make their mark on the industry. In our efforts to promote, develop, and nurture company culture, there’s the question if it’s all worth it. This is because culture is bound to evolve and change at a rapid pace. How can companies appropriately balance shaping a well-built, meaningful culture while being exposed to significant, rapid changes?

Lukasz
: It depends on the given company’s approach. If the primary focus was on the customer for the first few months (or years) as opposed to the people being hired, this creates a culture that we have no control over in any way. It lives its own life, and fixing it can be laborious and time-consuming. This can be the case with larger organisations aiming to go through a transformation. Because with transformation, there's usually a cultural shift in the company’s thinking or even in the people that they begin to hire. So you have a clash between the prevailing culture and the one that comes in and tries to take its place.

On the other hand, if company culture is consciously nurtured from day one, this will be enough of an indicator for all newcomers to stick around. The basic factor is to understand that here certain things have already been done and understood in a certain way. In other words, I try to trust it, experience it, and try it out on my own, and only then I try to modify it.

This is where the HR department has a huge role because at some point, they’re the ones who take over the hiring element. Cultural matching is a process that I strongly recommend. It can take the form of a conversation in which we discuss important situations with candidates, such as negative past experiences, what they didn't like, or how they would resolve a particular conflict. I'll tell you frankly that this is one of my biggest discoveries in recent years — it's much easier for me to find a good programmer from a hard skill point of view than a programmer who brings value from a soft skill point of view.”

Kris: Oh yes, definitely. I think the IT industry in general is going to put more and more emphasis on these kinds of skills, since in the long run, they translate into efficiency of both teams and individual work. As you said, it's not only a question of whose hard competencies theoretically fit with a company’s culture and should make the completion of a given project possible, but also which personalities that will be able to go through the difficulties and problems that will inevitably appear along the way.

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This is the final segment of a three-part series recapping a recent episode of Porozmawiajmy o IT that LLI was featured on (also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, and Spotify). Thank you for reading!

Future of work
Remote work
Work culture

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