The world of tech is moving exceptionally fast. If you aren’t training your developers and your company to be ‘future-proof’, then you may be falling behind quickly. This is something that MMI Holdings’ Eugene Brockman has realised is critical to understand. In this article, he shares 5 ways in which his company strategically tries to future-proof his team.
Eugene Brockman works as the Talent Manager at MMI Holdings, and has helped make his company and his colleagues more resilient to change. He’s done this through a strategy called ‘future-proofing’, which helps companies remain viable by enabling them to adapt to innovation. In his experience, and in the current digital age, Eugene finds that a lot of companies copy what everyone else is doing, and think that because it worked for someone else, it’ll work for them. This, however, is dangerous:
“Looking over the fence won’t keep you relevant,” he says. “Staying viable in the current market means being able to take client requirements into account, looking at your products and tech infrastructure, and coming up with new ways to get that out to the consumer in a way that they want to consume it.” On the surface, this deals with understanding where you are, what you need, and what you could do to find innovative ways of generating new kinds of revenue.
But the value of future-proofing, Eugene says, is more importantly about empowering the people within a company to help solve those problems: “It’s about giving people the choice to explore new technology, and decide which way they want to go. Where previously they might only have done what they were told to, future-proofing is about enabling them to play a more strategic function.”
What future-proofing looks like
Eugene has been involved in setting up the systems that future-proof his team. The effectiveness of those systems lies in providing the infrastructure someone needs to upskill, to have choice, and to have agency within the company. By empowering a team to have the confidence to innovate, a company is better equipped because the innovation is coming as much from the ground-up as it is from the managers. More ideas, mean more voices, mean more trust, means more cohesion, means more inclusion, means a happier and more robust individual.
The following are five ways in which MMI future-proofs its employees:
Paid-for online learning
Continuous learning is one of the key cornerstones for upskilling and future-proofing their teams. Investment in developers by paying for online courses, such as Udemy or Udacity, is one of the ways Eugene believes his team will become more resilient.
Developers and managers work closely together and choose online courses that match where the industry is going. Someone will choose a course that helps them develop as software makers, and managers use their industry insights to advise and vet those courses. At the end of the day, Eugene says, it’s all about “enabling your manager to upskill their people, and also for the people to say ‘I want to do this.’”
Allocated study leave
MMI gives dedicated study leave to allow its team members to have time for online learning: “Being in IT where systems fail,” Eugene says, “there are sometimes emergencies that require working overtime. Then, dealing with family and personal life on top of that… studying is not a doable thing. We’ve seen people starting, but never finishing.”
For this policy in particular, a manager will review the length of the particular online course, and follow a set of formulae to calculate a fair number of days that can be allocated as study leave.
Aligned around design thinking practices, Dojo Days are an opportunity for developers to play, explore, and experiment in a free-form environment. This stimulates out-of-the-box thinking, and lets developers build without fear of failure.
Hackathons are also a chance for this same kind of ‘play’, and Eugene even says that people from across the company are occasionally set up in a Shark Tank environment. In these cases, developers pitch what they’ve made to a panel, as if they were pitching their product to an investor.
In both, Eugene finds that not only are developers engaged in different roles, but are also given a deeper knowledge of the company as a whole: “You get your developers to work out of the norm, and that gives them a chance to upskill across the business.” In other words, rather than only developing horizontally, across languages or technologies, Eugene’s team is developed vertically, and is trained to adapt to potential changes in roles, responsibilities and positions.
Company tribes, squads, chapters, and guilds
In large companies, it’s sometimes hard to get around to everything, especially when future-proofing can’t be prioritised above revenue streams. But MMI has smaller subdivisions, comprised of different focus areas and focus groups, that allows them to cover a larger surface area than they otherwise would.
In simple terms, it looks a little like this: ‘tribes’ would be your departments, ‘teams’ would be the squads within those departments, ‘chapters’ would be your operations across teams (like DevOps, for example), and ‘guilds’ would be an interest group, or meetup group, into which you can opt-in and share hacks, resources, etc.
This is another enabling feature for managers to be better equipped to upskill their teams. By having multiple divisions, managers inevitably have smaller teams, and can more effectively mould a particular future-proofing method to an individual. Plus, guilds allow for self-teaching and community sharing, which upskills in its own right.
4-day work weeks
Some managers are more traditional than others, and Eugene acknowledges that not everyone in MMI implements 4-day work weeks into their rhythms. For some teams, people will take a Friday off and use it as part of their study leave, and others will spend the time to recuperate or work from home.
But the value of these shorter weeks is less about having them, and more about being flexible enough to implement them. Although it needs to be taken on a case-by-case, company-by-company basis, Eugene still thinks that being able to accommodate 4-day weeks is indicative of one’s resilience to the future: “Every corporate has different management styles,” he says, “and while some people work on more dynamic web and application services, other people work on legacy where - if that system crashes - you need people on the ground to handle it.”
In Eugene’s own words: “It involves a lot of trust to effect a policy around shorter weeks well. That, in-and-of itself, says a lot about how far along your company is to being future-proof.”
What you need to future-proof
There are, however, a few things that Eugene believes are necessary for you to have an environment that is ready to be future-proof:
- You should have the right culture, that allows for tough conversations and difficult discussions. In Eugene’s experience, adding these systems into his company, and getting buy-in from the entire company, was not always easy. Implementing things like 4-day weeks and study leave can take some convincing, and if your company doesn’t currently foster that kind of culture, then it may not be ready to future-proof just yet.
- You should be prepared to invest in coaching technical managers and executives so that they are well-equipped to deal with a more diverse and flexible team. With future-proofing, Eugene says, what is previously expected of managers can sometimes shift slightly as people become more robust, and more flexible: “Sometimes IT specialists will become managers and need a little bit more coaching to get to a level where they can build that same trust, and manage people effectively. They might be so used to going to build-and-solution mode, that they struggle to read between the lines, and I think it takes time for them to build that kind of muscle.” But with the right kind of coaching, your company can help them adjust more effectively to the new, future-proof environment.
In Eugene’s own words, “it’s a big mind shift” that takes getting executives, managers, and HR teams to buy-in to the impact that this investment and flexibility in one’s team members and company can have. However, setting up the infrastructure that enables people to upskill will have knock-on effects for the viability of not only the people in your company, but your company as a whole.