Talent Strategy

Business Fluency for Your Tech Hires

Some of us may remember in school the passionate defense of a field of study by our teachers.  “English,” your English professor may have noted, “is something you are going to use every day for the rest of your lives.  Even if you never write another paper, you’ll be dealing with emails every day.  Shouldn’t you know how to express yourselves clearly, and well?”  You may have nodded, seeing the logic.  “You may say you don’t like math,” a calculus teacher may have snorted, “but do you think your bank account and investments will manage themselves?”  The importance of an interdisciplinary mindset may have begun to dawn on you then.  It’s the same in tech hiring.  Even if your process has ensured that you are bringing on tech hires that will know the software they will be working in on a daily basis, you don’t have any assurance that they have a broader understanding of the business orientation of the company, and how it relates to their daily work.  More and more people are interested in having more than a job.  They like knowing the why in addition to the what.

Just as it makes sense to study your native language so you can express yourself better and study math so you can understand the basics of how your life can be managed financially, so too it makes sense for your tech hires to have strong business fluency so that they can get a better sense of the big picture, and as such, help contribute in unexpected ways.

Onboarding

Many companies spend a lot of time during the onboarding process in helping an employee understand the culture as well as meeting all the relevant people in the reporting structure.  This shouldn’t change.  But it could be sensibly augmented by giving briefings within departments.  Those in charge of finance could brief employees (within reasonable limits) on the financial state of the firm and what some long-term targets are.  Those in charge of management and operations could discuss management styles and techniques and introduce colleagues who are “case studies” of how people get promoted.  The marketing and PR people could share what they are doing to get more awareness of the company and product/service in the marketplace.  Those in charge of strategy can go beyond talking about this year’s goals to the goals of the next 5, 10, even 15 years.  These briefings would not be monologues, but interactions in which new employees could be given situations to solve based on previous issues the company has faced, and hence ingenuity and culture can be showcased while walking through “correct” solutions in relation to what employees come up with in their scenarios.  And, there’s nothing to stop these new employees from proposing great ideas during these exercises that can be directly applied to situations and problems the company is currently facing.

By doing this, you accomplish three key objectives:

  • You widen the networking scope of your employees.  Instead of being confined to the universe of their teams and reporting structures, they’ve now had a chance to meet people placed all over the company whom they may not have ordinarily had a chance to meet.  They can establish personal and professional ties which can only help the overall cohesiveness of your staff.
  • You show trust and inclusion.  You’re showing how much you value these hires by taking the time to share with them key departments that, together, help make the entire company run.  You’re showing how what they do connects directly to the company’s overall mission.
  • You create an opportunity for contribution.  Once you’ve shared ideas and concepts, employees can’t help but think about connecting threads.  Since they have been introduced to that department, it now becomes much easier to send an email or a slack message with an idea or a question relating to that department.

Compensate for the changing workforce

We often write here about how much the workforce is changing, in part due to the fact that the very nature of work – particularly in tech – is changing.  In days past you may have hired programmers with a business degree, or at least who had taken some business classes, but very often now some great talent comes out of coding schools that focus solely on the technology and don’t offer classes in business.  Apart from greater inclusion in the why and how of your company, you’re truly making your staff more competent by filling in holes in their educations and/or taking them to the next level.

Business fluency among your staff can’t be a one-time thing either.  It has to be something that is renewed at regular intervals so that employees feel that they are part of an ongoing conversation – and they have to feel like they can ask hard questions or even “dumb” ones.  By encouraging this fluency you are creating a positive feedback loop based on education and networking that you’re freely giving to your team, knowing that more connections and more knowledge can lead to better results.


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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.

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