Secrets to a Successful Technology Culture

May 4, 2016 Amy McDonnell

While it’s true that members of CareerBuilder IT team often walk around the office in jeans, t-shirts and flip flops – and enjoy things many other tech companies do, like half-day Fridays in the summer and wellness reimbursement — there’s something about the culture at CareerBuilder that’s different enough to make employees not only join, but stay — often for many, many years. We sat down with Roger Fugett, CareerBuilder’s CIO (and a global finalist for the 2016 Georgia CIO Awards), to find out what that “something” is.

CB: What is your secret to fostering a culture of curiosity and innovation within your team?

RF: When I talk to other CIOs, they’re often surprised by the way we do things. Part of our agile development philosophy on empowering our team is that employees have the freedom to come to the table with solutions. We try to encourage the business to tell our team what they’re trying to solve, and and we can help come together on how to solve it. That’s where a lot of creativity comes from our folks.

We do quarterly Hackathons, in which we pause business projects for 24 hours and employees have 24 hours to work on whatever they want. Their efforts may be directly related to the area they’re already working in, but they’re often not. Often, employees do chair sides and after seeing how users are struggling with certain processes and inefficiencies, they come up with an idea to help fix it. Hackathons are also to foster that spirit of learning – it’s a great time for someone to experiment and learn about a new technology.

We also hold a contest in which employees can participate in Hackathon presentations. They have five minutes to present an idea, and the ones that work the best are demo’ing what they built in last 24 hours. We pick at least two winners, who get a prize worth up to $500.

CB: What kinds of opportunities do your employees get to stretch their wings that they might not get elsewhere?

RF: With the work that we do, the engineers get to see the direct impact almost immediately.  Most of our teams operate in sprints, meaning we’re committing to the organization in 1 to 2-week windows, and then we have deliverables within those two weeks. We’re not going away for six months and then coming back to the business with, “Hey, here’s what we have.”

That’s one of the things I love about working here – there’s nothing like an engineer or tech employee working on something and then never see it go to market or be used by the people it was intended for. That is so demoralizing. I don’t care how much I get paid; I would hate working at a job like that. That’s something that CareerBuilder has really cultivated – being able to make a direct impact to the organization and our customers. The old-school mentality is still prevalent in a lot of organizations. The difference with us is we get to see the impact of our changes very quickly.

CB: Is there a particular tech company whose culture you look up to or try to emulate? Why?

RF: Typically, when companies do an SEC filing, they focus on why the market should invest, but they also the cover the risks, like threats in the market, who their competitors are, and so on – it’s very business-focused. Some of the things you saw in the SEC filings of companies like Google and Facebook were just unprecedented at the time, in that they talked about culture.

Mark Zuckerburg, the CEO of Facebook, included things like “Move fast and break things.” He said, “Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.” This has become one of our mantras; we’re always trying to work on the most important problems. Another one we live by? “Done is better than perfect” — and that’s just talking about releasing products quickly and trying to learn from small iterations, rather than trying to get everything just right all at once. That’s us – we aim to iterate through.

CB: What is most important in a potential hire?

RF: It’s not technical acumen, even though this is naturally what people tend to talk about – someone’s technical capabilities and asking them, “How would you solve this using X technology.” I feel it’s more about the person and their ability to adapt to the CareerBuilder environment – and it’s harder to interview for that. You have to find that fit to the company and the culture – and there are harder questions around what drives this person, rather than their technical acumen. Technical acumen definitely can be taught, but soft skills are harder to change and are more important to me.

You try to interview for it by bringing up scenarios and getting someone’s analytical thought process around how they’d go about solving a problem. I’m interviewing more leaders than engineers at this point, so I would definitely ask potential hires questions around CareerBuilder’s culture of constant change. How would they help their team understand the changes and shift goals accordingly? I want to hear how they can possess flexibility and get the team motivated toward the new goal.

CB: What’s your favorite interview question to ask?

RF: I love to ask people what they’re most criticized about. With “What’s your greatest weakness,” you get answers like “chocolate” or “I’m a perfectionist.” This question gives the answer in a different light. I like asking questions on self-reflection, too, or about what expertise or skills they feel they’re missing. It’s all about the fit.

CB: How do you gauge whether a potential employee will fit into the company — and team — culture?

RF: I’ll ask things like what they liked and didn’t like about their last supervisor, or who their best boss was, and why… or about a major challenge they faced in their last job. I’m trying to figure out what makes them tick. I want to see somebody who continues to invest in their craft. Are they adaptable? At CareerBuilder, things change a lot, and they have to be open to that.

CB: How do you invest in employees?

RF: I always go back to the learning culture we have here. If I had two words to describe our culture, they would be “innovation” and “learning.” Richard Branson once said, “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” And I think that’s what we do here. We allocate $2,100 per employee per year for training. I think one of the reasons we always fare very well in “Best Places to Work” is that we want to and continue to invest in our employees and support their development. We’re an organization that learns best by experience and not classroom alone, but we still support the conference and classroom learning piece. We grow people and nurture talent.

CB: What happens when someone outgrows their role?

There’s definitely good turnover when someone has continued to excel and has ramped up their skills. I say it’s like the Olympics, where timing is critical and the competition varies: You can continue to ramp up your skills, but there’s two things that have to happen: The opportunity has to exist for you to be able to apply those skills. When it doesn’t exist, it might mean going somewhere else to take your next career step, which is not a bad thing. I love helping people get to their career goals. Number two, if it does exist, you must understand there’s likely competition. If there’s an opening for a leader, you’re going to be compared to the other people who are just as equipped for that role. If someone feels like they’re not learning anything new, that’s more concerning to me than someone outgrowing what they’re doing and wanting to be in a leadership role, for example.

We welcome boomerang employees – we’ve had six or seven of them over the last couple of years. We make it kind of fun and present them with a wooden boomerang at our quarterly “Hugfest.”

CB: “Hugfest”?

RF: Oh yeah, every quarter we get together as an IT group – we call it Hugfest. Leaders providing updates of objectives, accomplishments and learnings, and I give strategic or market updates. We also recognize our top employees for the quarter.

CB: And hug a lot?

RF: Yeah, we pretend like we hug a lot. I think that’s where the term got coined — there’s a lot of motivational stuff.

CB: What makes you most excited to get out of bed and go to work every day?

RF: I love seeing when we have an impact on the organization, and the fact that we operate the way we do, there’s a high likelihood that we get to see that almost every day. A lot of our customers are employees – so I get the unique perspective of seeing them using the tools we built for them.

 

Fugett has many reasons to be proud of the work he’s done as a tech leader – and people are taking notice. He has been announced as one of the global finalists for the 2016 Georgia CIO Awards, which recognizes the best-of-the-best in Georgia’s technology leadership. Winners will be announced at the CIO of the Year Awards breakfast on October 28th at the Cobb Galleria.

 

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