image image 15th January 2021

What it really means to be a Shedder

 

There’s more to Shedders than the fact that we all, usually, work under one unconventional (shed) roof – our company values are at the heart of everything we do.

Here at The Shed we’re just as passionate about the culture we work in as we are about the tech itself, because who wants to be miserable at work?

We caught up with Clare, Head of People here at The Data Shed, to delve deeper into some of our guiding principles.

So, what makes it unique to work at The Data Shed?

At the core of our culture are the five values that we identified and champion in how we do things at The Shed.

Firstly – Don’t be a Dick! – we’ve turned this into the more politically correct “treat people right” for the purposes of wall art and websites!

We treat adults like adults. What that means in practice is that we expect people to take responsibility, to be part of it, to want to be part of it. If you’re not prepared to put effort in and help and support your fellow Shedders, and give them constructive feedback, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy life here.

‘Share The Knowledge’

We’re all about collaboration, and so it’s really important that everyone subscribes to that. We want people who are going to join in, work with others, collaborate – people who will bring others along on the journey together.

We are very careful with our recruitment to make sure that we get people who are on the same page. We’ve always said that you could be the most incredibly talented data engineer in the world, you could write incredible code and be absolutely fantastic at it, but that’s not enough on it’s own.

At The Data Shed we help each other out – we don’t want people in silos, we don’t want people sitting on their own worrying about things – we’re all here together, and we support each other and we learn from each other.

We do a lot of pair programming and there’s a dedicated slot every week when we come together to share knowledge – we also have a weekly slot on a Wednesday for anyone to present on anything that they have learned or think would be helpful to others or just a really cool solution to a problem – we teach each other the whole time.

Take care of the fundamentals. It’s so important that you get the basics right, because if you don’t, then everything else just falls apart around it. So we need people who are going to take that responsibility, take that care, and pay that attention. And that includes fixing the coffee machine (arguably the most important team member!)

And Always seek value – because if what you’re doing doesn’t actually produce any value, for either yourself, or the Shed, or the client, then what are you doing it for?

Finally, Know your audience. If you’re in a meeting and there are people there who don’t understand what you’re talking about because either you’re being too technical or using jargon then you’re not going to get an effective outcome. This one is really important – not all of our clients are technical enough to have a detailed conversation about complex engineering problems. We all need to be able to explain things at the right level so everyone is comfortable to make decisions. We’ve all been in meetings where jargon has been bounded about feeling uncomfortable about asking questions for fear of looking stupid. That is not how we want anyone feeling at the Shed.

How do you get people to self select themselves out if they are not a Shedder?

We’ve put in place some very strong recruitment processes.

For example, we’ve included a behaviours/values section with specific questions that probe how people think and how they react. This has been really useful in helping us to work out whether that person is the right cultural fit for us.

We’ve got two ways of recruiting: agency and direct, and if it’s direct then I give them a qualifying call first.

It’s interesting because I’m very honest with people; I say ‘you know, the number one rule is don’t be a dick’. The response I get to that is really telling – people who’ve responded positively to that have gone on to do well throughout the recruitment process, and usually we’ve gone on to hire them. Some people might be shocked about how upfront we are about this, but we’re a pretty simple straightforward kind of culture. If this approach isn’t for you (and that’s ok – it doesn’t mean you’re a dick, it just means you’re probably not a Shedder!) then at least you know before you spend any more time going through the process. We don’t want to waste people’s time any more than ours.

I think people get it, because everybody has worked with somebody who has been that pain or that thorn, and everyone suffers because people are slightly afraid to call it out.

It’s very simple: if you’re not actually going to be a committed part of the team, that will come to light in a person’s probation period, and we won’t extend the contract, which is a shame for everyone.

This is where it’s been so important to define our values. We’ve introduced clearly defined expectations along with value scoring as part of our staff reviews. With scoring we can break down all the areas that we’re seeking to assess, and we can give specific feedback about what’s going well, and what needs a bit of work to improve.

We have examples of the expected level of performance, what we expect people to be doing, or how they should be behaving and what meets or exceeds those expectations, and what falls short. We’ve found that this has been helpful because it takes some of the subjectivity out of it and opens up an honest and productive conversation. It also makes it easier for the team to give each other feedback – at The Shed we’re all responsible for helping each other improve – it’s not just down to the line managers.

Where did you start from and how did you come up with these values?

When we were a team of roughly 30 people, the Senior Leadership Team got together and came up with the five values with support from a business coach.

From there I led workshops with everybody so that we could kick them around a bit, get some feedback and suggestions from the rest of the team.

Once we defined the Core Values, we had further workshops with groups of shedders where I asked, ‘what kind of behaviour should we expect, what might exceed expectations, and what do we think is not okay?’

And you’d be amazed at the number of times ‘do your washing up’ came up!

We worked with what we had for a year and then we revisited and refined them. I ran a session in the auditorium where everyone came along and we discussed what was working well, what didn’t work, and what needed to be added. We realised that the original version was quite engineering-specific and a year on we had a wider team with more diverse roles that needed to be reflected so that the examples became more relevant for the whole Shed. It also means that everyone has had a part to play in the framework; it belongs to them and they’re holding themselves accountable to it.

In terms of recruitment, because you’re so upfront with these values and they’ve been built into screening processes, are there more hits than misses these days?

Definitely. It’s actually a really helpful conversation to be having with people when we’re recruiting. Our values are on our website, and we’ve actually recently updated our job descriptions to include them, and we also discuss our Diversity and Inclusion progress.

I’m finding that our values resonate with a huge number of people, and that’s why people are applying to us. People really do buy into it because I think enough people have worked in terrible companies.

So have you had people applying to work at The Shed because they know of these ethical values? How do you think they find out about them?

Oh yes!

For example, we’ve recently taken on a person and I spoke to him about our values. He’d seen them on the website and there’s the number one rule: Don’t be a Dick, and it really resonated with him. He’s only been in the industry for a few years but had already experienced poor behaviours in firms he’s worked for.

People really appreciate the fact that we are upfront about how we function, and I think having that clarity and that honesty is something that people really respond very well to.

In terms of how people are finding out, there’s definitely word of mouth and I think mainly there’s the fact that we actually show it, do it.

We have it all over the website and it’s also part of our recruiting and pack briefing to our agencies, so that they can honestly say: ‘no, this actually is true!’

So, in summary…

What we’ve learned over the years is the importance of being a values-led organisation. You can’t just say you are, you have to live and breathe it, and build it into everything you do, from recruitment to training to your everyday culture.

Embedding values into everything means that people within and outside of your company can see what you stand for; it’s vital for developing the right team.

We’re always learning and helping each other along the way; we think we’re doing OK!

Clare

We’re always on the lookout for clever, driven and passionate people. If our values have resonated with you, and you think you have what it takes to be a Shedder, visit our careers page to check out our current opportunities.

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