What Leadership Means To Us At HackerEarth
“If you want your people to think, don’t give instructions, give intent.” – David Marquet, US Navy
A little over a year ago, just as the second wave was picking up, we had an epiphany. Managers, employees, and C-suite folks alike were stressed out. The pandemic raised job uncertainties, and people were worried about the next step in their careers. We decided we had to do something different to take care of our people.
We took feedback from our employees and saw the need to empower our people more. As managers, it is simply not enough to inspire our teams to achieve ambitious goals—and especially, not in the aftermath of a pandemic. We need to equip them with the right tools to be able to actually put in the work. And that’s how we launched our internal leadership program at HackerEarth!
Our objective: To create a strong ‘Leadership’ culture that is baked into the DNA of our company where every single individual feels empowered, accountable to function, and takes decisions as if they were the CEO of the Company.
You don’t need to be in a people manager role to portray leadership qualities. We aim to make leaders out of every single one of us and help them demonstrate strong leadership qualities. By doing this, there is less stress and dependency on the people managers and every individual is in complete charge of their own development needs; be it personal or career-related. As David Marquet said, we don’t want to instruct our people on what to do; we want them to tell us what they intend to do.
How we began to embed a culture of leadership across the company
Communicate the ‘why’
Change is never easy. When it comes to changing the mindsets and behaviors of people, it only becomes harder. We took the time to hold several sessions on what a culture of leadership means, how to inculcate leadership personality behaviors into our day-to-day work schedule, and why this would be beneficial to every single one of us in the company.
Our ‘why’ was that we needed to move away from being a lean team and switch to becoming a mean, efficient team, thus removing unnecessary dependencies on each other. We aim to create leaders on the ground, which would help us achieve this goal.
Reflect on our company values
Before formulating a strategy to embrace a robust leadership culture, we went back to the basics and evaluated the values of HackerEarth. Taking into account questions like: “What are our current leadership values?”, “Do these values align across all departments?”, and “Are they relevant to the direction we want to move in?”, we made a few changes.
From a list of 10 company values, we brought it down to five comprehensive values that align with our goals:
- Don’t be an Asshole
- Team > Me
- Hunger for Excellence
- Disagree and Commit
- Customer Obsession
Introduce leadership personality behaviors
To break down the vast perimeters of the leadership culture concept, we came up with a set of personality traits that are aligned with our values. These traits, or leadership personality behaviors as we call them, provide a uniform language and understanding for all of us across HackerEarth and every newly hired person, on what we mean when we talk about demonstrating ‘leadership’ in our company.
This is a good time to note that cultivating this culture is a behavioral change. It is transformational. It can be slow, and that’s okay as long as we all consciously and mindfully adapt to this change and real-time influence it for our people. This is a way of life, which you take onward, even beyond HackerEarth, in your personal and professional life.
Encourage our people to think like leaders
When we thought about empowering our employees with the power to take decisions on their own, we were heavily inspired by this video—Greatness, by David Marquet. The key takeaways that informed our strategy were:
- Switching from giving instructions to giving intent
- Giving control
- Moving authority to where the information is
Refraining from blindly instructing your team members to take action, and encouraging them to come up with their own solutions leads to creative outcomes. They will feel a sense of ownership of their work, be more accountable, and prone to taking initiative more often.
Trust your people by giving them the freedom to do what they think is right. Also, when you do this, you’re moving the authority right where the information is—employees who may be the authority on that particular project get to decide the course of action as they are in the best position to know what to do.
Some changes we made to ensure we ‘walk the talk’
A team-wide shift in OKRs to include evaluation of leadership behaviors
Leadership behaviors and performance go hand-in-hand. We need our people to be aligned with this mindset, thereby driving a culture of high performance. Depending on how well each employee demonstrates leadership behaviors while upholding our company values, they will be given a rating of either A, B, or C where A is the highest. This coupled with their quarterly goals makes for the final evaluation.
Introduced ‘people metrics’ for all people manager OKRs
All managers will carry people metrics on their OKRs. We also run a quarterly manager survey and an annual 360-degree performance review of each manager to better understand and act upon the feedback as given by the teams under their leadership. Other people metrics include:
- Attrition % – 25% annual
- Happiness survey score > 4.2
- Manager survey score > 4.2
- 360-degree annual performance review
Started a manager-centric onboarding process
Holding an onboarding session for all new and first-time managers helps them understand our new approach to leadership. We equip them with a toolkit that has information on all the actions to be taken in the people management aspects of the role—focusing mainly on how to engage with their team and extend authority to them.
Increased transparency by sharing headcount and attrition information
Another important way of demonstrating leadership behavior is by sharing company information openly. I see to it myself that our monthly headcount and attrition statistics are sent across to every individual in the organization.
Emulating leadership behaviors has been my personal mantra and has elevated, not only the quality of my professional journey but also my personal life. I like to think this is the legacy we leave with you as a company—empowering our people to think like leaders in whatever they do. And I hope, this shift in mindset will remain with every individual who works with us so they get to take it with them wherever they go.
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