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Video Transcript

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Electric’s Advice During Uncertain Times: Invest in Your Culture

Some say that the only constant in life is change. That may be true, but often what’s more important than the change itself is how we react. We all go through life trying to manage change (albeit with varying degrees of success), so we can better cope with it, learn from it, and adapt. Like individuals, organizations can learn the same “life skill,” so that change is not only less disruptive, but it also becomes a measure of organizational health that can lead to success.

Sometimes, it takes a pandemic

Times of sudden change, like during the COVID-19 crisis, are especially tough on everyone. Most companies are scrambling to figure out their “new normal;” employees and teams are struggling to adjust to a dramatically different day-to-day. Despite a myriad of challenges, the business still depends on everyone staying productive, collaborative, and efficient while working remotely. How can weathering sudden, radical change be less painful for all?

There’s a lot of helpful advice these days around how to set up and optimize a fully remote workplace. These tactical steps are important, but they don’t always address the intangible needs of an organization. Culture — the shared mindset, practices, and experiences that define a group of people — can either add friction or fuel positive outcomes in the face of change.

For Electric, a remote IT solution provider, it all starts with developing a culture that thrives on change. I find their model and methods both impressive and inspiring.

Electric makes agility a top priority

I recently met up with Yotam Hadass, VP of Engineering at Electric, to hear more about his perspective on remote work and operational agility. Electric provides online IT solutions for small to medium-sized businesses with anywhere from a dozen to several hundred employees. Their 100% remote service integrates with customers’ Slack or Microsoft Teams and provides real-time helpdesk support for a wide range of IT issues, including hardware, software, network, and security.

Since the pandemic hit, Electric has seen a new wave of customers who are under pressure to move their IT operations online and need extra guidance and support to navigate such unfamiliar territory. These conversations are a natural part of Electric’s close customer relationships, which stem from the company’s commitment to feedback and dialog — key components of its culture.

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A holistic approach to engineering ops

Feedback and dialog also play an important role in keeping the engineering organization energized and continuously improving. Electric’s concept of operational agility is based on lean development — the classic build/measure/learn loop that drives product development. The same thinking can be applied to operations. An operation only works well if you continue to learn from it and iterate on it. This is where Electric’s culture shines.

At Electric, an operation is defined as a combination of specific processes, the value that they bring to the organization, and the team experience of implementing them (as well as tooling, technology, and similar considerations). An operation is a team’s best practice of doing a thing at a particular moment. How they do it or why they do it may change in the future, but the current best practice represents the team’s shared knowledge and agreement as it stands today.

In the engineering arena, an operation may focus on agile development, roadmap planning, tech debt elimination, developer experience, continuous delivery — basically any topic that impacts a team’s ability to deliver upon their goals.

Finding the balance between structure and freedom

Typically, organizations approach operations in one of two polar opposite ways. Either team practices and workflows are mandated from senior management; everyone must adhere to the same, prescribed path. This can cause a sense of frustration in some individuals, and it can impose a rigidity that doesn’t serve all teams or needs well. Or conversely, nothing is mandated and every team does whatever works for them, which creates inconsistency between teams and can hinder collaboration. In most cases, operations get set up, become fixed, and rarely change.

Electric aims for the middle ground. They’ve established a collaborative process that empowers special best practice teams, called “councils” who function as caretakers of their particular operation. Run by volunteers who are passionate about the topic, these councils meet regularly to gather feedback, discuss ideas, define, and iterate on best practices for that operation. They make sure that input comes from the entire organization and not just one or two people’s opinions or experiences. The result: org-wide alignment that still leaves room for autonomy and innovation.

Yotam Hadass says “Our overall goal is to operate as best as we know how as a team, learn from each other, and continue to improve the process on all fronts.” At Electric, every major operation remains a living, evolving dimension of the organization that can adjust easily as things change. This collective focus on continuous improvement feeds back into the company’s culture.

We’ll go into more depth with Yotam on operational agility in an upcoming Code[ish] podcast.

There’s gold in customer feedback and dialog

Learning doesn’t just happen within teams. Electric has built a robust feedback loop with customers that enables them to grow their service and business. Beginning with customer onboarding, a dedicated implementation team follows a structured process that works closely with customers from initial needs assessment to training. Much of this happens as a series of conversations about what IT means to a particular customer’s organization and how Electric can support their unique configurations and workflows.

Once up and running, customer success teams check in with customers regularly to help solve problems or gather new learnings. The service itself is also a source of feedback as real-time conversations happen with employees in a helpdesk chat channel.

Sometimes, this customer dialog surfaces new insights that can influence the product roadmap. Says Yotam, “Customer feedback has really shaped our product. We learn so much from our customers. Instead of just having a rigid idea of how things should work and forcing it on customers, we are able to use our learnings to make better product decisions.”

Recently, Electric has taken inspiration from their internal best practice teams and created the Electric Insider Council. This group is made up of a cross-section of customers that come together to have a discussion with the Electric team about what works, what doesn’t, areas of improvement, and more. Any and all feedback is encouraged, and the Electric team allows the customers’ voices to shape how they think about their product.

Investing in culture builds resiliency

Call it agility, flexibility, or just plain openness — Electric embraces change as a driving force behind what makes everyone successful, be it the engineers and teams or the business and its customers. Investing in a culture of continuous improvement builds resiliency. So when the unexpected happens, like a global pandemic, there are processes and a shared mindset in place to adjust as an organization without skipping a beat.

From this perspective, Yotam can even see a silver lining during these times of enforced work from home. He says, “When everyone is remote, the playing field is level. Everyone has an equal chance to participate and be heard, rather than some being left out of in-office conversations.” This sense of equality and inclusivity further enhances a culture that’s already deeply rooted in dialog.

Some of these ideas may feel obvious, but they are so easy to forget in a fast-paced organization. Electric has really made their culture of continuous improvement and innovation a reality. We can learn a lot from them during these uncertain times and beyond.

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