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How to Create a Corporate Culture That Attracts and Retains Talent

Scaling Team
Company Culture
Diversity

26 May, 2021

Kiranbir Sodhia
Kiranbir Sodhia

Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft

Kiranbir Sodhia, Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft, shares how he established a culture for his organization while going through its massive growth period.

Problem

One of the things that I pride myself on having done over the last couple of years was establishing a culture for my organization as it was going through massive growth. When I started my team at Microsoft, it was pretty small. With only four people, it quickly grew to eight in the first year and a half. Since it was the early part of the new product and program, we mainly had senior engineers. We brought in some of the most talented folks we could find. And when you bring in different people from different organizations, they bring different cultures, organizational values, and attitudes.

As the saying goes, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Luckily, we were still able to execute our first program despite the cultural differences. It turns out that when we were starting to expand and grow our team for new programs, I realized that we had to bring in junior people. Again, the juniors may not have the same maturity level to deal with different attitudes and cultures, and it was also not the right culture to draw in new talent. How do I draw in new talent in my organization where we did not have a defined culture, and someone is thrown into the deep end to interact with members?

Actions taken

I started defining some of the issues and the guidelines for how I wanted them to behave as a team member. I came by finalized with the key points that I still use five years later: the idea of trust and autonomy. It could be a rephrase of how to avoid micromanagement at work and empower people to do their best. It all starts with trusting people to do their best work. When a new person joins our team, I give them autonomy, trusting them to do it to the best of their abilities.

The second big step was to come up with the idea that everyone gets a turn. When we only had senior engineers, there was always a hot item getting all the attention and visibility. Everyone wanted to work on that, and what I saw was that someone, in particular, might do well in that area.

Now the problem is, if I assigned one person to work on a particular area, they were the only ones who were going to be growing, and everybody else would be missing their opportunity to shine. We made a rule that no matter how good of a job someone did or how visible their task was, they needed to give someone else an opportunity for visibility and growth.. We needed all our teammates to learn and grow and have the visibility that they deserved.

Finally, I needed our team members to be humble. While some of the junior engineers were shadowing the senior engineers, the seniors remained humble. They were not fighting with the other team members for cool work or debating. For instance, I would give them the smallest of the task, and they would take it like it was the most important task. I wanted everyone to know that everything we did regardless of complexity was important.

Lessons learned

  • Trust that even when team members make mistakes, they learn from them. If you give them the trust and autonomy.
  • Not everyone will be able to deliver autonomously. However, a manager’s job is to coach them to the point where they can deliver independently.
  • If you have a specific culture in your organization, practice it strongly, and you will find that the new members will adopt it. New members can’t break a strong culture and team, they learn to fit in it.

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