by Jessica A. Mitsch

What company leadership can learn from coders about communication

Dec 20, 2016
CareersTechnology Industry

Developers know that clearer code is easier to read, use, and contribute to. The same principle can be applied to every department of your business

computer programmer or hacker
Credit: Thinkstock

I have the great pleasure of working for a company with a high growth trajectory, in a high growth industry. We’ve grown from 20 employees to more than 130 since 2013, so we spend a lot of time talking about onboarding new employees and company culture.

Creating a welcoming environment is important for all organizations, but for our company, it’s a necessity. We have a geographically dispersed team and have grown that team quickly. In order for us to maintain our organizational values as we grow and ensure our team points toward the same north star, we must have a strong, consistent company culture.

Not only is our company culture essential to the day-to-day happiness and experience of our team, it also affects our brand externally. We want everyone who walks in to meet with our staff — whether it’s in Las Vegas or Greenville, SC — to have the same experience, understand what makes our organization exciting, and walk away knowing why we do what we do. We have to be diligent to ensure there’s a consistent culture that doesn’t get lost in translation across cities.

Breaking the culture code

Management teams are keenly aware of how important and how difficult getting new team members up to speed can be. Anyone joining a new team faces a learning curve, and the entire company will benefit if that curve is settled on a small hill instead of a steep mountain. After all, a new team member’s first few weeks on the job are critical to setting them up for success, and according to SHRM data, most new hires determine in the first 30 days if they feel welcome in an organization.

In both my role as executive director at The Iron Yard and in the conversations I have with the companies that hire our graduates, the topic of creating a culture that’s easy to walk into and lowers the daunting learning curve for new hires comes up time and time again.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how being intentional with the language we use helps create an inclusive work environment. Being intentional with our language choices can also be applied to building a company culture that is welcoming to new hires, and we can start by creating a company vernacular that doesn’t need a handbook.

In that respect, I believe company leaders have a lot to learn from coders. Developers — especially those who contribute to open source projects — know that having a structure that enables others to easily understand the code and contribute is important. There is agreed-upon language and documentation with the goal of removing ambiguity to align all parties involved.

Rules for communicating clearly

How many of us have walked into a meeting with a new team and heard a sentence that sounds like this:

“You’ll want to talk to the RDO and SME in that COE to make sure what you’re asking aligns with their KPIs and MITs for this quarter.”

As a new hire in that meeting, you have two options: stop the conversation and ask someone to translate, or smile and nod until you figure it out yourself.

To make things even more complicated for new team members, in today’s modern workplace, many of these conversations are happening virtually. Those acronym-ridden messages are being passed around in Slack channels, emails, or remote conferencing. We’re more able than ever to work collaboratively across cities and time zones, but we’ve also expanded the possibilities for important information to get lost in translation.

Why don’t we all just speak in plain English? What if you didn’t have to learn a new set of company acronyms every time you started a new job or Google words in a meeting to understand what others are saying, especially when what they’re saying is really quite simple? Does it really make us seem smarter if we’re able to regurgitate acronyms?

Take for example the sentence above. All we really mean to say is:

“Let’s go talk to the director and experts in that department to make sure what we’re working on aligns with their goals for this quarter.”

My personal challenge is to avoid the acronym temptation and get in a better habit of speaking clearly. To use the word “expert” instead of “SME” or “subject matter expert.” It’s a small change, but it’s something we can do to make our work cultures more approachable and lower that steep learning curve, even if it’s just a little bit.

Developers know that the more clear you are in your lines of code and repository documentation the easier it is for other people to read your code, contribute and use it. The same principle can be applied to every department of your business.

So as we start 2017, let’s all try to think like developers. By being clear in our communication and prioritizing an accessible company culture, we’ll all see the benefits.