Workplace culture is instrumental in driving behaviors that make the workforce effective; a company’s culture is determined by its leadership. Catalysts, a large individual software supplier in Austria, believes that innovative solutions require high flexibility, a flat hierarchy and innovative working methods.
In their offices, everyone can get involved and actively participate in decisions and the employees change their seats every week. We asked Patrick Haebig, the Branch Manager at the Linz Office, about how they decentralize knowledge and make experts visible in their everyday life and also talked about growth, events and the digital future.
BFY: You are the Branch Manager at Catalysts in Linz. What does a Branch Manager do exactly?
PH: The Branch Managers are internally called location leaders. They are responsible for all the organizational tasks that come up in a location. They care about the utilization of existing employees and need a good overview of the project landscape to bring new colleagues into the company. Of course, they also need to make sure the locations develop nicely and that we have enough resources and office space to ensure continuous growth.
BFY: You have been working at the company for more than 4 years now. How would you describe the culture at the beginning and now, after a couple of years?
PH: From a company being around 100 employees in 3 offices we grew to over 350 people in 16 offices and several countries. Of course, it changed and I am glad about it. But, culture-wise, we still have the same core values. We are still this group of people who want to get something going and learn from each other, we would like to accelerate others, we give and want to receive fast feedback and we dislike waste. It’s getting harder to really know everyone in person as well, even if that’s important to us.
BFY: You are a well-received speaker at many conferences and other happenings. What are the main topics that you talk about at these events? Why is it important, in your point of view, to share some insights with other companies and communities as well?
PH: It all started off some time ago when people visited our office in Linz (Digital Future Space) and I briefly showed them around and explained how we work and why we do certain things differently. Anyone could come to see us and typically visitors asked questions: I tried to answer as many as possible. There are no secrets, we love to talk about us. Fortunately, I was asked to talk about our culture, values and everyday life more and more often. If someone would like to take up an idea for his or her own company or department, that’s a great thing and we would feel proud. To be honest, I see that many things at Catalysts are hard to implement into other existing organizations. We had been well known for our cultural specialties for some time already. The events and happenings, on the one hand, help us to stay visible as a company; on the other hand, it makes us proud if someone can successfully integrate an idea, a cultural trait or a procedure into his/her own company.
BFY: At the first Employer Branding Day in Linz, organized by Gerd Liegerer in 2018, you talked about events at the company which the employees gladly attend; can you tell us in more detail what Wissenspritzen and Get inspired by Catalysts are?
PH: Wissenspritzen are very short presentations about a book, a technology, a lesson learned from a project, a mistake that one wants to share with close colleagues. It’s internal: anyone can, but nobody must attend. (Generally, that’s also part of our meeting culture. No one has to attend a meeting if he or she can’t contribute anything beneficial or if it’s simply irrelevant.)
So the goal is just to spread knowledge. Usually, a “Wispri” doesn’t last longer than 10-15min with a short Q&A afterward and we record and stream them so that our colleagues in other locations can benefit from them as well.
Get inspired by Catalysts or “GibC” events are orientated towards external delegations. That can be potential or existing clients but also entire school classes with teachers or a group of university students with their professors that come and visit us. Some get a deep dive into a certain technology or topic, while some want a general overview of what we do and how we do it. As the name says, we have had very satisfying outcomes as those events really inspire the visitors.
BFY: At Catalysts, you regularly organize hackathons in order to find and win the best talent in software development. How successful is this initiative - how can you measure it? Can you share with us your best experiences regarding this?
PH: I have to correct you on this. We do not organize hackathons but coding contests. Hackathons usually have a broad topic that an individual or team has to work on within a day or two. It’s rather a creative approach, but not necessarily bound to coding. A business case with a presentation could win a hackathon. In a coding contest, that’s different. In our case, you get a well-defined description of a problem and 4 hours of time, and the only thing that counts is the solution. The problem is broken down into 6-8 levels that get harder and harder. So the first who finds the solutions to all levels wins (or the one who gets furthest within those 4 hours).
The main goal for us as a company is to challenge and promote coding talents. Many participants include their rankings in CVs and become more valuable. For us as a company, it showed that participants doing well are a very good fit for our company. It’s a mindset that expects challenges and we have great challenges in our everyday work.
BFY: You wrote above: "we do certain things differently." How would you describe the specialty of your community at Catalysts?
PH: It’s hard for me to cook it down into a few words. We really like to work in an agile way. I know many companies talk about it. Here it seems to be real. We work in self-organized scrum teams. We are fast decision-makers. We don’t work with budgets. We eliminate waste. We take care of each other. And we have tons and tons of internal processes and habits that make Catalysts a special place. And no, we are not lying around and playing all day. It’s the mindset of people that makes this work environment special. It’s an incredibly tough job to keep it that way and demands a lot of discipline.
BFY: You have worked in multiple companies and industries: what are the secret ingredients for employee retention in your experience?
PH: Honesty and trust, a possibility to grow, responsibility and leaders that enable and support rather than command and control.
BFY: Looking to the future: How will the job market develop from your perspective?
PH: It’s going to get tough. In general, unemployment rates will rise in Europe. Certain industries and companies will have trouble to overcome the next years. They relied on their market shares for too long without adapting and re-inventing themselves regularly. Asia will continue to develop itself rapidly. Highly-skilled software developers will be needed more and more. Educational systems and organizations will have to adapt and rapidly develop themselves in Europe to be well prepared for the digital future.