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When, after leaving university in the mid-2000s, I started working as an engineer, I couldn’t even imagine what more can be done beyond creating “great technical solutions”. I was a typical naive college student, but perhaps many, and out of technical universities like me, have probably gone through this stage of attitude development.
Then entering the world of work, depending on what kind of cultural environment a person gets into, to some degree it becomes clear to most that there are other aspects. I think I was lucky because my colleagues at the time showed me very quickly how to feel about these aspects, especially business aspects, and I also got very good examples of how great impact the attitudes towards others, especially colleagues can have on success and quality of time spent at work.
From this community I started a decade and a half ago, we are still working together with several others at Hiflylabs, a company which we built to be friendly and open, that cares about people and is based on the need for cooperation and mutual development.
Previously, our company size did not justify it either, but now, even with more than 100 employees, we insist that we do not create a dedicated HR team. Dealing with colleagues is considered a core business of the organization. The most important role in this is played by our mentoring system, in which each colleague has a mentor. Mentor and mentee relationships can be imaged in a tree structure.
The mentor is responsible for making the colleague feel comfortable in the company, both professionally and personally. There are a few key rules our mentors to follow:
- They are always available for the mentee.
- They keep paying attention to the mentee (Overwhelmed? Bored? Not in the mood? On a difficult project?).
- Because they are closest to the mentees organizationally, they can identify arising problems early. They are treated to handle these situations to the best of their knowledge, and if they need help, they escalate up the mentoring tree or to an organizational leader.
- The flow of information is reversed from top to bottom. They ensure that leadership messages reach everyone, even to corners of the company where colleagues are working on external projects.
Mentor colleagues consciously take the time to monitor the mentee’s professional development. Although we believe in continuous (and two-way) feedback, we also created a formal, quarterly evaluation system many years ago, where mentees can tell how they felt in the last quarter, what difficulties they had, what successes they achieved, they are tired or enthusiastic, looking for a new project or would like to continue the same way. The mentor also gives feedback, assesses how well the goals set in the previous quarterly evaluation have been achieved, and formulates goals for the next period. These events are also attended by the so-called career manager, who on the one hand helps the mentor to smooth the mentee’s long-term career path from a bird’s eye view, and on the other hand, supports the mentor and ensures that he / she fulfills his / her mentoring role properly.
Managing this mentoring structure is not without challenges, as it also depends on the mentor’s experience, ability and current workload, how well he/she can fulfill this supporting role. However, all of this in an ever-changing project organization like ours poses even more challenges. A colleague who is close to his or her mentor on a particular project because his or her mentor is the professional leader of that particular project may be taken elsewhere by the next project. We have worked out several possible solutions for this situation over the years. On the one hand, in the mentor-mentee relationship, we had to allow for the possibility of change. If a colleague temporarily changes the project team, double mentoring can help (the professional manager of the new project also takes responsibility for the colleague), and in case of longer-term rearrangement, we change mentors, as “remotely” it is very difficult to perform mentoring tasks. Therefore, career leaders ensure progression in mentee’s life.
In Hiflylabs, anyone can be a mentor. If someone’s personality and motivations make them open to the subject, and they already have enough experience professionally to be able to support others in this sense, it is a typical step of development for us that they can become a mentor (the first step of which is typically mentoring an intern or junior colleague). It was extremely motivating to experience when it first happened that one of our interns became a mentor while he was still an intern. Of course, the mentor of our mentor trainee (that was me, many years ago 😊) had to pay attention to whether everything was going well, but it was very worth the trust. Today, this colleague is one of the professional leaders of the company and has “raised” a lot of younger (sometimes older) colleagues in recent years.
Just to make the orders of magnitude perceptible: in our company of just over 100 people, approx. there are 20-25 mentors, and three of us from the management, including myself, are in charge of career management. As a mentor, we also keep an eye on the side: there are regular consultations, if someone gets caught because maybe a mentor is distracted, someone notices it somewhere else in our mentoring network and we help each other.
And what do mentees benefit from all this? Personal attention and continuous improvement. Everyone can expect that some pay attention to them, are curious about them, “think about them”. They have someone they can ventilate, someone who jumps in front of them to protect and support if a boulder rolls down the hill on which they are moving upwards. But they can also be sure that there is a system that initiates a gradual, painless, but sometimes inconvenient push of the limits of their abilities, as this is the key to everyone’s development.
To maintain our mentoring system, we sometimes have to make sacrifices: we may have to give up available profit to allow time for mentoring, or give up the promotion of colleagues who are not yet ready to become mentors in terms of soft skills. However, we feel that these sacrifices are well worth it because our team is held together by a strong network that would withstand even more severe difficulties than we have had to face so far.
We are one of the leading data companies in Hungary and our mobile / web application development division is also growing extremely dynamically (we doubled our volume last year and this year as well). We strive to create a workplace where it’s good to come in, where colleagues can be successful professionals and which is commercially successful.
Author: Tamás Fehér – CEO