Forget output and delivery data, it’s happiness metrics that drive Balaprasanna (Bala) Ethirajalu, Head of Delivery, Poland at Brickendon Consulting.
“I want people to have the same level of excitement when they get to work as they do walking into the cinema after waiting for a movie to be released. We spend 80 percent of our waking life in the workplace. It’s my duty as a leader to create a happy environment to work.”
In DevOps, where success is often measured by the speed in which code is released to a client, it is perhaps surprising to find an emphasis on the joy of work. But for Ethirajalu, when people are happy and enjoy what they do, they deliver their best. You don’t need to motivate them.
The tech industry is creative, he says. But when success is measured purely by output, creativity stops. He calls this the factory mindset — not an ownership mindset — and to overcome it, the remedy is culture.
Brickendon, a transformational management and technology consultancy with expertise in DevOps, data and digital automation, describes Ethirajalu as one of their best software developers and testers. Yet, a conversation with him is dominated not by the latest robotics and his consultants’ coding creds, but it is illuminated by thoughts on creativity, culture and fun.
Ethirajalu joined the company from HSBC seven years ago, when Brickendon was just two years old. As the company has grown and picked up numerous industry awards, he worked through the ranks of senior consultant, senior manager and director.
Brickendon aims to disrupt the consultancy market with the latest machine learning, data analytics and programme delivery. They are achieving this by building a diverse workforce and ditching the round-the-clock culture in favour of creativity. In nine years they have expanded their operations across three continents and now serve clients all around the globe. . Brickendon is not hierarchical and has little bureaucracy — a natural fit for Ethirajalu who thrives in an environment where challenges are solved with fresh, new ideas.
In 2019 he relocated from the London headquarters to Kraków, Poland, to lead the Brickendon Centre of Excellence. There, employees seem used to having a rigid start and stop time with little autonomy. He noticed the factory culture mindset — a corporate step-by-step ‘waterfall’ process dogged by metrics that trickle back to goals set by management. “It was fundamentally different to how I would like the team to operate,” he says.
Unlike other management consultancies, Brickendon’s approach is to take full end-to-end ownership of a build and provide a complete managed service for the client — rather than simply send out headcount for a set period.
“To make a team fully business-driven you can’t work in silos. We need people to take end-to-end ownership,’ says Ethirajalu. ‘That’s what makes the DevOps world special — you take full accountability to see it to completion. Whatever you develop, you are responsible for ensuring it is released and doesn’t break in production.”
But how do you bring in cultural change to people used to working in a regimented process? Cultural change plays with human psychology; we are naturally resistant to change, says Ethirajalu. “You can’t force people to have a change in culture and so it’s very important you don’t rock the boat,”.
Respecting the work ethics of the Polish office and cautious to bring about change slowly, before Ethirajalu made changes he learned employees’ visions and their understanding of the workplace. He achieved this through a series of anonymous feedback surveys — feedback that was at first painful, he says, “but was golden data because it gave a clear target of what I needed to start working on.”
He got to work and solved the team’s top three critical issues. “Now I do the anonymous survey every month and our satisfaction data has gone from three to 4.5.”
Since adopting the end-to-end DevOps approach, in which all the testing, support and dev is integrated, delivery times are faster. The team have never put back a production release date on their apps, have never had a security breach for clients, and clients consistently rate their support five stars. “DevOps is the perfect recipe for a faster time to market,” he says.
But what of the latest technology and software — isn’t that as important? Brickendon implements cutting-edge technology. One example is their latest bot, which filters away 99 percent of client queries then gives one percent of questions to a human. The bot provides support during non-working hours, replacing the 24-hour shift for employees, with a zero percent cost increase.
To support Brickendon’s growth, the company is hiring in London and Poland. Ethirajalu says he wants to work with people prepared to enjoy ownership of their work. When they leave the office each day, he hopes they will feel a sense of accomplishment.
“I want everyone to be happy,” he says. “That’s my job. People have different motivations to be happy at work. Aligning employee needs to the business needs is what inspires me.”
On his happiness: “I come in, enjoy myself and do my best. I’ve enjoyed every single day.”
Each month Ethirajalu studies two sets of data on a graph: the employee satisfaction rating and the productivity rating. When the employee rating goes up the productivity rating goes up. “There is a direct relationship,” he smiles. “That’s why when I see the employee satisfaction metric going up it is the biggest reward for me.”