Will Radical Agility Solve The War on Tech Talent?

By Eric Bowman

Freezing employee’s eggs, unlimited holidays and free meals, these are some perks that companies nowadays feel they are required to offer their teams and stand out from the crowd. But is that really what techies want?

In simple terms; no it’s not.

Yes, football tables, limitless frappucinos, and nap pods all sound exciting, especially to millennials fresh out of college, but ultimately if you want to attract the best global tech talent, you have to start with the culture.

Let me start by telling you the story of what happened at the Zalando Tech department. In late 2014, we were in trouble. The tech team was unhappy with the current structure of top-down management, morale was low and recruitment numbers were at a standstill. What we needed was an internal culture shift, not only in the way we worked, but how systems were being built too.

We collected culture ideas from various sources (Holacracy, the Agile movement and Daniel Pink’s Drive), taking the strongest elements and infusing these together to create Radical Agility, which was introduced to the technology team in March 2015.

Radical Agility, at its core, is trying to solve the elusive problem of scaling without losing productivity. It leverages the autonomy of great people, working closely together, achieving mastery over time, and always working towards a joint purpose that the company is communicating throughout the organization. Radical Agility focuses on both organizational and technical standards that predominantly put a spotlight on how teams can build systems that scale and adapt over time.

Over a year on and Radical Agility has really revolutionized the way Zalando approaches technology. We all know that it is hard to attract and retain great talent, especially with big companies in Silicon Valley offering perks that smaller companies cannot afford to implement. But, what techies really want is the freedom to learn, create and develop: ultimately they are problem solvers. More than anything, people want to do a role that has meaning and purpose. Our job applications at Zalando Tech have tripled over three years to over 2,200 per month. As well as this, we have seen a 50% growth in our tech team (from 600 in 2014 to 1,350 employees by the first-half of 2016), and unwanted attrition in 2015 approximately 35% lower than it was in 2014.

As we continue to scale Radical Agility across our seven European Zalando Tech hubs, we know that making this radical change was the right decision. It is continuing to attract senior developers from global tech companies, as well as pulling in those sought-after engineers from around the world.

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