Stay ahead of the competition or get buried – it’s as simple as that. As leading technology companies around the world have shown, to compete in today’s world companies need to be smarter, react faster, and maintain a militant focus on creating a wonderful consumer experience. Last month, rewards technology leader FreeCause announced an aggressive initiative impacting the entire 60-person company – their CEO is challenging all employees to learn how to code in 2012. The “Codinization Project”, as FreeCause CEO Michael Jaconi has named it, seeks to empower all FreeCause employees with the ability to contribute to the products and technology that FreeCause builds. Inspired by parent company Rakuten and their Englishnization initiative, the FreeCause team believes a revolutionary initiative like their Codinization Project is a great way to improve collaboration between departments, differentiate employees’ skillsets, attract great engineers, and to underscore the company’s dedication to building great technology.
Michael Jaconi provides more insight into FreeCause’s Codinization Project, how it is bringing employees together, and how clients and their consumers will benefit from it.
What is the inspiration for the Codinization Project?
There are several. First, Rakuten, our Japanese parent company, has been tremendously successful in pursuing its “Englishnization Initiative” in which Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten Founder and CEO, is having the entire 12,000-person workforce learn English. Rakuten’s dedication and their success with this initiative showed our team that with the right training and effort, we, too, could push ourselves to new heights that before seemed impossible.
Second, as we grow and study top performing Internet companies, it is clear that the best companies set themselves apart because of the superior technology they build. Our Codinization Project is the challenging and revolutionary step we are taking to become a “better” technology company. This effort will equip more of our employees with the tools to better understand and contribute to the support, sales, enhancement and/or development of our products.
Finally, we are doing this for our employees. The project will bring people together, and in fact, it already has! Our mentorship/buddy program combines engineers and non-technical employees – fostering more communication across departments. For the non-technical employees, the transferrable skills they will have after this initiative will differentiate them from those they’re competing with for jobs in the future. For the engineers, it gives them the opportunity to share the amazing skillset they possess – and the opportunity to educate is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. Based on the enthusiasm and initial collaboration we have seen from the team, we believe this effort will ultimately build a stronger bond between all of us – specifically, the business and technical sides of the company.
Is every FreeCause employee expected to participate in the Codinization Project?
Yes, all employees will participate in the Codinization Project. That goes for me, the entire executive team, our sales, marketing, accounting, and human resources departments, and even our interns. Our engineers will participate by serving as our coaches and tutors. This cross-departmental communication and including the engineers in the process will create a “unifying challenge”. The teamwork it will foster will be another benefit from the project.
What organizational issues are you trying to address with this initiative?
The project directly speaks to our larger mission – which is to “inspire loyalty through innovation”. To continue to innovate, we need to focus on building the best technology that we can dream up. The better we equip our entire team to understand the intricacies of our platforms and our products, the more intelligent we can be with every element of our business – from planning, to client communications, to implementation, and customer support. By creating a deeper understanding of the technology we build, all FreeCause employees will elevate the quality of their dialogue and inherent understanding of why our products do what they do.
Our implementation of this initiative will require our technical employees to participate, give lessons, tutor, and educate their non-technical counterparts. By doing this, our hypothesis is that we will increase communication and collaboration, and in turn, create a healthier workplace. The feedback I have received from our engineers is that they are looking forward to the opportunity to participate – to educate their peers and share their knowledge and skills.
And lastly, it’s about resources. If we all learn the basics of programming – and if we all have the ability to contribute – we can free engineers from some of the mundane tasks they are given, allowing them to focus more on innovation rather than stagnation and maintenance.
What was the reaction of your employees?
The response from employees has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic! As we learned from Rakuten with their Englishnization Initiative, people welcome a challenge. I think a great majority of people in the working world crave the opportunity to “learn something new” and our employees’ response to our effort illustrates this. The non-technical employees immediately began sharing what their goals were and what they hoped to learn from the project – new skills, better understanding of our products, the chance to work closer with our engineering team. It has already surpassed my expectations for engaging the entire team and bringing everyone together. We just need to keep that level of engagement and enthusiasm consistent moving forward.
How will you keep employees engaged throughout the project?
The workload that is outlined for the employees will be approximately 4-6 hours a month. We are working closely with an innovative startup company called Codecademy which offers online programming training courses. Codecademy has a variety of ways by which employees can monitor their progress and additional tools to motivate employees as they increase their aptitude. As a company, we will also ensure each non-technical employee is teamed up with an engineer who will serve as a buddy or mentor. We expect that having someone in the office to speak with and ask questions of will keep employees engaged throughout the training. We will also hold company update meetings, like our recent Codinization Lunch, to discuss our collective progress, review what is coming up, answer any questions, and collect employee feedback. We are striving to be as transparent as possible throughout the entire process, and we have encouraged employees to share their thoughts and issues regarding the project. Lastly, we also plan on incorporating a few fun activities and celebrations as we continue to progress through the project, ensuring the initiative is both educational and enjoyable.
How will you measure success of the Codinization Project?
We will work with every employee individually to ensure they are on track and understand the various lessons within the Codecademy framework. Important milestones and regular all-company updates will ensure the company is on schedule, and if and when employees are having difficulty, we will provide support from our engineering team to solidify their understanding and help them forge on with the education. Also, because Codecademy allows Custom Course Creation, as the company progresses throughout the project, we will have our engineers build more sophisticated tests that are relevant to the FreeCause technology. Our goal, by the end of the year, is to have all FreeCause employees build a feature or component for use within the FreeCause platform.
In the end, we expect our employees’ understanding of technology, the improved collaboration between departments, and the company’s improved efficiencies to be the true measure of the Codinization Project’s success.
But, a cool app or two would be a wonderful cherry on top!