Our Cloud Technology Lead Caoimhin shares his experience of what makes Kainos special
I’ve worked for Kainos for quite a while (in my case since 2006 straight from placement year at University) but that’s not that unusual amongst my colleagues – we tend to be in it for the long haul. As an architect within Kainos since 2012, I’ve been building digital service platforms on public cloud hosting high-profile services impacting the citizens of the UK – from people registering to vote, patients ordering repeat prescriptions through the NHS App or farmers claiming subsidy payments – and I love what I do.
Now, every company likes to think that they’re unique, that their culture is special, and at Kainos we’re no different. I’ve heard it all since 2006, from colleagues, our leadership team and customers. We make a pretty big deal about it internally, so I’m minded to reflect on what precisely makes our culture so different? And what could other organisations learn from this?
TL;DR: It turns out the answer is pretty simple: we put our people first and where we don’t get it right first time, we’re humble enough to adjust things as we go so that we can support and help each other.
By putting people first, I mean in everything that we do, not just in isolated decisions. This includes things like building in feedback loops for our staff, rewarding them fairly for work undertaken and aligning our policies to put people – not resources – at the heart of our business.
This can start small; as small as simply referring to people as people. Often as an industry we’re tempted through convention to refer to our colleagues as resources. But at Kainos we call people people. Aside from being super impersonal, nothing says ‘you’re a number’ like referring to someone as a resource. We made this change quite a number of years ago and set up a ‘resource swear jar’ to help embed the change with all donations going to charity (obviously). Follow this through and you’ll realise Human Resources is an equally impersonal name for the team supporting your people. We renamed our Human Resources department to People Support to better reflect the function they perform.
The point here is that this focus on people should permeate everything in your business – even simple decisions like what you name things. This should also be a continual process as you adjust your policies to reflect the needs of your people.
As an employee for a company that does this, it’s fantastic. A great example is my recent experience of accessing Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Because Kainos regularly reviews our people policies to ensure diversity, inclusion and equality, I was able to benefit from changes to our SPL policy when my wife was expecting our second son.
When informing People Support of my intent to take Paternity Leave they took me through all of the detail and then – knowing my circumstances – asked if I had considered taking SPL. I didn’t know much about it to begin with by they explained everything to me and in the end I was able to take 5 months off (on full pay) to support my family, as our SPL policy had been adjusted to ensure that as a Dad, my SPL was equivalent to Maternity leave.
So Kainos paid me to take 5 months off to spend with my family. They’ve also supported me through two country relocations and the inevitable personal challenges that we all face at some point…
Now that this is starting to sound a little preachy, I should qualify that like every company, we have faced our share of challenges. Since I joined in 2006, we have grown from just over 150 people to now approaching 2000. Much of what worked for us as a smaller company now no longer works at this scale and the inevitable challenge of ‘scaling’ continues. That’s why it’s so important that our People Support team continue to adjust our policies and our approach to better reflect the needs of our growing organisation.
As a global organisation, the kind of working culture our colleagues prefer naturally varies across regions, so as a result we don’t try to control that, but just ensure that we all align to our common company values. And living those values comes from the top, as our leadership team have demonstrated over the last year through our response to COVID-19. The honesty, transparency and moral grounding of decisions on their impact to our people has been remarkable.
So on reflection, our success isn’t driven so much by our culture rather than our culture is driven by our people. The success just happens around this, and is the reason why I’ll no doubt still be here in another 15 years…