Innovation Growth, Not Grind: Software Companies Must Cultivate Healthier Cultures To Survive Jeremy Duvall Forbes Councils Member Forbes Technology Council COUNCIL POST Expertise from Forbes Councils members, operated under license. Opinions expressed are those of the author. | Membership (fee-based) Aug 9, 2022, 08:15am EDT | Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Linkedin Founder of 7Factor Software , a cloud-native software solutions company.
getty About a year and a half ago, I burned out. It wasn’t because I was working 90-hour weeks in the classic “hustle-and-grind” scenario. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked a 90-hour week in my life.
But the overwhelming pressure attached to running my company, 7Factor, was taking its toll. There was just so much going on—and so much pressure to make the right decisions both for my teams and the company as a whole. Burnout happens, especially to founders.
It makes sense since starting a business means doing everything yourself and shouldering all the burdens, at least at the beginning. But many burned-out founders consider their exhaustion a point of pride, the ultimate evidence of their true dedication to the cause. When we carry around our burnout like a badge of honor, we perpetuate the false idea that founders must grind themselves into dust in order to be successful.
And that belief ultimately creates a culture of burnout that extends to employees as well as the products and services your company offers. MORE FOR YOU Google Issues Warning For 2 Billion Chrome Users Forget The MacBook Pro, Apple Has Bigger Plans Google Discounts Pixel 6, Nest & Pixel Buds In Limited-Time Sale Event Grind culture isn’t just bad for people—it’s bad for software development because code isn’t written by robots for a simulation. It’s written by and for people to solve real-world problems and make life easier, even if only in some small way.
A toxic environment encourages bad habits that turn into defective code (the very opposite of what we’re going for). It takes one to recruit one. Grind culture has also turned into a recruiting problem.
Software engineers are getting tired of the toxicity, and they’re uneager to repeat the process all over again at another company. The matter becomes more pressing (and competitive) when you consider that The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects software employment to increase by 22% by 2030, the same year, the talent shortage could lead to 85. 2 million unfilled jobs .
But do we have a developer shortage on our hands, or are we just blind to real talent? To what degree are we letting the wrong values—along with a host of other prejudices—guide our decision making only to let some of the best engineers get away? There’s good news for those vying for top talent. A healthy workplace culture has a handy way of both attracting and retaining great people—the people who will live and grow the culture with you. The opposite is also true: A toxic culture attracts toxic people who will continue to uphold its key tenets.
Cultivate a non-toxic culture. So how do we escape the hustle mentality? Think of software development as a process similar to gardening. Both are organic processes that start with the bare earth.
If you fertilize the soil, plant the seed, ensure proper lighting and exposure and keep up with the watering, you can reasonably expect to grow a plant that bears fruit, along with a new set of seeds to cultivate. By nurturing people, ideas and relationships, you can similarly create ecosystems capable of producing clean code, advanced functionality and innovative applications. But that can only happen if everyone likes to work together, feels comfortable coming up with and sharing ideas and contributes to an internal feedback loop pushed out to the product pipeline.
It’s a process that’s always recycling—and that leaders must always be cultivating. Break down bad habits. At 7Factor, we rely on shared values of trust, integrity and grace to guide us as we build and grow as a company.
These values create the perfect antidote to some of the hustle culture’s worst habits. First, hustle culture usually demands loyalty to a figurehead, be it a logo or a leader. Obedience is critical, and fear is the driver.
Individual achievement, especially in the case of the mythical "10xer" who is expected to deliver nearly all the value, matters more than team success. A fear-based culture turns software engineering into a series of dysfunctional one-person shows, and it shows up in the code (especially when no one is getting any sleep). But in a culture founded on trust, teams feel free to speak up, always maintaining a healthy skepticism and an unwavering commitment to finding new and better ways of doing things.
And if someone doesn’t understand something or needs help, it’s okay to say so. Would it be better if they forged ahead solo only to make mistakes that jeopardize quality? Leaders who value team collaboration help their employees see colleagues not as stepping stones but instead as key players in their own success. Second, workplace cultures devoted to “the grind” worship at the altar of deadlines, revenue, sales multipliers and other top-line metrics.
That devotion compromises the integrity of people, processes and products. Be proud to stand up to unreasonable client expectations and misguided demands, and make sure to hold each other accountable. Being wrong shouldn’t be a Greek tragedy—it should be a chance for everyone to learn and grow and get better at shaping great technology.
Finally, a healthy culture takes grace. People get distracted. They make mistakes.
They even—dare I say it—have lives outside of work that they value more than the work they’re doing for your company. By honoring those realities and demonstrating compassion, leaders can begin to plant the seed of trust, feeding a cycle that reinforces healthy boundaries, mutual respect and innovation. Reap the rewards of sustainable growth.
A healthy culture is ultimately an investment in a more sustainable future for your business. We, as software leaders, have the opportunity to change how digital products get built by cultivating more trusting cultures that nurture people rather than turn them away. Plants have no choice but to weather the storm, just as your business will face challenges big and small.
But with strong roots in the right values, you’d be surprised what a healthy culture can sow. Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify? Follow me on LinkedIn .
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