5 minutes mit with our division manager
5 minutes with… our division manager Olav! He tells us about his exciting tasks, which include topics such as further training and benefits, why he traveled around the world for six months and much more.
How long have you been with the company and what position do you hold at 4soft GmbH? What are your actual responsibilities?
Ultimately, after my last oral computer science exam, my professor at the time sent me directly to 4Soft, which he himself had co-founded a few months earlier. That was in December 1999. At 4Soft, I have already worked on many projects for various customers and have also taken on responsibility for different, overarching topics. In my current position, I am a business unit manager and therefore responsible for the implementation of all customer projects in my area. Of course, this also includes responsibility for “my” people. There are currently eleven permanent employees, one student trainee and one bachelor student.
In addition to your actual work, you are also responsible for training/events/benefits. Where do you find the time for that?
That’s right and a very good question indeed. Unfortunately, time is not given to you. If something is important to you, you have to make time for it. So probably the question should be “Why are these topics important enough to take the time for?”.
After all, I don’t have to do everything myself. The often very time-consuming “organizational aspects” in particular are completely taken care of by the secretariat.
Okay, so what made you decide to take time for these issues?
As an SME, we are particularly dependent on highly motivated employees. Due to the highly variable nature of customer projects, they also have to be broadly based and suitably well qualified. However, since we have a very flat hierarchy, we can only offer dedicated employees a short career ladder, unlike large companies. We therefore essentially need customer projects that are always technologically appealing and meaningful in terms of content, so that our employees also feel at home with us in the long term.
Ah, I remember the “dream projects” that Johannes had described. But what exactly does that have to do with training/events/benefits?
Well, when it comes to benefits, there are certain offers in our industry that are now rather taken for granted, such as the company pension plan, tax-free benefits in kind, meal vouchers, flexible working hours, the option of a home office, or a company cell phone including a suitable contract. I think that potential applicants now simply expect these things from their employer.
Through our cooperation with Fielmann, we also offer 100% subsidized screen glasses and through our company portal, JobRad offers are also available to our employees. I also think that our very flexible part-time models can help young parents in particular to better reconcile family and career.
By the way, we were already well equipped for Corona long before the obligation to work from home. Childcare, in particular, was already an issue even before distance learning. In my view, however, these are not things that provide additional motivation in any form, but rather things that are taken for granted and could be demotivating if they are missing.
So what are the things that enable 4Soft to score points with employees over and above the interesting and meaningful projects?
Our corporate culture probably plays a not insignificant role in this. Not only do we work together, we also have fun together from time to time. Whether it’s soft skills seminars, where we surprise each other again and again in role plays or improv theater, or the sometimes legendary 4Soft weekends, where, in addition to professionally organized team building, we always have plenty of opportunity to exchange ideas away from project work and to get to know each other from a completely different perspective.
Personally, I think it’s very important that the people who work together trust each other and know each other’s individual strengths, weaknesses and needs, so that they can take them into account accordingly. Our projects are usually so large that no one person can complete them on their own. Good teamwork is therefore just as important for the success of the project as it is for the well-being of the employees, who have to help each other time and again in stressful situations.
Almost three years ago, you yourself took a six-month sabbatical. That’s what’s known as a “sabbatical. So the concept didn’t work for you?
(Laughs) I never thought of it that way. My wife is a secondary school teacher and took advantage of an offer from her school. We then traveled together for three months in Asia and another three months through Australia and New Zealand. These are all things that you can’t do in the usual 3-4 weeks of vacation in such a relaxed and intensive way.
I see it as a great strength of 4Soft to be able to respond to such very individual wishes of the employees. Especially in my position. This doesn’t seem to be a matter of course by far, which is incomprehensible to me in any way: with an appropriate planning lead time – in my case two years – every company should be able to manage this for all positions! Parental leave, also for men sometimes beyond the usual two months, accidents, illnesses or dismissals are much more short-term and must be managed if necessary. By the way, the next “sabbatical” is planned for 2025. Target: still open.
Sounds enviable. You said at the beginning that you are particularly dependent on well-qualified employees. Where do you get them and what do you do to qualify your employees accordingly?
For us, this actually starts with the hiring of new employees. Of course, we look at what the candidates have already done and can currently do. However, constant curiosity is at least as important for us. Our employees should have a vested interest in constantly developing themselves further and should also want to learn new technologies if necessary. As a project company, we are also constantly confronted with completely new areas of expertise, which we do not regard as a necessary evil, but rather as something in which we must be genuinely interested and enthusiastic in order to do a good job.
The technological and professional diversity in our projects also means that we cannot offer “the” training plan for all employees. Instead, the specific needs usually come from the projects or from the employee interviews that we hold with each individual employee every six months. We cover the majority of training needs through coaching directly in the projects (“training on the job”) or through self-study offerings on platforms such as PluralSight or SafaribooksOnline. Here we “only” have to provide the appropriate time or a suitable coach.
Well, every now and then you have to point out to the employees that it makes more sense to take some time to sharpen the axe or to get trained in the operation of a chainsaw instead of just hammering the tree with even more force…
In order to better disseminate best practices across projects in the company, we also have internal lectures held by our employees from time to time, usually on current topics from ongoing projects. The regular coding dojos are organized entirely by the employees themselves. I was particularly fascinated by the fact that just by looking over the shoulders of others while developing, you always learn new tricks and shortcuts with your own development infrastructure. Be it “hidden” IDE features of IntelliJ for even more extensive auto-completion or the power of the GIT command line.
What if employees are interested in things that are not relevant for one of your customer projects?
That is also conceivable. In this case, of course, the initiative must come from the employee himself. In other words, he or she either comes up with a very specific event or training course that he or she would like to attend or a topic, and we then help find a suitable training course. In this case, the employee essentially has to convince his or her business unit manager that the event serves in some way to further his or her individual development and can then book such a training course a maximum of once a year. The budget is usually sufficient for an approx. 2-3 day training without overnight stay (i.e. in the Munich area). If several employees are interested in the same event, we can sometimes book speakers exclusively for 4Soft.
Can you spontaneously think of a personal “highlight” from this area that you remember particularly positively, even in retrospect? If so, why?
That’s not easy. I found the 4Soft weekends all quite successful. Usually we go in the summer, but once we did it in the winter: with dog sledding and snowshoeing. And we grilled outside in the snow and – not quite sober – built a larger-than-life snowman.
Then in 2019, for 4Soft’s 20th anniversary, we packed up the whole company and flew to Mallorca. There, we got “grilled” on a catamaran and cooked paella all together with a culinary professional. I also found the canyoning very impressive. I think if I continue there, I will tell stories tomorrow. We’ve also done various soft skills seminars together, where I’ve always been surprised at what our employees are capable of. Last year, for example, we made a totally crazy video for an online event. It was a welcome change from the daily project routine. By the way, you can watch the video here.
Thank you very much. Do you have anything planned for this year?
Absolutely! After we had to cancel the company weekend last year because of Corona, we immediately secured a date for this fall. Not far from Munich in the Bavarian Oberland. At the beginning of July we aim to meet again live and in color in the beer garden. Some of the new hires of the last months know us only from virtual after work beers or from the blind coffee dates we do weekly to keep at least some personal contact.