Soft skills define high performing workers

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Soft skills define high performing workers

Aussie IT teams invest in 'culture', not lone wolves.

Australian organisations are willing to pay almost a third more for “high-performing” individuals with the motivation and aptitude to learn and adapt, recruiters have observed.

According to Hudson ICT’s national practice director Martin Retschko, workers with a “want to” – not just a “can do” – attitude were paid 10 to 30 percent more than others with similar technical backgrounds.

Retschko's estimates fell short of those of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who told the New York Times last year that an exceptional employee was “100 times better” than “someone who is pretty good”.

But a 100-fold pay difference may be unrealistic – especially in Australia, where engineering roles tend to have a narrower scope than in Silicon Valley start-ups.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and CEO of Atlassian, said it aimed to hire “outstanding engineers” worth two, five, or ten times the mean.

Since 2002, the software vendor has grown from two to about 340 staff, and ranked fifth on the Australian ‘Great Place to Work’ list this year.

Cannon-Brookes said the company typically received 90 to 100 applications from global applicants for each engineering position on offer.

“We certainly look very hard for exceptional engineers ... Certainly, there are outstanding engineers that are worth ten times more [than others],” he said.

Cannon-Brookes said Atlassian’s definition of outstanding was more “practical” than academic, noting that some of its best engineers “don’t have university degrees in computer science at all”.

The company was interested in “what you can do”, he said, as well as passions, interests, smarts, achievements, and humility.

“You can have engineers that are 10 or 15 times better than the next guy, but if they are abrasive or condescending, they are caustic to the team.”

Cultural fit was also a key recruiting requirement at Google Australia, according to its head of people ops, Joseph Krayer.

Although the search giant had a reputation for hiring the academically gifted, Krayer said it "doesn’t all come down to academic performance”.

He defined exceptional employees as those who were “excellent at their job, make a great contribution to the broader team and company, and … are generally good to be around”.

However, the company also claimed to “respect and understand … all sorts of ways for people to work”, including developers who preferred to work more independently.

Hudson’s Retschko said cultural fit was key to retaining staff and maintaining a functional team.

He warned against IT job listings – typically for roles within non-IT organisations – in which technical skills were a key requirement.

“What we often see is a very, very heavy emphasis on the skill set alone,” he said.

“There are organisations stocked full of very exceptional, talented technical staff, but with a very high turnover, because they fail to consider motivational fit and aptitude to grow and learn within the organisation.”

Fujitsu Australia’s chief technology officer Craig Baty speculated that well-defined career paths could motivate younger, ‘Gen Y’ employees to stay with the company.

Earlier this month, Baty told an industry meeting that he had researched workplace IT trends as Fujitsu prepared to recruit 1000 staff and long-term contractors in the next 18 months.

“The challenge for a company is to actually develop careers to give employees the ability to develop their careers within the company and keep employees engaged,” he said.

In preparation for opportunities in data mining and cloud computing, Fujitsu planned to hire “people who are extremely creative”, including marketing, engineering, project management and sales staff.

But Baty said there was a place for more understated, “competent” workers as well, he said, noting that capable, reliable workers were “actually the backbone” of companies.

As a service provider to the Government, financial services sector and NBN Co, Fujitsu needed employees who could “emulate the way that customers work and communicate with them”

“There are some jobs where you need someone who is very, very capable and ambitious about doing that job better,” he said.

“Fujitsu looks for the best person for the job at hand – that means we want to look for people at the top of their game.”

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