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Interview with Marina Isaieva, HR Lead at OSA Hybrid Platform

Marina, I know that you have a university degree in Linguistics, tell us how you became an HR Lead at a technology company?

Upon graduation, I had a few years of experience as a middle manager in the HR department of a large International FMCG company. When we started OSA Hybrid Platform as a company in 2015, I was one of the first employees on the team and I naturally assumed responsibility for all HR-related tasks.
As one of the longest serving employees, I participated in every phase of OSA development as a company and as a product. We have learned a lot during that time and it was not easy for us to adapt to the realities of a start-up company vs. the ones of a large well-established company.

What are the key performance measuring tools for the HR department of a technology company?

There are standard metrics such as employee engagement level, turnover rate, etc. But we at OSA also measure the employees’ commitment to the company’s culture standards. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from the legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. And when we detect deviations, they usually express themselves in tension and inefficiency - be it at the interpersonal or interdepartmental level. Another metric is the quality of our teams and the efficiency they produce.

What HR innovations have been implemented at OSA?

The main innovation, and it was a couple of years ago, was the introduction of a decentralized IT unit within the company. These days, we see the same approach implemented at many technology and non-technology companies. In a way, it became mainstream. We saw the inefficiency of a hierarchy-based structure, and it also was against our mindset, so we allowed our organizational structure to evolve naturally into self-managed teams, that we considered more motivated and more responsible for their own results and efficiency. What we have at present, is a symbiosis of our own approach, elements of Agile and holacracy, as we saw it being implemented at Zappos and a few other companies, but not as structured and as strictly bureaucratized.

The main changes we implemented were as follows:

  • We removed the CTO (Chief Technical Officer) function and distributed those responsibilities within a Committee, a group of our IT leaders (Technical Lead, Lead Architect and ETL Lead), who represent professional and leadership expertise, and channelled all IT development processes and communication with our business unit through that Committee. Likewise, the Product Owner function is represented by two people - Product Manager and Analytics Lead.
  • Managers are not appointed by the company, they are the naturally emerged leaders, who demonstrate professional expertise and initiative, and the team recognizes and promotes them as leaders. At the same time, when the person displays a professional competency, but doesn’t want to lead people and organize processes, we refer to him or her as the Center of Competence, and make sure that the team takes advantage of their expertise.
  • HR function is limited mainly to an internal consultancy, e.g. we support the teams when necessary, for instance with training and development, recruiting or HR admin support, but the majority of organizational and managerial decisions are made within the teams, with HR providing advisory support as necessary.

The main point of all HR transformation described above, was to engage and motivate people to treat their job and the product they work on as their own.

Has it been successful so far?

In our organization this structure proved to be much more effective than a traditional hierarchy. Employee engagement has grown, people have developed their skills faster, business and development processes have improved. Of course, it is still a work in progress, but we must admit that our core team has been through thick and thin, and proved to be very strong, responsible and loyal to the company. They are truly rooting for OSA HP they have been creating. And we really appreciate it!

What are the key challenges in HR management of distributed teams?

The key challenge lies in arranging the distributed team’s workflow and engagement. Of course, it’s easier to coordinate your work when you can communicate in person and see your team every day. Otherwise you have to deal with the lack of communication, common understanding and general human warmth. We found that remote communication, shared project management tools, promoting transparency and accountability, along with frequent business trips between our two offices, help a lot.

In what respects do you feel HR function in the technology industry is different from that in other industries?

Everything in tech changes very quickly, decisions need to be made and implemented fast, sometimes there is no time to apply any systematic approach. We find that HR should also be agile, adapting to changes in rapid and short iterations.

Are there any team values at OSA?

Over the years, we have come up with a set of values that support our team in general and also apply to various special situations.

These values are:
Courage — we take risks and display courage when making ambitious plans and implementing them.
Love — we do our job with love: we love our customers and take care of them and we love and appreciate our wonderful team.
Trust — we built trust in our relationships with customers and within our team, and we work on a product that our customers can rely on.

And the company’s motto is “Go forward with love”.