Readers of this blog know that I’m generally whining and moaning whenever I don’t agree with something. I don’t sugar coat – if you do something stupid, prepare to hear about it in the least gentle terms I can conjure.
So it may come as a surprise to you that this blog post is almost entirely positive and in fact is commending someone very highly.
Bekk – The Way It Should Be
Let me first talk a bit about the background here. When I need to pay bills, I work as a consultant. About a year ago, I started working for Bekk Consulting in Norway on what seemed to be a short-term gig to help one of their clients evaluate SharePoint 2010. It turned out to be a year long project doing some of the most amazing things on SP2010, including delivering probably the largest SP2010 installation in the world.
Bekk is a small (by non-Norwegian standards) consulting company that has enjoyed huge success over the years. They do a range of development work but manages to remain focused on what they know works well. The result is a company that attracts some very, very skilled talent. Bekk has been on top of the list of most wanted employers for students for a long time.
One thing is recruiting talent, the other thing is holding on to that talent over time. These days, even with the current and recent financial crisis, it is still very easy for skilled IT people to get well paid jobs in Norway. Competing on salary doesn’t really work – you need something unique to hold on to people in the face of competitors trying to lure your people with fat pay-checks. You need to keep people motivated and happy.
Bekk does just that. Sure, people do drop out or try their luck across the river, but in general, everyone I’ve talked to at Bekk says that there is something with the spirit of the company that makes it more than just a job.
I could write for hours about the things I like about Bekk (really) but I’d like to point out three things that I think makes Bekk absolutely unique from all other clients and companies for which I have worked.
Not just are the people I’ve met at Bekk very skilled, but they work as a team. Oh, and they don’t just work as a team – they are happy to work as a team. These days, however, every glossy brochure states that a company has great team spirit and without backing that up, they’re just empty words. Let me tell you exactly what this means.
During the previous year that I’ve worked for Bekk, I’ve needed assistance on stuff that I don’t feel comfortable doing on a professional basis. All I need to do is find out who knows something about that topic, ask them about it, and it seems they are almost rushing to help out, even if they aren’t really working on that specific project. If they don’t know, they’ll let you know and point you in the right direction to someone who will be just as eager to help.
In other companies where I’ve worked, when you ask someone to take a look at something, they usually start by asking who they can bill for that time, even if it’s just 15 minutes that will take hours off my own time. After all, if you have a high billable rate, you must be a good employee, right? Who gives a rats behind about what is really producing value for the customer.
The willingness to help that I’ve seen in Bekk is a sure sign of professionalism. What would take me a couple of hours to figure out, they know off the top of their heads and can do in less than an hour. Sure, they could say that they needed to bill the time they spent helping, but the overhead of formalizing the request, getting approvals for spending that time, internal billing, and so on, would ultimately cost the clients more money than simply just helping right away.
In return, when they need help with something, they get it, from anyone on the team or department, including myself. The result is less cost to clients, less time spent for me, higher overall efficiency, better team spirit, and improvements to motivation and morale.
A specific example of this is the operations or helpdesk crew. The willingness of these people to assist you and the attitude they show in approaching a task is something from which every other operations department should learn. Add to that their skill and ability to manage their tasks in a busy day and you’ve got a winning team. Kudos!
Honestly, I don’t know what the company has done to foster that attitude of helping, but I cannot help but get dragged into it and offer my own assistance on the same terms, so it is clear that they are doing something very right.
Challenges and Research
Another thing, vital to at least my motivation, is that of being challenged and, again to me, the best way to be challenged is if it is done in a safe environment where you are allowed to fail as long as you learn from it. Obviously, I never fail, but I’ve heard it described so I can imagine what it would be like.
The last year has been immensely challenging for anyone in the SharePoint world. With SP2010 coming out a couple of months ago and with more than a year of new knowledge streaming out, staying on top of your game requires active involvement far outside the confines of a project.
At Bekk, people are encouraged to explore new ways of doing things and of course new technologies. There is a clear expectation that there should be value produced for the clients, but even if what you learn don’t result in specific deliverables, exploration is an investment for the company. If you are stuck researching something for a couple of days that doesn’t lead to a specific delivery, that is fine if you gain valuable that saves the client money.
Some of the fancy new technologies that emerge may look cool, but may not be suited for a project. If you spend time finding that out, you are not delivering anything to your client and would normally get a reprimand for being inefficient. However, at the same time, you are saving your client time and money because you find out what they should _not_ do.
At Bekk, they realize that research is vitally important, even if it doesn’t always lead to deliverables. If you save your client trouble down the line by knowing when not to use a piece of technology, then all in all, you’ve contributed positively.
Bekk is also great at utilizing that knowledge. Bring in people who know what they are talking about to teach to other people. The 1+1=3 equation really works.
Respect and Autonomy
When I started working there, which, by the way, was the first assignment I had in my ErgoGroup career, I was surprised about the way they treated the people there. In other companies, I’m used to spending a lot of time demonstrating that I know what I’m talking about. Even better (or worse, I’m being sarcastic again), in many companies, they overrule you on technical decisions in areas in which they pay you to be the expert.
“No, we must use out-of-the-box because that is what Microsoft says is best”
“No, you can’t do custom development because I don’t understand development”
“No, there’s no need to divide this server into two front-ends because that is expensive”
Let me ask you this: When you go to a doctor and he or she tells you to take a pill, do you counter-argue that you want to take another pill instead or that his or her diagnosis is wrong and that you are suffering from something completely different? Well, some people do, but most people go to a professional because they want them for their expertise, not because they know the answers themselves. You consult a lawyer because you don’t know all the aspects of law. You consult a carpenter because they have the expertise and experience to know how, why, where, and when to drive a nail into a plank.
At Bekk, when you know a topic, they’ll argue with you. That means they don’t argue against you. Ev
en more specific, they respect your professional opinion and knowledge and instead of trying to boost their own egos by overriding you, and instead look for ways to utilize your knowledge and expertise as efficiently as possible.
The end result is that you provide even more value to clients. Who knows green does green, who knows blue does blue. If you need cyan, you mix those skills. No need to argue whether green is good or bad or whether it really is green – higher efficiency, lower cost, less bickering.
In fact, this puzzles me. If someone hires me to do SharePoint work, and they override my advice, it must make them stupid. After all, if they knew what was best, why did they hire me?
So, What About Bekk Sucks?
I know I’m sounding like a fanboi and that is very unusual for me. This post wouldn’t be complete without some form of bitching.
However, I’ve soon spent two hours on this blog post. 15 minutes writing up to this point, and so far about 90 minutes trying to put my finger on what would suck at Bekk.
There could be one thing. Bekk is mostly owned by ErgoGroup, and you all know what I think about ErgoGroup. There is a slight bitter taste in my mouth about that.
However, that still doesn’t make Bekk suck. Ownership and management are two very different things, and ErgoGroup has been wise enough to leave Bekk to do what Bekk does best.
I have also tried setting up a list of what usually sucks with companies and seeing which items on that list applies to Bekk. However, I failed even at that:
- I’ve never had serious problems with payment from Bekk. In fact, once they called me to say my bill would be one day late.
- Bekk has challenging projects that allow you to grow. If you are bored, say so, and they’ll listen.
- Bekk gives you freedom when you deliver what you promise.
No suckage here either.
Well, there is the location. Bekk’s offices are not exactly smack in the middle of town. Granted, it takes only 15 minutes by bicycle from my place, but really, there isn’t anything nearby except boats and hookers.
Oh, and the offices in the summer are too warm for my taste.
And I have to wear pants to work (as opposed to shorts, you pervert). I have absolutely no idea why a pair of jeans or smart pants increases the value of what I deliver, but hey, when management says so…
And they don’t have a Nespresso machine. Coffee is usually good, though.
There’s also this thing that, during winter when the air is dry, you get a static electricity shock when you touch the utensils in the lunch room.
Sorry, can’t come up with anything else, and frankly, that’s saying a lot for me.
I also just want to make this absolutely clear: I am in no way incentivized to write this post, nor do I gain any benefit from writing it. In fact, I’m taking a break from Bekk in Q4 to give others a chance to experience my divine skillz, so this is really just a review based on a year of experience there.
This is my honest and true opinion about a great company:
I like Bekk. If you’re looking for a place to work, you’d be very lucky to get into that team.
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