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Make yourself missable

ORMIT Alumni - Senior IT Leadership Talent Program at ING

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By Wojciech Michalek

Product Owner and Feature Engineer @ ING Belgium

Wojciech has been working at ING for almost five years now, the first two of which he spent as an ORMIT trainee. The simple story would be that he gradually eased into the leading role he has now. The real story is that he put in a tremendous amount of work to acquire the leading skills his team appreciates so much.

When Poland isn’t big enough for you

Erasmus in Finland, a working holiday in the USA, a one-year sabbatical (no studying but lots of working) in Ireland … I’ve always been someone who loves to travel and go places. Not so much to cross must-sees of my bucket list, but because I’ve got a curious mind. It gives me energy to try new things and find myself in new environments.

That’s why I applied for a job in Belgium when I came out of university. Moving to Leuven, rebuilding my life with new people, learning not one but two new languages (admittedly, my French is a bit rusty), … to me they sounded like nice challenges. Things I should be able to realise. So I took them on.

My first job here wasn’t at ORMIT though. I started working at KBC, in a different kind of traineeship, that ended rather abruptly in a job where, after a short while, I didn’t really see much future for growth. Still thinking of myself as a young graduate with lots to learn, I applied with ORMIT and got a track at ING. And that’s when the fun started.

Agile from start to finish

Given my background in ICT change processes, it was quite normal for me to start out in a project that revolved around the analysis of the usefulness of Agile as a process for ING’s omnichannel department. A fairly theoretical exercise, but with a surprising amount of internal politics involved. That was something entirely new for me, but I quickly felt comfortable doing stakeholder management and building a broad network. These are qualities that feel natural to me, and combined with the benefit of still being somewhat of an outsider in the company, I was able to contribute immediately to the project. In less than four months, I was ready to present my views to the senior management. And seeing how the company is evolving today, I can say that my insights have had an impact.

Agile has been a constant in my projects: I took on a role as SCRUM-master later on, and in my final project I was asked to build a team and processes for a new Center of Excellence for Data Integration. Working agile, obviously. When that was cut short, I went back to a SCRUM-master role for a while, only to move on to a role as IT-integrator. And now I am in my current position as Product Owner and Feature Engineer.

Personal coaching at ORMIT allows you to consider your day-to-day issues from an outsider’s perspective, to help you see the real problems. And then overcome them.

I still go skiing with the ORMIT-troup

ORMIT organizes a ski-trip every year, to which all current trainees and alumni are invited. I still join every year, even though nobody from my era at ORMIT still works there. But to see these new people, chat with them, enjoy lunch in the mountain sun, have beers in the evening, … it all feels easy and natural. Probably because we’re all cut from the same cloth. We all like to experience a lot. So it’s always a bit like returning home.

Recovering from downsides

My ORMIT story has turned out very successful. But that doesn’t mean it was all easy all the time. Take my last project: for me it was a great challenge to lead a small team and draw up plans to expand it and later on lead it. But when the strategy of ING changed, and the project was decommissioned, I stood empty-handed. So I built on my networkings skills and started hunting for interesting opportunities. When my current manager asked me to temporarily take on a role as SCRUM-master, I could have easily refused and say it was something I had already done. But I didn’t because I saw the career opportunities behind it. So I gave it all I got for those three months.

And in my first period as SCRUM-master I had to work with a very tough team of IT-specialists. These were people who were comfortable in their current way of working, but who had to abandon this and start working Agile. And I had to coach them towards it, being at least ten years younger than most of them! It really confronted me with the reality of change management and made me dig deep to find ways to convince and motivate my team to embrace the change. But I got them all on board by constantly emphasizing what was in it for them, and leading by example. I also injected games and specific celebrations as incentives.

Input and feedback makes you stronger

The one thing I always say to new ORMIT-trainees when we have a chat, is how enriching it is to regularly switch from manager in these first years of your career. The different styles of leadership and ways of managing people really help you build your own style.

I’ve also been proactive in reaching out for feedback. With my first manager at ING, I had fifteen-minute-sit-downs nearly every day. Perfect opportunities for me to ask questions, get feedback and grow stronger. Yes, it’s a big ask for a manager, but to me it was massive.

Make yourself missable

The quick pace of the ORMIT-traineeship implies that there’s no lingering around after a project is finished. The day after you’ve celebrated the delivery with your team, you’re going elsewhere. But never without preparing your departure of course. From day one, it’s made very clear how important it is to delegate tasks and empower your teams to take on your role after you’ve gone. I can honestly tell you that there is no greater feeling than leaving behind a self-steering team that works like clockwork.

How to build performing teams

The title of this part was also the title of the best training I had at ORMIT. And we had a lot! But this one stood out because it combined both very interesting insights into a relevant domain, with an almost magical motivational boost for all of the ORMIT-trainees that were there. It was as if our group of thirteen transformed into a union that day – and that feeling never went away. For me, it’s something that I’ve tried to inject in all my team meetings and incentives ever since. And I think I’ll be doing it still twenty years from now.