How Sweet Mustard makes talent grow
Sweet Mustard firmly believes that talent needs room to grow. A shining example of this philosophy is our colleague Thomas Vervaeke, a developer who pivoted into a scrum master and coach. In this article, he talks about his journey and why Sweet Mustard is the perfect breeding ground for talent.
Sweet Mustard is convinced that investing in talent pays off
Why we’re convinced that investing in talent pays off? Thomas explains. "People who are motivated and enjoy their work simply do a better job and add more value to the company. That is why Sweet Mustard believes in the importance of intrinsic motivation: if people's endeavours are driven from within, it's a lot more genuine."
From developer to scrum master
Thomas speaks from experience. "I started my career as a web developer, but I reached the end of the road fairly quickly at my first two employers. I didn't find the content challenging enough and felt their way of working was too stressful. Then I joined Sweet Mustard as a .NET developer. Everything felt right, and I saw how things could be done differently. For example, I learnt about agile working as part of a team supported by a scrum master and product owner. That has been a huge source of inspiration to me.
Nevertheless, I gradually sensed my job wasn't a perfect match and I noticed that, unlike many of my colleagues, I wasn't passionate about that particular area or deeply driven to figure out how certain technologies worked, for example. I was a lot more interested in the scrum framework: the way you work with people, review processes and so on. When one of the scrum masters was on leave, I took over her role for a while. That felt so natural that I decided to change jobs. Later on, I continued to develop in the role, and I’ve been a scrum master since 2021."
Our philosophy: give people room to explore and fail
Thomas is a perfect example of how Sweet Mustard grows talent, and as a coach he also actively contributes to this. So, what does this mean in practice? "We look at someone’s capabilities and try to reinforce those. We want to give our colleagues room to discover where their heart lies, support them in trying new things, and, above all, create a culture that allows failure as long as you learn from it. For example, if one of our front-end developers wants to learn mobile development, we let them work on mobile projects when possible, so that they can see whether that is what they really want to do."
Our main tools: coaching, guidance and feedback
So, what are the keys to making talent grow and flourish? Thomas: "At Sweet Mustard, coaching is a very tangible process. We have a pool of seven coaches everyone can get in touch with. They each have different areas of expertise, and you choose the coach that suits you best, based on no-obligation intake interviews. Do you prefer to stay in your comfort zone by picking similar profiles, or do you like a challenge? The choice is yours.
The coaches mainly support employees in their personal growth, for example if they want to take on a new role. Then the coach will look for the reasons and challenge the employee to get to the bottom of this. However, coaching can also be about more practical skills, such as improving your communication with customers. Everyone has the opportunity to act as a coach, provided that they have had some training in coaching. Sweet Mustard offers an introduction to coaching, and you can always contact existing coaches to find out how they forged their path and what coaching courses they recommend."
Guidance and knowledge sharing
"Technical guidance and training are also an important part of talent development. That is why our junior employees are always supported by more experienced staff members. In addition, everyone at Sweet Mustard completes an Agile Fundamentals course, which promotes open communication with colleagues and customers. This open communication is embedded in our culture, and because we work in an agile way, almost every one of our employees is in contact with customers.
We also hold regular knowledge sharing meetings for all our experts, from Java developers to product owners. We discuss new technologies and more challenging cases to inspire colleagues who are trying to resolve certain issues and to allow them to ask for a second opinion. I also like to use these opportunities myself, because as a scrum master, I am the only one on my team in that role. It’s always nice to check things with colleagues."
Feedback and evaluation
"Regular feedback and evaluation are also essential. You will be invited to attend a Sweet Birthday meeting on your work anniversary and then again six months later. You will get together with the Sweet Mustard founders for an open, relaxed chat about the past period. What did you think yourself, where have you noticed room for improvement, and do you have any feedback for Sweet Mustard yourself: what in the organisation would you like to change? We don't see that as a performance appraisal, but rather as a way to check in and hear how things are going. These processes are not just tools; they are really part of our culture.
Sowing seeds for the future
When it comes to growing talent, it’s always a good idea to look to the future. How can you ensure that your talent remains effective and you continue to attract talent in a few years’ time? "We actively engage in community building. We teach training courses at Howest University of Applied Sciences, organise guest lectures, and welcome several interns each year. Our colleague Dieter organises workshops at primary schools and introduces pupils to programming. We also participate in a number of local initiatives, such as the annual volleyball tournament, the KVK football cup and the Bruggenloop, which is run across Kortrijk's beautiful bridges. We do our best to be present and active."
Top tip? Create a flexible framework
So does Thomas have any tips for other companies? "Listen to your people and what they are looking for. Pay attention to their skills and strengths, and support them as much as possible. It really helps to let them try other things. As a company, you shouldn't be afraid to be flexible in that regard. If a job doesn't match the wishes and expectations of your employee as much as you had hoped, make sure they can try something else. It is a good idea to create a flexible framework in which they can navigate. They should also be allowed to fail. You can create room for this by providing a back-up plan.”