August 9, 2022
Mihaela Chirapleș is one of the first employees of Softelligence. She started as an HR specialist when the company had only 30 employees and now she is the Site Manager for the Bucharest office, overseeing 150 colleagues.
She has witnessed the company’s growth and development direction, as well as the process of building the team and the company’s culture as they are today. Mihaela describes herself as a “people person” and is constantly involved in finding new ideas to enhance the way people work at Softelligence.
In this interview, she has shared with us what characteristics make a good manager, what attributes are needed for a working culture that allows professional and personal growth, why intrapreneurship is essential for every company, and what kept her in the company for such a long period.
If you look at the name tag „Site Manager”, it sounds rather impersonal, when, in fact, the role is mainly focused on people. Together with the Head of People and with the CEO, we started this year by defining the new site structure, meaning that we rely on two key roles: Head of Practice and People Manager.
These two roles in Softelligence have the objective to grow our teams. The Head of Practice focuses on research & development, standards in the industry, and innovation, while the People Manager is very close to the team members. We’ve defined these two roles, we’ve started implementing this structure within our teams and we began promoting people based on their potential and their proven results so far.
“The Site Manager has the main responsibility of growing the leadership pipeline, of looking at together with the Head of People, but also of looking at numbers like costs, KPIs, and project indicators.” Mihaela Chirapleș, Softelligence Bucharest Site Manager
It’s about growing the people who have been close to the company for a while, but we’re also talking about experienced managers in Softelligence.
I would say that this leadership pipeline starts with execution. First, we identify the high potential employees who manage to perform their daily work proficiently and check if they are willing and capable to be managers of others. After managing yourself, then managing others, the next stage is becoming the manager of managers.
We try to be close to our people in this journey because it requires changes, in terms of how you spend your day, how much time you allocate to delivering the tasks yourself or delegating and relying on others, what’s your focus, and so on. These are some key concepts behind the leadership pipeline in Softelligence. And because formal education is also important, we offer all our external and internal managers coaching and training.
I started as an HR specialist in Softelligence. I was the first HR representative in the company at that point. Then the company grew, and the HR team grew too. I became an HR manager and I started ‘flirting’ with account management and some sales activities. Finally, in 2016, I decided that I wanted to be part of the operational team and I switched my career path dramatically to being a Project Manager. I started picking up projects: CRM implementation, integrations, data warehouse projects, and others.
The final role before I started my maternity leave was Delivery Manager. That meant overseeing the activity of multiple teams, working for the same client, for the same account, but on multiple projects. I think that’s what I liked most: I had the client relationship and his feedback on one hand, and – on the other hand – I had the team members’ feedback.
It was a young company when I joined, it had just reached the €1 million target turnover at that point, and it was doing very different things compared to what we are doing today. We were working with financial services companies back then as well. We were a Microsoft Partner, we were implementing Dynamics CRM, some of our own solutions and we were also doing custom development at that point.
Over the years, Softelligence has matured into a software services company targeting the insurance and banking sectors. We now have solutions that are tailored to these two big industries. We specialize in data and analytics services, fintech solutions, and engineering. But I think our path is quite different today. Now, Softelligence has its roots, it’s well-established and it keeps growing.
What I’ve always liked is the fact that I can be whatever I want to be, and the past 10 years have proved that. So, when I feel the need to do something, I know I can do it, And I also like that during the years I was able to change, adapt, but also implement my ideas. It was a sense of autonomy and a sense of freedom at the same time.
When I say autonomy, I mean the way I’m doing my daily job. I think this is the important thing, how you manage to do your work normally. And, of course, not asking for many approvals before you start doing something.
We can be fast in making decisions. For example, I was looking for ways to encourage more direct feedback given to the managers. Therefore, I launched a survey for each manager, so they can give it to their team members and receive feedback. I hope this becomes a regular exercise.
“It’s the small things. When I used to work in the HR department, I moved from the office to the open space because I wanted to know better my colleagues. They mentioned at some point they’d like to go out to have a beer, so this is what we did. Small things truly matter.” Mihaela Chirapleș, Softelligence Bucharest Site Manager
We need structure and we need procedures, of course. However, we need to make our work meaningful and fun. I would say you need enough rules to keep you focused on your objectives and bring you back to them from time to time. But when the rule prevents you from doing your job in a meaningful way, probably you should drop the rule, find another one or improve it.
Overall, I want to mention that it has been a very interesting and challenging journey for me, and no year was the same as the previous year. Every time I did something different. I changed my role every two years in Softelligence. So, while others decided to leave the company, I changed my activity, and I didn’t get bored.
It would be an orientation to people, having this genuine and authentic desire to be close to your people and help them develop multiple skills. Then you need to be focused on the objectives and the numbers. By combining these two things, a manager should keep the balance between objectives and people’s career paths.
“Leadership in a tech company also involves technical leadership. Charismatic leaders, in our industry, also need to be very good technical specialists. Naturally, people will follow them because of their technical skills.” Mihaela Chirapleș, Softelligence Bucharest Site Manager
In the HR interview, we start with our values, and we try to do the same thing during all the stages of the recruitment process. We look at the person’s values and try to match them with our own. So, for example, we appreciate people who are pragmatic and can look at the project’s objectives.
We search for creative people – as much as we can assess this during the recruiting process, of course. We evaluate their ability to work in a team because we work together. So, we start with the values, and then we assess the technical skills, followed by attitude, eagerness to learn, and self-development. We provide access to resources and our colleagues are also eager to help. However, we believe self-study is important.
Communication skills are also very important because we are a services company, and most of us interact directly with the client.
Things have changed. I remember that when I joined Softelligence 10 years ago, some people were still applying for job posts, which is inconceivable now.
Nowadays, the process is mostly about headhunting – you are going towards the candidates, convincing them to have a conversation, to meet you, and find out more about the company. At this moment, recruiting is more related to referrals.
I also believe employees are more assertive nowadays. They express what they need, what they want, do’s and don’ts from the very beginning.
As a recommendation, I think now companies need more flexibility. The pandemic somehow helped in that area. So nowadays, I think all the tech companies must show flexibility in terms of where their people work and how they maintain their work-life balance.
For example, we have employees from all the cities in Romania, from Timișoara to Cluj-Napoca. We are flexible and we have a hybrid way of working. However, we encourage our employees from other cities to come here and meet us in Bucharest from time to time. We create team events and parties so that we can get together once in a while.
I think it needs to be a culture that fosters meaningful work, people doing what they like, working in the right context, using their best skills, or developing new ones, as well as learning new things.
A healthy culture fosters human relationships, especially when considering our clients. At the end of the day, we interact many hours with our clients, so we need to understand both their problems and their goals.
Finally, I want to mention the importance of the relationships between us. I think Softelligence was always a fun company. We always like a fun party. If you were to ask actual or former Softelligence employees “What kept you here?”, the answer would have the word “people” in it. Some really strong connections and friendships are built here.
At the moment, I think it’s challenging for all the companies in the market to attract and also to retain talent. The first step is to manage to recruit people that share the same values as us and manage to offer them meaningful work.
Then I guess companies need to provide flexibility, as I was mentioning earlier, in terms of workplace, time intervals, and then provide them with learning and growth opportunities.
I think you need to be driven, resilient, and contrary to the popular belief, an intrapreneur needs to be disciplined and structured, not necessarily a rebel.
Probably you have many ideas, but you need a structure to implement or try all those ideas. Then you see some of them fail, you start again, take the feedback, and so on.
“An intrapreneur can be a very hard-working person looking towards an objective, but it’s not a single person. We need to build a culture around this concept, and we cannot rely only on one or two persons from the entire company. We need to build a sense of intrapreneurship in every employee.” Mihaela Chirapleș, Softelligence Bucharest Site Manager
First, companies need to allow people to make mistakes sometimes. However, the employees need to be willing to accept the consequences, learn from them, and not make the same errors multiple times.
Then, they need to create the context for people to behave as intrapreneurs, giving them freedom and space to do their job.
Last, I think we need some bold projects. We must have the courage to take on some impossible or challenging projects from time to time. But for example, we are not risk-averse either, at Softelligence. We take the projects, and we plan what we’re going to do in every situation. Sometimes, the results can be incredible.
I have learned that I need to spend more time with my colleagues than with my reports and my meetings. When you come from execution, you are very tempted to do things by yourself.
Another lesson is that you need to understand what’s going on regardless of the project or situation. The attitude “I am a manager, I’m only interested in the high-level aspects of the project”, doesn’t work; you need to get your hands dirty from time to time, you need to be there. I believe that our colleagues and our managers do that, they get involved in projects and help their people.
“The third lesson learned is that you need to trust your gut feeling more, regardless if it’s an interview with a candidate or it’s a conversation with one of your colleagues or one of your clients. Experience has shown me that I need to trust my intuition.” Mihaela Chirapleș, Softelligence Bucharest Site Manager
I’m a mother: I have a 2.5 years old daughter, and she’s my joy. I try to balance work with family life nowadays, we try to spend a lot of time in nature going to the mountainside, seaside, parks and so on.
I like to read. I try to read specialty books from time to time, but I am a big belletristic fan. For example, the last book that I read was called “Where the crawdads sing”, by Delia Owens. From another domain, I read “Copilul tău citește”, by Oana Moraru and then “When the body says no”, by Gabor Maté.
Another successful story
#SoftelligencePeople. Daniel Jinga, Consulting Director
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