In recent years, the retail sector has been part of the tremendous changes in the technology landscape across many industries. At Target, our chief information officer, Mike McNamara, recognized that these changes required us to build a distinct engineering culture: one focused on continuous learning, experimenting and failing, rewarding, sharing and meeting outcomes – not just due dates. In short, we needed to create an environment of productive learners.

But first, we needed to level set on what a productive learning culture looks at Target. For us, that means:

  • Establishing a set of values and behaviors that embed relevant professional development into everything we do
  • Having a growth mindset
  • Sharing learnings
  • Investing in your own growth
  • Creating a place where innovation is valued and failure is a step in the process

Culture change generally takes three years - and our effort to build an engineering culture at Target was no exception. After his arrival in 2015, Mike mobilized the right people to create a strategy to build the learning culture, but we learned it wasn’t something that could be done in isolation. Below are some of the key factors that have come together to enable the ongoing successes we have achieved over the past three years and continue to move us forward:

Connecting the Right Ideas and the Right People

We brought together colleagues from recruiting, learning and development and human resources, along with tech leaders and early adopters, to develop and execute an action plan. We also invested in the tools and spaces, such as the Dojo, to foster collaboration and innovation among engineering teams and business partners.

Helping the Right Ideas Take Root

We needed to give our teams opportunities to think big, experiment and share their concepts to reinforce our commitment to this learning culture. Innovation sprints, hackathons, inner conferences, weekly learning time, on-demand video – all of these have helped our teams test and learn. Team members frequently attend and present at local and national conferences, meet-ups and other community activities to share their expertise and learn from others.

Letting Go to Create a Thriving Culture

We knew we had to provide the right structure for where structure is needed – but our teams had freedom within that structure to work in a way that they deemed most effective. Sometimes the end results are not what one would expect, but the unexpected also can be exciting!

As the tech organization moved forward in its learning culture, previously unattainable goals became reality as our team pushed itself to get Better Every Day – we were able to deliver big wins for our guests with products like Shipt, Restock, Drive Up and Mobile POS. At the same time, things emerged that were not planned such as numerous open-source contributions and the establishment of a thriving inner-source ecosystem.

It took a village to create an engineering community – and it takes a village to sustain it – but the ROI is worth the effort.

Joel Crabb is vice president of architecture at Target. Erica Prairie is a lead learning and development consultant at Target.