Building a winning team with a strong culture

3
August
,
2023
By:

American Banker, featuring Thought Machine, M1, HMBradley

Your company culture matters. In fact, it matters more than the amount on employees’ paychecks. Glassdoor asked what drives satisfaction at work, and the top answer was company culture and values, followed by senior leadership and career opportunities.

As companies compete for talent in a tight labour market, culture and non-financial incentives become even more critical. The U.S. unemployment rate has fluctuated between 3.4% and 3.7% since March 2022, and companies are still grappling with the fallout from the Great Resignation. 

Satisfied employees are also more productive, innovative and more likely to be able to solve complex problems. Gallup found that employees who strongly agree that they feel connected to their culture are: 

  •  3.7x as likely to be engaged at work 
  •  5.2x as likely to recommend their organisation as a great place to work 
  •  37% more likely to be thriving • 68% less likely to feel burned out at work always or very often 
  •  55% less likely to be looking for a job

What is Culture? 

Culture isn’t a plush office space. Culture isn’t about Friday pizza. You can’t put culture on a poster in the employee break room. Culture permeates everything, from how you make decisions to how you work together and onboard employees. 

Ultimately, culture defines how people act. “Culture is what employees do in the absence of leadership in the room,” says Brian Barnes, the CEO and founder of M1 Finance. 

Culture means that employees "always do the right thing, even when no one is looking," says Zach Bruhnke, co-founder and CEO of HMBradley. 

Four Keys to Creating a Strong Culture 

Every organisation’s culture is unique; however, there are common leading practices that successful organisations use to create and nurture culture. 

1. Be Mission-Driven 

The term 'mission-driven' conjures up visions of philanthropic endeavours, but mission is a much broader term. Says Eloise McNeile, Director of Learning and Development, Thought Machine, “The most important part of creating a culture is understanding a company’s mission and values.” “The most important part of creating a culture is understanding a company’s mission and values.” 

Keeping the entire organisation informed of what’s happening helps employees understand the “why” of their jobs and encourages them to work toward a common goal. For Thought Machine, that common goal is to build the next generation of core banking and payments technology and transform banks worldwide. And when things inevitably change, leadership provides employees with an explanation as to why. “Without transparency, you’ll lose trust, and the culture will take a hit,” warns McNeile. 

To take transparency a step further, Thought Machine organises a relaxed and social weekly all-hands meeting: TMF (Thought Machine Friday). Each week, the entire company comes together to discuss anything on employees’ minds. Every six weeks, CEO Paul Taylor does a Q&A. Even though some of the questions are quite spicy, Taylor still answers everyone. 

Bruhnke agrees that transparency is key. “Understanding why a decision is being made, even though the data you had was perhaps imperfect, goes a long way to building trust.” 

2. Give Every Employee a Voice 

Gartner found that while 82% of employees say it’s important for their organisation to see them not as just an employee but as a person, only 45% of employees believe their organisation actually sees them this way. 

Inspire all employees to make their voices heard. The most successful organisations encourage diversity and different perspectives. “Assume positive intent. You cannot drive everything down to cultural fit, or you’ll miss diversity,” says Bruhnke. 

Poking and prodding a problem from different angles achieves the best outcomes, notes Barnes. “We’re looking for people with a strong perspective who are happy to push back.” 

To encourage healthy debate, Thought Machine gets key stakeholders into a room to hash out an issue and leaders are instructed to ensure everyone gets a voice. 

That said, once a decision is made, Thought Machine employees are asked to get on board and move forward. “We prioritise getting things done. We don’t go back on the decision,” explains Matt Wilkins, Chief People Officer of Thought Machine. “Employees see action and movement and don’t see us getting bogged down. This has a massive effect on culture.” 

HMBradley takes a similar approach. “This is not a democracy,” says Bruhnke. “You can disagree, but once we make a decision, everyone must commit to it.” While not everyone will agree with every decision, Bruhnke says it’s important to create an environment in which people feel decision-making is collaborative yet understand that, at the end of the day, someone is going to make the final decision.

3. Invest in Skills Training and Develop a Coaching Culture 

McNeile has this advice: “Prioritise learning and development. People need to constantly grow, learn, and develop different skills to adapt to fast growth. To keep employees engaged, you need to provide them with those skills.” 

While it’s important for an organisation to invest in skills development for managers and employees, it’s also important to create a culture in which everyone – not just managers – can coach and learn from each other, increasing problem-solving, employee performance and engagement, says McNeile. 

Fast-growing organisations face additional challenges. Because Thought Machine has promoted employees into managerial positions, the company is laying the foundation for management development and making sure people know where their careers are going and how to take ownership of them. 

M1 has grown from 40 employees to 275 employees in only two years. “You are building the airplane as you are flying it,” laughs Barnes. As M1 grew, positions became more specialised. What was once a one-person marketing shop evolved into a 30-person team with specialised roles and responsibilities. 

The challenge is to make everyone feel that they are not just cogs in the machine. As the organisation grows, you want to have the same sense of ownership, accountability and commitment to the larger purpose, explains Barnes. “As you get large, it’s difficult to operate as one cohesive whole. You have to be very disciplined in how you showcase information and get buy-in,” he says. 

HMBradley has also grown rapidly, and Bruhnke focuses on building an organisation that is scalable. When hiring, current skill set and prior accomplishments take a backseat to finding people who fit the culture and want to grow, Bruhnke says, adding, “Making the wrong hires is one of the most costly things you’ll do.” 

Organisations also need to build a resilient culture. Harvard Business Review calls the type of change all of us are now experiencing “3-dimensional change”: it’s perpetual, pervasive, and exponential. To compete, organisations can’t be static. Instead, they need to be hyper adaptive to new environments. 

But change is hard. Set the expectation that the business environment will change – rapidly – and that there will be ambiguity and setbacks. Barnes tells M1’s employees, “Don’t come into work expecting it to be easy.” 

4. Recognise the Value of Having Employees Return to the Office 

Many organisations are still figuring out the right mix of in-office, remote, and hybrid work environments. 

But whatever route they pursue, organisations need to articulate why they made that decision. So, it behoves organisations to explain why it makes sense to return to the office, at least part of the time. 

Thought Machine asked employees to return to the office as soon as it was safe to do so, believing this is the best way for employees to work together on complex products for a heavily-regulated industry. However, the company is clear about why it made that decision and also offers flexibility if an employee does need to work remotely occasionally.

Barnes believes that it is possible to develop tight-knit relationships over video conferencing, but what’s missing are those casual encounters with people outside your department. “You have to be very disciplined to build personal relationships since they don’t happen by default anymore. You have to get people together with some regularity to see that they’re human and not some random email address,” he says. 

When it comes to virtual meetings, the jury is still out. Thirty-two per cent of hybrid employees say virtual meetings are less effective than in-person meetings, compared with 17% who say virtual meetings are more effective. More than half (51%) say there is no difference. 

However, video chat fatigue is real. HMBradley encourages employees to take a break, go outside and breathe fresh air, as well as find time for quiet work. “You have to draw the line between being effective at your job and being available to everyone at any given moment,” explains Bruhnke. “We set ground rules and the expectation that you may not respond instantly.” 

“You have to draw the line between being effective at your job and being available to everyone at any given moment. We set ground rules and the expectation that you may not respond instantly.” – Brian Barnes, CEO & Founder M1 Finance 

Thought Machine Named Best Place to Work in Fintech by American Banker 

Thought Machine, a core banking and payments technology provider, was named as the Best Place to Work in Fintech by American Banker. Matt Wilkins, Chief People Officer, attributes that success, at least in part, to the company’s focus on collaboration, giving every employee a voice, and encouraging healthy debate. 

One of the most important benefits Thought Machine offers to retain talent is being mission-driven and ensuring employees know that they are working toward building the next generation of banking technology. Employees see progress in meeting that goal, which has a massive effect on culture. 

“Give your people not just a place to work but a place to grow. Give them the best workplace experience, learning and development opportunities, and room to express themselves – and they will shine. Unite your people around the mission, and allow them to bring quality and experience to help you get there.” – Matt Wilkins, Chief People Officer, Thought Machine 

For more information about the Best Place to Work in Fintech award, CLICK HERE.

Watch our webinar on Building a Winning Team with American Banker, HMBradley, and M1 below.

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