Making waves: hiring technicolour delivery teams in an ocean of banking grey
Industrialisation is in part the story of humanity trying to eliminate dependence on itself: trying to distill the essence of a business away from a master craftsman who may die, a gifted engineer who may walk out or a grumpy expert whose moods dictate their performance.
Industrialisation per se has, of course, moulded the societies we currently live in but in that one thing, it failed. It came a long way towards success. The vast majority of labour has been deskilled and reduced to learned repeatability. But not all. And as the Information Age paradigm is settling in, we realise that, for the kind of work that we lucky few do, individuals are everything. Sure, you will do pair programming, and record keeping and Knowledge Transfer sessions and the works in order to manage and reduce dependencies, but you know it’s still all down to people. Their ideas, their ethos, their talent and their chemistry. Their ability to navigate stormy seas and find dry land.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
But to teach them, you have to find them. So how the hell do you find these guys and gals, in the ocean of grey that is financial services?
Design thinking for the home: find your weird
I don’t belong in the category that has fixed ideas on whether you need ex bankers to transform banking. The hardest thing is finding people who can align on the vision of where we are going and what it takes to get there when you get down to the work itself, when it’s all hands on deck with pressure mounting.
So as a rule of thumb I would say you need enough people who understand where we are setting sail from, and what we are trying to change in its most minute detail and enough folks who can imagine a world that is entirely unencumbered by how we do things now. In a team of more than three, I have and will continue to hire both.
That said, the CVs I see are almost exclusively bankers and other flavours of financial services. A lot of the same institutions (even the startups). A lot of the same accomplishment claims. A lot of the same key words.
So how do you sift through the grey, to find the people who will bring their own magic and ignite the magic of others? Who will be able to work to a shared dream and feed the collective imagination?
You are hiring people to do things for the first time. It’s not for everyone. And not everyone is for you.
Of course your People people will help. They will scout. They will vet. They will filter. But you are in the driving seat too and the final call is yours. Especially if you are sitting inside a bank and what you are hiring for is new and uncomfortable.
Look for CVs that tell a story of choices and learning
Look for the people who journeyed, who may have drifted, may have ambled, may have sprinted but who covered some distance and saw some stuff. You will know them from their story, progressions and timings. A mere glance at their CV will tell you if the engine of their career is in the Machine and its inexorable progress, the game and its rules, the corporate timelines and checklists or something else. Curiosity, passion, eccentricity. Ambition.
Nothing wrong with naked ambition.
Just find the people who propel themselves. And no, they are not the folks who put “self starter” in their CVs. They are the people who don’t because it doesn’t occur to them there is another way to be.
So look for motion (within or across functions and organisations) and you will find your candidate.
A few years ago we got a CV through. Solid credentials, interesting experience.
And the dude had taken a year out of work to build his own house, using Kanban to manage the builders… and his family. We spent a good long while debating, after we stopped giggling, whether he was a legend for doing it, or a weirdo. We imagined the meetings with the plasterer and the plumber, what they may think of this banker trying to teach them theory before getting on with the day’s work.
For reasons I can’t recall, we never interviewed this guy. Or I never did, for that matter, but the conversation stayed with me. As did our verdict: the guy was a weirdo. And a legend. He was our kind of weird, bringing the right philosophy to everything he did. This was not a case of “look mum, no hands”.
The dude was a legend.
He lived and breathed his discipline, he had work-life balance by weaving them together not stacking them against each other. We had found our weird.
I hope it’s clear that this is not the process by which to find the best fund accountant. To each their own and what not.
This is about avoiding hiring the best fund accountant type to drive a digital delivery, because the experience on their CV looks right.
And it will. Innovation departments have existed long enough to churn out their own graduating class of grey.
So how do you sift through them? How do you find the ones who didn’t just paddle in the shallows?
Do the obvious.
Have some standard filters.
Have super rigorous technical interviews.
Trust in the steer of your HR partners (they are the first maverick of the pack or you’ve hired the wrong person).
Listen carefully to the way other people talk about your candidates, if you know their old colleagues or if they came recommended. The language and the feelings will tell you as much in the words used as in those withheld.
Remember you are not just hiring a UX designer or a star developer, you are bringing a new member into the family. You are hiring a colleague. You are bringing them aboard to help build the ship and share the journey at close quarters.
When hiring from a banking background, the biggest danger is telling apart the people who value motion over progress and reporting over resolving. They abound and they have historically been rewarded for these behaviours so their résumés look great.
The bullet point outcomes they list on their CV are hard to disentangle from the governance slides and KPI updates.
So get them talking. About failures. Frustrations. Mistakes that cost a lot of time and how the situation was handled, what the sticking points were, how they negotiated their way. When they failed to get a resolution. Get them talking about near misses and shipwrecks.
The ones who had no setbacks, no failures, no real problems, who never found impact diluted for the sake of reporting, never momentarily felt like setting the building on fire are not the droids you are looking for. They are someone else’s MVP, let them go. They are not right for the high seas.
Catching your wave
I always ask, at the end of an interview, what’s the coolest thing you’ve learnt recently.
The interview will have told me a lot about aptitudes, the answer tells me a lot about attitudes and the breadth of responses has been staggering over the years.
The thing is, we won’t hire someone without the aptitudes, of course. But the relentless focus on those is blinding us. Aptitudes, you can learn. In fact, in this brave new world of ours there is only one certainty: that you will need to learn new things. Your aptitudes need to keep developing. It’s a moving target.
Attitudes though… attitudes are hard beasts to tame. It’s hard to break old habits, it’s hard to learn to be a different kind of human to what you learned on your mother’s knee and the school playground. And that has a bigger impact on whether your team can be more than the sum of what each new recruit knows.
I have little pazzazz of my own. My superpower is bulldozing the way open for amazing teams to do their thing, a thing that I could not ever do myself. Not as well. Nowhere near as well.
All I do is help find them, put them together and help them catch a wave. That’s our job, as hiring managers and team-builders and work-deliverers. Find the people who can deliver on the dream because they share it, who make the journey better just by sharing it. Some of this you can instil as you build the teams. But attitudes matter, especially when the journey ahead is long.
So when interviewing, ask people about your version of the ocean, not just ship-building. Talk to them about the dream. Share the challenges. Be open, be aspirational. Be transparent. The mariners you are looking for are not the ones who won’t hesitate, they are not the ones who will shrug away problems and belittle challenges to show enthusiasm. They are the ones who will start itching to solve, before you are even done telling. They are the ones who already long for the endless immensity of the sea.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!