Why I want you to take me for granted: leadership, delivery and core banking
I am writing this on the last day of my holiday. It’s been amazing and, much as I love you guys, I don’t want to come back. Don’t take it personally. But I am in the most beautiful place on Earth, with one of my best friends, books and excellent coffee.
I can think of a reason or two to return, truth be told, but I do not share the barely suppressed panic everyone I have met so far on this holiday seems to feel while away from the office. The firmly held belief that their business is floundering in their absence, that their team is swinging from roof beams or accidentally setting the building on fire.
I tried to explain to one of them, entirely unsuccessfully, why I am not worried about it.
I think he walked away from the conversation thinking I have the least important job in a room full of people working on something quirkily important. I evidently need to work on my pitch.
Because only half of that is true.
I have the least important job in a room full of people who do something so important, they want it to be ubiquitous, accessible and hassle-free. It is the most important thing and therefore they want to democratise access to it. It is important therefore it should be for everyone. The right to it should be taken for granted. As should my team’s right to my service.
Servant leadership and core principles
I am the CEO of a small tech firm.
Do you know what that means?
I have the least important job in the room.
We are a product company. The product team, the tech teams, the scrum mistress extraordinaire and the BAs, the delivery guys and the platform engineers. They are the company.
I am their shield, their scout, their protector, their remover of obstacles and fetcher of lost things. I deal with floods, fires, structures and shapes. I deal with problems before or during. I deal with noise so they can do the work.
I have a job, don’t get me wrong, I am not walking the halls going “well, this is nice… a bit quiet, mind… but nice”.
I have a job that keeps me busy and running around like a thing possessed.
But my job is to make sure the team can do theirs. I am their servant in all things. And my presence and function should be taken for granted.
They should know I will deal with the stuff that gets in their way with a confidence that goes way beyond appreciation. They should accept and expect it. It is our covenant. If I do my job properly, they don’t ever think about it. They just go about theirs knowing I will do my bit and they should feel no excitement about it. They take me for granted.
It is as it should be.
Core banking and new age sages
I feel very strongly about this because this is how we feel about the area of banking we operate in. Core banking has for so long been the millstone around our necks. Innovation that didn’t touch the core was the most common delineation of where the chief innovation officer’s remit ended and the realm of “career-ending programmatic change” began. Core banking was not core because it was that central to differentiating business propositions. It was core because it was at the centre of the unmovable monolith that set the bank’s slow pace and bridled its ambition.
And that needs not be the case any more.
I have written about this before. And will, no doubt, do so again.
About how Foundry and others like us are leveraging tech that is out there, real, robust and scalable (let’s not go down this path before, we have all spent way too long in bank meeting rooms, answering questions from compliance on how “real” tech is. It’s real. Move on.) We are here, creating foundational capabilities that don’t compromise scale for agility, that are both secure and real-time. I won’t push my product here (if you want to hear more, you know where I am… hint, nudge). What I will push is the idea that your core banking, a bit like your CEO, is not the most important thing you’ve got. Or at least, it is not the most important thing in the way you are currently thinking about it.
It matters, it has a job, you and the world will notice if it fails. But the point is not to. The point is that it should know its place – to serve and support all your functions and never hold back your ambition – and deliver against what is required with so little fuss and drama so as you can forget it’s there.
Your core banking should be so good, you don’t need to wonder if it is up to the challenge of what you need to do next.
Your core banking should be so reliable that you never need to remember to remember to think about it.
Your core banking is there to underpin, fuel, support. It should be counted on to work seamlessly, effectively, perfectly.
You should expect it to be willing and able to accelerate your ambitions, not hold them back.
That is what we are building. Something so good, so reliable, so flexible and solid that you can marvel at it for a second. And then go about your business never having to wonder if it will continue supporting you in the background.
I know it sounds crazy: wanting your product to not be at the forefront of your clients’ thoughts, not seeking out and manufacturing delight-filled touch points. Not wanting opportunities to engage, interact and rejoice. I know it goes against the grain of how we have structured interactions with clients, historically.
But pause and think.
There is a new kind of wisdom to what my team are putting together: something so reliable, you can forget about it.
Taking me for granted is the highest degree of trust
There is an automatic negative connotation to taking someone for granted. And I guess in a romantic context I would understand it. But is there any context other than a romantic one where you need to reaffirm the trust in the solidity and reality of something? The confidence that the sun will rise, your mother will love you, the earth will rotate steadily on its axis and your core banking will quietly serve your business aspirations, humming away in the background, acting like the plumbing that it is. Essential, ubiquitous and reliable.
Doing its part so you can do yours. The least exciting part of your business but the one that clears the path for the magic to happen.
A bit like being CEO.
I never got to explain this properly to the American tourist who sat next to me on the boat.
Maybe I didn’t use the right words.
Maybe he would prefer to be important rather than useful and, you know, horses for courses.
And maybe what I ought to have said is: not only is my team not setting the building on fire while I am away. They are doing great things, as if I was still there. And I know this, without checking. Because I trust them in a way that goes behind trust.
Maybe i should have tried to convey the profound vote of confidence that is my ability to completely take their delivery, reliability and accountability for granted: counting on its unfailing presence, without needing to check if it is there or second-guess what we can take on next.
I take their awesomeness for granted. It is my starting point. The cornerstone of our ambition. It is how what comes next becomes possible.
A bit like how core banking should be.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.