Sep 27, 2017

We're not Google, and That's not a Bad Thing: Establishing an Attractive, but Realistic FinTech Culture

Steven O’Hanlon, Numerix CEO

While we do have the ping pong table, we don’t have the nap pods. While we don’t have a chef, we do offer free Snapples.

Silicon Valley tech giants, such as Google and Apple, are known for investing millions of dollars into their company cultures—and it’s working for them because they are both considered some of the best places to work for in the world. The point I want to make, as the head of a tech company with a staff of just over 300, is that it is very possible for smaller firms to also create great and unique cultures that offer a transformational experience to employees. The key is to stay focused on your values and to make an investment in culture that makes sense for the employees of your company.

It is completely unrealistic for a company like Numerix to attempt to emulate any type of Silicon Valley work environment, but we’ve worked hard—and I think we have succeeded—in creating a culture that I believe impacts employee happiness and growth, and our bottom line.

So I am going to share with you the secret sauce of the Numerix culture. As president and CEO, there are seven principles that I established to help this company maintain not just an attractive culture, but a top “fintech” culture as well.

1.    Build and Maintain a “Best-in-Class” Reputation
I want Numerix employees to inhabit a culture of excellence. For us, this means being a business that brings the best software to market, built upon innovation and technology superiority, and that has a reputation as being very smart and highly capable. I believe a company’s reputation is increasingly recognized as a business asset central to maintaining and increasing a company’s value to consumers as well as our attractiveness to current and prospective employees.

In fact, a Q2 2013 Engagement Study commissioned by Randstad’s research, which looked at the importance of company reputation in attracting new employees, showed that nearly all of those polled (96%), reported it would be important for their new company to have a great reputation.

2.    Be a World-Class Innovator
Most fintech firms are innovators, but the best fintechs are those companies that build the type of innovative technology that drives disruption within their respective industries. These companies also have a demonstrated ability to lead change and solve for industry-wide challenges. Fortunately, Numerix holds all of these attributes, and we’ve achieved this by maintaining a climate where entrepreneurial thinking, idea generation, risk taking, and the ceaseless quest for innovation are highly encouraged. This has helped us to attract some of the smartest quants and financial software engineers in the industry.

I also want to note that one attribute we absolutely avoid is, what I call, being inward-facing. As a fintech leader, it our responsibility to proactively inform and educate the world of people whose problems and needs we are trying to solve. In our case, this is best exemplified by hosting an annual global user conference, which we hold each October.

What we refer to as “NEXT” is a world-class event that provides a forum for Numerix clients, prospects, and our community of fellow fintech practitioners to exchange ideas and explore innovations in financial technology, as well as discuss the profitability challenges and regulatory changes impacting the capital markets. NEXT also offers unparalleled networking with industry leading peers at the top of their game as well as a front-row seat to what's on the horizon for technology solutions so as to help place our constituents ahead of coming challenges.

3.    Hire to Fit Your Culture
Sure, like everyone else, we look to hire the best people, but we also seek to hire those that we believe will align with our company values and who we perceive as being best suited to our culture. We’re not fanatical about how we recruit new employees, but we do follow a well-structured interview and vetting process that screens for both talent and character. No company can claim hiring right 100% of the time, but I think we’ve built a strong capability at identifying who is a good fit.

All hiring managers know that poor hiring decisions can be extremely costly for a company, both in terms of how it affects team morale and business productivity—not to mention the wasted recruiting time and resources. That’s why we hire to fit our culture—culture is the “glue” that holds our organization together.

However, I want to stress that hiring to fit our culture does not mean hiring the same type of people all the time. An important part of the Numerix culture is that we sometimes go against the grain by hiring individuals who we think can shake things up, help us expand the ways we approach problems, and who thinks outside the box. Promoting a culture of innovation means hiring innovative and creative thinkers.

4.    Recognize Excellence
Every parent knows the importance of positive affirmation for children. “Great goal, Cindy!” “Awesome job picking the biggest potato, Greg!” It matters for employees, too. But I don’t mean to be whimsical. It’s my personal view that management’s recognition of individuals for outstanding work and excellence should be taken very seriously. Whether it’s singling people out at our monthly town hall meeting, using a group chat to congratulate someone on an accomplishment, electing an employee of the year, or the all-time favorite—a promotion, at Numerix we go out of our way to recognize all individual contributors to big projects and initiatives. Honoring someone can instill admiration among colleagues . . . and also inspire friendly competition.

5.    Have an Offsite to Inspire Commitment and Cohesion
So how do I motivate “Team Numerix”? My most impactful tactic is to hold an annual offsite to kick off a New Year. A well-run offsite can be a great motivator for team building, productivity, and staff bonding—and a way to plan for the future. Our annual offsite is a time when we stop thinking of people in terms of “teams” or “departments.” Here, we’re all part of the same team, and the event builds a sense of unity and inclusivity, which in turn nurtures our culture.

In my opinion, an offsite has to differ in critical respects—it has to be strategic, bold, dynamic and long enough to make a lasting impression. The agenda must be packed with strategic business sessions but also brimming with team-building and relationship-building activities.

I want to add that this is one event the CEO needs to own—completely. While my executive management team helps me run our offsite, I drive it. It represents my vision and my agenda. There is no better person to implement the desired culture of a company than the CEO.

6. Show You Care
We truly care about our employees and their personal lives. We demonstrate this through a focus on three of the factors that drive overall well-being: health/wellness, family life, and work satisfaction. In regards to health and wellness, we actively encourage our employees to participate in a number of preventive care programs we sponsor, as well as those for stress relief and relaxation. In fact, a culture of health is a differentiator: while a majority of companies say they want to create a culture of health, only 19% of employers actually report having one.

We also believe in a strong work-life balance and fully respect our employees’ home and family priorities. And while we may not have the resources of a Google or Apple, we are absolutely committed to providing a work environment that keeps employees engaged, highly productive, and where they feel they can thrive and be appreciated.

Employees appreciate that their employer cares, and it can make a difference to business success. Research conducted by Aon Hewitt reveals statistically significant relationships between higher levels of employee engagement and financial performance. In its studies, Aon Hewitt found that a 5% increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3% increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year. To quote Dr. Paul Marciano from his 2010 book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, “Engaged employees fight for the kingdom!”

7.    Make Time for Fun
Fun is important, too. We are all human and a little silliness and laughter can go a long way. For example, here at Numerix we encourage employees to attend our weekly happy hour held every Friday during the summer. The pitchers of sangria come out, the champagne is popped, the beers are cold, and the hors d'oeuvres are served. It’s one of our ways of saying thank you, and also a great way for employees new and old to get to know each other in a more social setting. We also use the summers to inspire some friendly competition. Starting every July, we hold our annual doubles ping pong tournament. This year, the winners each received a new Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

While it might be difficult to manage for companies with tens of thousands of people, a simple quarterly birthday calendar could provide a reason to celebrate. Every quarter, we take an hour out of an afternoon to consume delicious gourmet cupcakes in celebration of all employee birthdays that fell during that time period. It’s a small gesture but always brings a lot of smiles.

The Link Between Culture and Business
These are my seven most important components to creating a strong organizational culture that, I believe, breeds high employee morale, commitment, engagement, loyalty and the drive to succeed professionally and personally. My goal is to create an enjoyable and productive workplace for all team members, which could ultimately lead to, from a business standpoint, boosted competitiveness and increased revenues because of shared beliefs and values—and a shared devotion to achieving business goals.

Steve O'Hanlon is president and CEO of Numerix, a Fintech specializing in solutions for capital markets. O'Hanlon has spent his 35+ year career in leadership positions growing start-ups and SMBs across the financial services technology industry. He has a passion for entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation. Today, O'Hanlon is focused on building businesses, promoting a digital mindset and driving success.
Follow more of Steve O'Hanlon's insights on Leadership, Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship on LinkedIn.

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