Fearing your annual review at work? Those days could be over

“Culture is not just apps. It’s a combination of people and technology. If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this” – Jeffrey Immelt, CEO, GE

In traditional banking and financial services institutions in the heartlands of London, it has been common practice ever since their establishment, which in some cases is over 300 years, to operate in a strictly hierarchical manner.

“Know your place, dear boy” would be a relatively commonly used parlance among 1950s managerial staff toward their employees, the managerial staff being life-long dedicated servants of just one institution, who often arrived at work at the same time every morning, adorned with a bowler hat, rolled up umbrella and a tie depicting the crest of the private school at which they were educated some 30 years previously.

This institutional, square-peg-in-a-square-hole methodology was the absolute fabric of stiff upper lip banking culture for decades, and when the 1990s came along, and technological methods began to meld with traditional financial services, giving rise to a global, completely empowered ecosystem of self-determining traders, innovators and brilliant minds which no longer fit the constraints of the ‘Yes Sir’ environment of yore.

Currently, there is a cultural environment among large companies that straddles the traditional and the modern. No longer are the Tier 1 banks with their leading edge proprietary technology and plate glass towers on Canary Wharf’s river banks in any way similar to the wood paneled gin palaces of 1950s Threadneedle Street, in the same way that the astute leaders of Britain’s most highly respected electronic trading companies are entrepreneurial thought leaders and commercial geniuses rather than members of an inert and handshake-orientated old boy network.

Affable Yorkshireman Peter Hargreaves, for example, initially worked as a computer salesman. He then started Hargreaves Lansdown by trading from a bedroom in 1981. During the thirty years – not three hundred – just thirty – Mr. Hargreaves, along with Steven Lansdown, his co-founder, drove the company forward to become Britain’s largest financial services firm with its own proprietary platform called Vantage, which allows investors and traders to manage their entire portfolio themselves from one platform.

In 2010, he stood down as chief executive, receiving £18 million in payouts from dividends. By 2011, Mr. Hargreaves had accrued a personal fortune of £1,025 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Hargreaves Lansdown now has a market capitalization of over £6 billion and is highly respected nationwide.

Peter Cruddas, CEO and founder of CMC Markets is another case in point.

At the age of 15, Mr. Cruddas left Shoreditch Comprehensive School in Hackney, with no formal qualifications, and joined Western Union as a Telex operator.

After being made redundant, he ventured into the FX industry, working as a dealer in the FX trading rooms of various banks in the Square Mile, before joining the London operations of Jordan’s Petra Bank in 1989 as Head of FX Dealing.

Less than a year later, Mr. Cruddas founded CMC Markets, his very own company, with just £10,000, driving the company forward for 25 years to its current valuation of £1.2 billion.

In 2011, Mr. Cruddas was appointed Treasurer of the Conservative Party, working closely with Lord Fink, who has raised vast funds for the Conservative Party over the years, and is also active in the FX industry, being the venture capital investor in newly established FX prime brokerage ISPrime.

The company continues to invest substantial resources in home-grown technology, which is developed and supported on site in London. CMC Markets’ 133 Houndsditch premises are home to a $100 million proprietary trading system which is hosted in-house, with integral servers and a full support team dedicated to its functionality.

So great is Mr. Cruddas’ confidence in London as not only a business center for the world but as a city in which to purchase high value real estate, following the company’s recent public listing on London Stock Exchange’s main market.

After a very conservative initial public offering (IPO) by CMC Markets in February this year, in which the company floated 31% of shares at a total of £218 million, the second time that the company has approached public listing with extreme caution after was it was dissuaded from going public in 2006 by advisers Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the latter of which took a 10% stake in the firm for $140 million in 2007. Post-IPO, Mr. Cruddas has retained majority control.

In mid 2016, he invested £42 million, which is a significant amount of his personal gain from the flotation of CMC Markets, in a seven-storey Victorian mansion in West London’s Mayfair district which had been previously owned by Iranian art dealer Nasser David Khalili.

Bearing this modernity and leadership ability in mind, the time has come to assess the effectiveness of old fashioned annual reviews and hierarchy.

Our industry is no longer the man-with-briefcase financial services business. It is now a combination of high technology, continual modernization, rapid development cycles and youthfulness. So great is this influence that even the regulatory authorities are becoming high-tech, giving rise to a new phenomenon, RegTech – literally ‘regulatory technology’ that empowers global financial markets regulators to not only keep up with the types of electronic systems that are being provided to customers to trade their own assets, but also to assist in the development of market infrastructure.

Today, meeting a CEO of a large electronic trading company or prime brokerage is very similar to meeting the CEO of a software development company. Modern, innovative, astute.

GE, one of North America’s largest companies which has interests in every sector from electronic equipment to aircraft engines, from healthcare consultancy to professional services, and of course financial services, has demonstrated that a corporate shift away from hierarchy and regular employee appraisals must give way to free thought and empowerment.

GE’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt, himself 60 years old, today voiced his opinion that GE needs to adopt a non-hierarchical approach.

He stated “I recently sat down with LinkedIn’s executive editor Dan Roth and we discussed a number of issues I find important to GE’s future: from our transformation into the world’s largest digital industrial company to our company’s evolving culture that’s focused on decentralized decision-making, speed and startup-like mentality.”

Mr. Immelt continued “Dan and I talked a lot about the Industrial Internet and the economic potential of connecting a locomotive or a jet engine to the cloud. The potential is so much bigger than the consumer internet! We can now use software and analytics to unlock the incredible value of machines and increase productivity, something that wasn’t available before.”

This brings me to how we will get there – our culture. We may be a century-old company, but we need to move quickly, take risks, fail fast and behave like a startup to keep winning. I joined GE 34 years ago, and until recently our management could make every decision in the headquarters. Those days are over. We have to embrace decentralization and use technology to help our people to stay connected and allow more automated decision-making so you can look at an app and see what’s going on inside the company.” Jeffrey R Immelt, CEO, GE

“Culture is not just apps. It’s a combination of people and technology. If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this” said Mr Immelt.

“We are also changing the way we evaluate our people. We’re trying to end anything that was annual or quarterly and make everything more real-time. We wanted to make the feedback process more like how we give each other advice in the real world. Instead of an annual review, we have an app PD @ GE where our people are getting continuous insights from their colleagues that they can use to get better every day” he said.

This represents very sound thinking and indeed could well be embraced on a widespread basis. Let’s face it, London and New York’s finest are already heading in that direction, as a call to any of their customer facing staff will demonstrate. No longer will “that is not my job” be heard anywhere, instead a fully knowledgeable and engaged professional will give absolutely informed answers to even the most complex questions, which certainly shows how the future will look.

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