Kirsty Lynagh: Think big, act small, be humble

In late 2014, almost exactly 5 years ago, I joined a conference call telling me my role was redundant from a large global bank. I heard the news whilst holding my 11-week-old son in my arms and also some distance away from my colleagues as I was on maternity leave. In all, not a very human experience.

As I came to terms with the idea that I no longer had job security and, coupled with all the emotions of new parenthood, I remember feeling overwhelmed. I worried how we would survive financially and the idea of finding a new role that I could enjoy and would enable me to work flexibly to support my family seemed almost impossible. I seriously considered not returning to the workplace at all.

With the benefit of hindsight, I need not have worried as just a few months later I discovered Nucleus and now I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to have established my role leading the people team in a progressive company that understands the value in each one of our people, encourages authenticity and gets that our culture is a source of competitive advantage.

Nucleus started with an ambitious goal – to transform financial services and put the customer centre stage. We’ve made the transition from a four-person start-up into an established fintech company over the last 13 years. We now employ 235 people in the heart of Edinburgh, work in partnership with over 850 financial advisers in the UK and collectively we look after around £15bn pounds of 90,000 clients’ money. It’s a high growth, fast faced, scaling business and we want to have the mind-set of a technology business but the substance of a regulated financial company. We recognise that if we don’t do this well, we don’t earn the right to do anything else.

I am driven by the idea of building and sustaining a completely human centric organisation. I know the delivery of our product and financial goals are entirely dependent on the collective human endeavour of all our people. I love people. I’m fascinated by what humans can achieve if we create the conditions where people can do their best work. I have a curiosity to explore this.

There is no doubt that technology is driving profound change – largely for good. I think we have a tendency to make this our focus and if we are not careful we could become blindsided.

If technology is your only answer, then I think you are asking the wrong question. Worry less about technology and start worrying more about people.  We were humans way before we were ever resources or customers and obvious but important point often overlooked in the workplace.

Progressive organisations are re-designing the workplace unhindered by the past and without legacy issues. The importance of culture as competitive advantage is a common theme – scaling and evolving with growth.  Of course, it is much easier to do this in a company that is growing than a shrinking one.  I think smaller companies have a unique opportunity here in the race for the middle ground between start-ups scaling from nil and incumbents shrinking from scale mediocrity.

I think organisations are eager to expend time and energy on cultivating their corporate and employer brand often seem far less inclined to engage in the actions required to close the gap between culture perception and reality. I think very few organisations are thinking hard enough about how to deliver an aligned and connected people experience that delivers value. This seems bonkers to me – technology has brought many benefits and one of the most important in my mind has been transparency. If you are not delivering what you said you would to customers – it impacts you commercially, the same applies to your people. At a time when organisations risk public exposure and backlash if an employee takes to social media to share the ugly truth behind a shiny brand image, one might think companies would be far more concerned with closing the gap between their brand and culture. Instead, many seem to have either forgotten these are distinct things or ceased to care.

I’ve spoken in the past about financial services being too product-led, inward looking and inclined towards peer comparison. What if instead we focused on relevance to the outside world? On trust, transparency and human connection?

You get the culture you deserve. You can’t intend your way into a great culture, you have to behave your way there.

Jaron Lanier – Silicon Valley visionary and the godfather of virtual reality questions the way that digital technology is influencing the world, and believes the solution is to double down on being human.

I love that concept – “to double down on being human” consider what our organisations and the world could look like?

What would it have meant to me 5 years ago?

My son Louis in my arms, my phone on loud-speaker balanced on my shoulder, speaking to a person I’ve never met and being told, alongside 500 others that my role (not the person though) was being made redundant and that my documents are in the post.

Was this a human experience? No. Were they being human? No.

Did they double down on being human? Certainly not.

I can’t help but think, if they had been more human in the years that preceded this phone call. Had they doubled down on being human and considered each and every one of their people in their strategy and decision making. Had they considered the impact on their customers, their shareholders and themselves….

That once global bank might not have had to make the call at all.

Times have changed. As with most things in life, who cares, wins. So… let’s care more.

My ask of you: give space to allow your humans to grow, to do great work and as a by-product you will win in the marketplace.

*You can see Kirsty as an expert panelist at the Changing the Course of the Wealth Industry conference. Sign up here