Lessons from the frontline
It’s been a very interesting time to be leading and managing an investments business like Fidelity; where human capital is at the epicentre of all that we do. We’re very fortunate that ours is a high ‘intellectual property’ business and industry, at a time when the world is meaningfully stepping forward into the ‘post-industrial revolution’ phase of its development; where capitalism is shifting to a world requiring lower ‘working capital’ and higher ‘human capital’.
We’ve had pretty much our entire workforce working from home right across the globe. Internationally that’s meant moving 8,500 people to a new way of working in just a few months. We’ve had to do that during huge capital markets volatility, where we have been required to outperform from an investments stand-point, meet high service level requirements of current clients and at the same time manage all our fiduciary obligations to regulators. I have to say, I’m exceptionally proud that we have achieved all three and that is due to both the agility of our teams and, in turn their resilience in the face of significant change.
I have always placed huge value in the concept of ‘team’. My belief is that no one person can do it all, see it all, make all the decisions etc. The world and the corporate world in particular, has reached levels of complexity, that the true value of leadership is now, not knowing it all, but instead is being able to co-opt groups of different people and skill sets, to achieve a common aim. To take this one step further, I see the current COVID-19 led shift, as a major opportunity to accelerate us forward into ‘distributed leadership’, further empowering our people and calling on us to work hard to help each individual on our teams, bring their best selves and their best brain-power to their work.
Large global organisations, such as Fidelity, require the ‘spinal cord’ of hierarchy and infrastructure, in order to provide classic functions such as over-arching strategy, finance, legal & compliance etc. However, a hard-coded spinal cord can keep complex companies wedded to the military based, command and control style of leadership and management. This was absolutely appropriate in the industrial revolution and beyond. However, as with many industries, our assets walk through the door every morning (or at least they did until COVID 19), and we are now being invited by external forces, as leaders, to ‘let go without losing control’, to harness the power of our people, wherever they work and however they do their best work.
New ways of thinking about structure and planning
This period has been a really interesting time, to be reviewing and adapting my leadership and learning new skills. I’ve had to sit back and ask, what is the appropriate and necessary infrastructure to allow me and my senior leadership team to build a thriving and resilient business, in this new environment? In my view, it is a focus on robust governance structures, clear charters for each group/team within our business and clear delegated authority. This must be supported by the blood flow of communication, so we are having to work much harder on appropriate, relevant and inclusive communications, to our teams and to our clients. Our corporate communications have been critical to maintaining the transparency, the access, and also the inclusivity of our firm, and I believe will play an ever-growing role in the success of many businesses going forward.
Buy-in and alignment are key. Let’s take the governance structures as a given and then think about the connective tissue around those structures, such as the rituals of the organisation and the culture. People ARE the culture of an organisation, so hiring the right person, for the right job, with the right attitude is priority no. 1 for leaders. Then providing the guide-rails of values with aligned behaviours is the second priority. Policing behaviours, is necessary to ensure a nurturing eco-system for all our people. This in turn, means results and doing the right thing for clients and for others, should flow as a natural consequence of good behaviours.
While the work never finishes on these key elements to success, with these in place, driving alignment is more easily facilitated. If our people feel aligned to the values of the firm and our central objective, and importantly, they are both included in the formulation of our strategy as well as given clear ownership of parts of the strategy and associated deliverables, maintaining alignment is also facilitated. With that comes the necessity to expand our KPI’s, to include ‘purpose KPI’s’. For instance, at Fidelity Australia a key focus of our growth strategy is diversification. This is necessary to build a resilient business for the future, as well as accessing new growth channels. So, we monitor our success with new types of clients (however big or small), new strategies, new platforms and new vehicles, as a way to judge our success, rather than focusing on just the dollars coming through the door.
Thinking differently about risk
This may be the first of many pandemics, so I'm certainly going to be planning for this recurring again in my business-planning process!
We’ve revisited our Business Continuity Planning, to plan for a 20%, 30% and 50% hit to any one team from COVID-19. It’s been a worthwhile exercise, where we now established minimum thresholds for certain functions and have put in place a coverage model not just in Australia, but a reciprocal coverage model with Hong Kong and Dalian, for critical functions.
Also, we have re-allocated some of our 2020 travel and expenses budget, to external expertise, in order to move key projects forward in a timely and low risk way. We had an opportunity to step off the treadmill as a leadership team and look at a number of our processes that now need to change, because we are working remotely. Now, when we are doing new things for the business, we have an up-front scoping phase, involving external expertise (could be legal or product expertise for example), in order to frame the project appropriately, build a more granular workflow and allocate the appropriate ‘sponsor’ very early in the piece. This should mean our delivery is more fluid, despite us all working in separate locations.
New challenges, new opportunities
Post Industrial Revolution we pulled everybody in from the countryside, into the epicentres of trade and manufacturing and in doing so, ultimately generated the major cities we live in today. These same cities could now be seen as a massive problem because of pollution, traffic and now, epicentres for disease. This is combined with the recent learning that, almost every job anchored in intellectual property, can be done from anywhere, if high speed broadband is available!
It makes me think as a business leader people about managing into the future, from a distance and also about accessing new and diverse talent pools. We need to re-think the optionality we provide as a firm, in order to attract and retain great employees. We will also have to review our hiring processes; how do we interview remotely and ensure we chose the right person for the job without sitting down for coffee (possibly the use of psychometric tests becomes more important) etc.?
We've got to take this opportunity and run like hell with it!
This document is issued by FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”). Fidelity Australia is a member of the FIL Limited group of companies commonly known as Fidelity International.
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