Diary of a FinTech CMO: How to Get Your Old School Tech Company Thinking Like a Startup,The Final Chapter

Craft + Communication = Culture & Enviable Culture = Enviable Talent.

There have been volumes written on workplace culture. If you Google it, you immediately see headlines from the likes of The WSJ, Fortune, Fast Company, InformationWeek, and many others touting ways to identify it, create it, improve it or change it.

There’s a reason for that. A company’s culture is it’s DNA. And, in this market where tech companies, in particular are in fierce competition for scarce talent, it’s what can set your company apart by bringing real value to employees and instilling loyalty.

In this series, How to Get your Old School Tech Company Thinking Like a Startup, I’ve shared our recent journey at Trading Technologies (TT) as we embarked on major change across every aspect of our organization in order to take us and our customers through the next 20 years and beyond. And, we did it across 13 offices on five continents with more than 350 employees.

I’ve already shared some of the challenges, key learnings and resulting initiatives we implemented from our 3-pronged process in the areas of Craft and Communication. The final piece in our process, the last “C,” as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is Culture.

But, we found Culture stands connected, yet apart from the other two. Through our process we determined that our Craft (in our case our technology and processes) plus Communication (from leadership, among co-workers, with partners, customers and the community) leads to or equals our Culture.

In fact, we think our culture, our ‘DNA,’ is a culmination and celebration of our core craft and the communication that keeps us all connected.

And, if culture is cultivated from a combination of the passion for our core craft and how that passion, (through the vision, principles, etc.) are communicated, then it has to come from the top and it has to be authentic.

While we are a 20+-year-old company, we are lucky enough to have a CEO with a true entrepreneurial spirit in Rick Lane. His passion for TT’s technology, hands-on approach (he still logs hours coding) and drive to make sure TT is continually evolving, helps make TT’s culture a true reflection of him. And, it’s one of the core reasons I wanted to join TT. After all, an organization’s lifeblood starts with and is its people.

At TT, we worked to distill down to the core principles that drive our Craft and Communication, resulting in the development and perpetuation of our unique Culture. What we found was we embody or see ourselves as tech pioneers, visionaries and risk takers who are committed to our co-workers and our users. And, above all else we value ownership.

Some Key Learnings from identifying and nurturing our Culture are:

  1. As mentioned above, while modeling culture is everyone’s responsibility, leadership must drive change by being authentic- And, live their words through action;
  2. Continually evaluate talent. Identify where you can close gaps by fostering growth and professional dev from within, but also by bringing in fresh blood that inspires new thinking;
  3. Create a work environment that is conducive to supporting your company’s personality. This includes everything from office spaces and common areas to flexible work schedules and benefits.

From these, I’m going to share some more details on how we are working to create a global work environment that both reflects and helps our employees ‘live’ our culture. As mentioned in Part I of this series, from our experience, making the environment a focus really helps to cultivate happiness, engender loyalty, generate greater communication, creativity and productivity and attract new talent.

When we started talking internally about work environment, we included everything from offices and common areas to benefits and flexible work schedules. And, when you put environment under the framework of the principles mentioned above (tech pioneers, visionaries, risk takers, committed to team & users, ownership takers), we knew we needed to create an environment that fosters what our people do best and honors their commitment to their craft, each other and our customers.

Two years ago, we went through a major renovation at our headquarters in Chicago to support a mobile workplace. Our new open plan got rid of most of the traditional offices and replaced them with open work spaces. This allows for greater collaboration and organic learning. Now, even our CEO sits in an open cube.

In addition, we created some cool, common areas like our kitchen/cafeteria that includes a unique wood bar (with craft beers on tap) and doubles as a daytime tech-support space as well as a spot to grab a cold beer. Alongside it are tables to gather a group as well as cozy nooks for more intimate meetings or to just to get a change of scenery during the work day.

We also created a space that serves as both a game room (ping pong, anyone?) and a larger area to host presentations or other gatherings.

While we’re proud of our flagship space, we wanted to ensure that our co-workers around the globe are also able to ‘live’ the TT culture and see it reflected in their space and amenities. Amongst others, we’ve recently completed renovations in London, Pune, India and Singapore

Pune, India and Singapore offices

In addition to creating an environment that supports our core principles, fosters our culture and “does right,” by our incredibly talented team, we provide employee benefits that extend beyond a 401K and insurance. Among the long list of employment premiums at TT include, flex-work schedules, extended full-pay maternity benefits, patent submission and application bonuses, technology stipends, wellness subsides and open kitchens with provided breakfast. Why? Our people are the lifeblood of the organization — we feel it is very important to retain our talent and also be attractive in the highly competitive technology job market.

In fact, TT has been selected as a 2016 Chicago Timmy Awards finalist in the “Chicago’s Best Technology Work Culture” category. The Timmy Awards recognize leading tech companies that strive to create a work culture that promotes creativity, innovation and learning.

Back to the beginning of this post, in today’s market as well as the market for the foreseeable future, the competition for top-tech talent is tight. I saw in a recent U.S. News article that there are three jobs available for every 2016 graduate with a computer science degree. By truly ‘living’ our culture and empowering our people to do what they do best in a space that fosters that, I think we’ve got our best foot forward.

Thanks for reading my series, “How to Get Your Old School Tech Company Thinking Like a Startup.” By going through this entire, 3-pronged process focused on Craft, Communications and Culture, I think we got smarter about who we are as a company and where we want to go next. And, by truly understanding those things, we’re now better able to identify what kind of people make the best TT co-workers and who will help us stay innovative and drive the company forward.

I welcome your thoughts, feedback and questions.

Until next time,

Brian Mehta, (@brianmehta) CMO, Trading Technologies