The five things I learned working for Lloyds Banking Group
When I joined LBG in 2016, I arrogantly assumed I had little left to learn. Almost five years later I’m an entirely different person with a ton of new perspectives on people, products and working culture. Before I start my new adventure I want to capture these.
Worry about people above all else
It’s easy to be a busy idiot in a sea of meetings that have limited value; meetings equal presence which suggest importance which creates a sense of security, something not to be underestimated as a motivator in an organisation which is continually striving for more efficiency (and less people).
The first casualty of this is your team as you let 121’s slip and manage by email. You’ll appear to be spinning many plates and will likely be celebrated for doing so, but in truth you’ll be operating on shaky ground with a team of colleagues around you who will be dealing with a range of big and small issues.
Stopping to clear your diary and prioritise proper time with people will be difficult as it will mean not attending some seemingly ‘key’ meetings, and you’ll probably raise eyebrows for missing out on a ‘key’ update. However, like giving up any bad habit, these ‘key’ items will seem less important over time; especially as you properly connect with the team, taking time to listen to their worries and enjoying their successes.
So review your diary for next month and delete a few things, especially the ones that make you gulp as you do so. Stick in some proper time for the team. Ask them how they are and don’t rush to get to work stuff. Find out how they’re feeling, and feel the relief as they ask you the same. In turn, you’ll all do better work and be able to identify the important topics among the noise.
Methods come and go; it’s better to stick with core values and ignore method hype
Big companies are method junkies, obsessed with discovering the new elixir for eternal business vitality. This means there is a conveyor belt of experts and practitioners pushing their wares, drawing familiar diagrams that will take you from problem to solution in 3, 4 or 5 easy steps.
There’s a lot of good in this as it’s invaluable for less experienced colleagues, or those perhaps wedded to waterfall ways of working from the past. For many though, I think endless method debates are of limited value, and time is better spent doing the doing. Method debates are both incredibly time consuming and circular, and present a barrier between design / product / engineering and the business, presenting us as precious theorists rather than action-orientated doers.
If you’ve been around the agile and design thinking process for a few years you’ll likely understand the core values of iteration and failing fast etc, so embody these and help others get moving.
Assuming best intent from others is the only strategy
Big companies appear to be incredibly political at first sight, with conflicting agendas, old and new guards, and a complex Venn diagram of business priorities. It’s easy to imagine others are out to get you, either aggressively or passively. And with this belief, it’s easy to be closed, to squirrel away information and create clandestine relationships with trusted colleagues based on rumour and spin.
This is absolutely rubbish and a terrible way to go about your work. It’s exhausting, negative and leads to paranoia. I also believe it’s ultimately misguided as people are inherently good, and company politics are 99% not driven by personal considerations.
Better to assume everyone you meet is doing the best job they can, with your collective best interest at heart. Sure, they seem unwilling to share a particular document, but rather than assume conspiracy, assume there’s a solid reason they’re not sharing and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Creating good vibes with your fellow colleagues is not only a happier existence, but is contagious. You’ll single-handedly be able to shift small bits of the culture by being more open than the next person.
Ideas are cheap, delivery is everything
The most exciting thing about UK fintech is also the most challenging; there are very few new ideas under the sun. I imagine there are at least fifty teams in London right now staring at the same set of ideas for banking innovation, with slight variations in layout.
Therefore I’ve learned to obsess less about uncovering the new thing, and more about creating structures and teams for moving ideas forward. This is not easy in a large bank and I’ve not delivered as much working product as I would have hoped, but I’m found it more rewarding to step away from the idea treadmill and instead iterate on existing thinking within structures where the path to delivery is known.
Earn your place rather than expect it
It’s easy to join a company with a big job title and expect to be welcomed with open arms, and i’ve seen many smart people become quickly deflated that the enthusiasm from their line manager isn’t shared by their stakeholders. Whether you’ve joined as a designer or engineer or agile coach, it’s tempting to assume you have all the answers the company has been waiting for, and that you turning up will be heralded.
Rather than sulking, or worse escalating and getting into awful forced confrontations about territory, I’ve found it far more useful and pleasant to get into the work however possible.
This does mean that occasionally I’ve done a fair amount of tactical work, and activities that others would consider quite junior, but it’s been these hard hours that have taught me the most about the space i’m working in. Also in a large company where many colleagues have spent 20+ years, a willingness to get your hands dirty is a great way of making friends and connections.
So that’s that. Nothing revolutionary but some useful reminders for myself as I go into the next job.