Don't be that person: how we do talent and culture at 11:FS

 David M. Brear photo
David M. Brear Co-Founder & CEO, 11:FS
5min read

I’m often asked what I spend most of my time thinking about at 11:FS. Honestly, most of the time it's something to do with how to scale 11:FS in a way that places culture at the forefront of everything we do and keeps it there.

No brilliant jerks.

I could leave this blog post about culture and hiring at that. The end. Done. It really is that simple.

I'd love to take credit for the line but 1) I tend to say “no dicks” rather than “jerks” and 2) it was part of a now infamous Netflix culture deck. But as a hiring philosophy and view on culture, I completely agree with it.

When we founded 11:FS it was with a belief that the talent we work with and the culture we create would set us apart from the current incumbents. Digital has created a shift towards ‘small team sports’ because we know that smaller, diverse team of specialists outperform a larger team of unmotivated generalists.

I want 11:FS to be the firm to work at. The one on a CV or LinkedIn profile, whether they’re still here, or have moved on, that is a badge of honor. The place where they are given the space and support to do their best work. Nope, more than that. The place where people do better work than they ever thought they could.

As Group CEO there are plenty of things I need to work on, to be part of, to make decisions about. But culture is always a top priority because if i’m not passionate about our culture, how can I ask anyone else to be?

That means guarding against the obvious issues that I, and everyone else at 11:FS, has experienced first hand at other companies and are determined to not repeat here.

It’s the right attitude as much as aptitude

You find an amazing candidate. So obviously brilliant you can picture how they’ll help bring services to market, get new clients, put your name on the map. Only there’s an issue. The feedback from our interview process is overwhelming: “they’re brilliant at what they do...but...they’re seem a bit assholey”.

When we founded 11:FS it was with a belief that the talent we work with and the culture we create would set us apart from the current incumbents.

We won’t hire them. Not today, tomorrow, or in the future.

‘Ah...’ I can hear you argue, ‘...David, if this person is brilliant they could focus on their job and you can then focus on shaping them!'

Yeah, no.

It’s a massive time suck that means something more valuable doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s also entirely avoidable if you don’t hire them in the first place, so why would you?

There’s zero point trying to create values and a culture, asking employees to embrace them, and then hiring and promoting people who run counter to them.

I’ve seen it play out, over and over. At banks, at insurers, at agencies. You bring in one person you're not sure about, but there’s pressure to fill a role and you convince yourself that maybe this time it’s different and you can change them. You can’t.

Before you know it, the culture has been impacted and the thing that made you different, that made you ‘better’. It’s gone.

It isn't just in big ways but in small ones. They don't come in and punch someone in the face physically but jerks change the context. They make a collaborative environment combative. They make teams less productive and force people to take antagonistic extremes to counterbalance them.

Dramatic much? Sure.

But once it’s gone, it’s almost impossible to get it back and the biggest killer of a good culture is apathy.

Build it and they will come

That means finding, attracting and hiring the best talent on the planet that's aligned to our cultural values, in what is a highly competitive market. That’s hard. Like, really hard...but not impossible because we’re doing it.

If 11:FS is going to be sustainably successful, it can’t be about what’s in my head. That’s why over the last year we’ve spent a lot of time building and scaling the teams; but more importantly, the right teams and with the right people.

It’s easy to write ‘culture matters’, or talk about our ‘values’. But if it’s not backed with action, they’re just words.

Since day one, we’ve preached about being a media-first company and creating highly engaging content. Through our podcasts and blogs we’ve built and sustained an amazing community of curious minds in our industry, and beyond.

But to maintain and build on that we need to constantly rethink what we do, how we do it. Getting Eric Fulwiler, a former MD at VaynerMedia, in as CMO marks that transition, taking his experience of scaling that agency’s business, and applying that to continue to create digital experiences for ourselves and our clients, and through his expertise and guidance build on our Media strengths and help us continue to scale globally.

Shaun Meadows recently joined as Chairman. Now at first that might seem odd, because as a fully independent firm, we don’t need a Board in the traditional sense. However, I’m mindful that as 11:FS engages in new projects, with new clients and across new geographies, it is the right time to put structures in place to manage that growth effectively. Shaun brings a wealth of experience to 11:FS, as well as his focus on culture that made him the perfect choice.

Shaun gave me some good advice on the subject of jerks recently. If you imagine what 11 of that person you're interviewing would be like in your organisation. Is that a good thing or a bad one? Bad? Don’t hire them. Simple.

It’s easy to write ‘culture matters’, or talk about our ‘values’. But if it’s not backed with action, they’re just words. That’s why I’m so hyped on having Michael Curds join us as Head of Talent and the rest of his team.

Nothing attracts brilliant having a lot of them already here and doing that work at 11:FS.

His thinking, his ideas, his passion for doing things the ‘right’ way were so aligned that to not have him leading that team would have just been weird. You can read more of his thoughts here. Having someone of Mike’s ability, character and passion for workplace culture will take our Talent team, and 11:FS, to the next level.

Cultivating culture

This stuff is hard. But it’s vital. And it starts at the top with me as well through every employee we subsequently hire.

It runs throughout 11:FS. Every new person that comes through the door, I see it because we don’t ‘hire’ in the traditional sense. We actively seek people that inherently have the traits of being an ‘11’. Whether it’s in Consulting, Research, Media, or an engineer for 11:FS Foundry. We don’t need to train them in our values, or how we think about culture, they already have it and get it.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at Homescreen to see the depth of talent on the 11:FS Pulse team and how much they care for how digital services are built and designed. Or read the blog posts from our consulting team: Camila Heitz on the pains of mortgage processes, Brandon Chung on the HKMA’s virtual licenses. Or listen to the media team’s work across our Fintech Insider, Blockchain Insider and Insurtech Insider podcasts.

I could go on.

It matters: nothing attracts brilliant people, with the right attitude who want the freedom to do great things, like having a lot of them already here and doing that work at 11:FS.

We’re different. And proud of it

In the pressure of needing to find people, fill gaps in the business and deliver growth we could have hired the brilliant assholes. There are plenty of them to go around, believe me.

We didn’t and we won’t because I knew, as did everyone else involved in the process, that it would be detrimental to the company.

We want 11:FS to be a place for curious minds, whether they’re technologists, product managers, designers and others, to build their skills. A place they’re proud to work at. A place where they’re supported, encouraged and motivated to do the best work of their career.

And that is why I spend so much my time thinking about culture. Because it sets us apart but more importantly with a great culture, we will achieve great things.

If you’re interested in exploring new career opportunities, or like what you’ve read about our culture, you can check out all of our latest vacancies here.

 David M. Brear
About the author

David M. Brear

David is the CEO of 11:FS and since his dream of being a sportsperson was crushed (along with the ligaments in his knee!) and he had to get a proper job. He has worked in pretty much every angle of the financial services industry but never lost that competitive desire to win.