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OfferZen Updates: MERGE Presentation: Warren Foxley on How a Pragmatic Culture Helps Luno Succeed
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MERGE Presentation: Warren Foxley on How a Pragmatic Culture Helps Luno Succeed

17 January 2020, by Candice Grobler

If you aren’t able to be pragmatic and honest, you quickly fall behind competitors who are constantly working to improve themselves and their product - especially in the world of cryptocurrency. Luno uses their pragmatic culture to empower their team to constantly re-evaluate their systems and processes.

In this talk, Warren Foxley discusses the tools and heuristics that Luno uses to enable a culture that drives company, team and individual success.


Presentation transcript

[00:00] All right. Well, good afternoon everyone, welcome to my talk. I’m going to be talking you through how a pragmatic culture helps Luno succeed. First off, a way of introduction. So my name is Warren and I’m an IOS tech lead at Luno. I’ve been in mobile development for about seven years now and, in total, about 10 years in the IT industry. I’ve worked in some really diverse industries, entertainment, manufacturing, retail and it’s been great. Right now, my main drive is upgrading the world to a better financial system. And a real great positive of that is being able to work with some really, really incredible people.

[00:52] Anyway, so I’m going to discuss three aspects of Luno’s culture with you today that help drive pragmatism in the company. So, why? Well, adopting these aspects allows pragmatism in our teams, and the benefit to that is allowing us to constantly self-question ourselves in the things we do, the processes we have, and how we project ourselves within the industry. And the crypto-industry is fast moving and rapid. And if we can’t be honest with ourselves, we’ll be left behind and our competitors will just go on.

[01:36] So the core aspects I’m going to be talking to you today are: our drive to hire for diversity, the Principle of Charity, and creating a safe space. So let’s get talking. Our drive to hire for diversity, so when I talk to diversity, I think a lot of you will be thinking race and gender, and you’re not wrong, and race and gender is very important at Luno. But we also feel there’s a third, more important aspect, and that is background. The better background diversity there is the better. For an example, let’s take a group of people, or students, that are racially and genderly, if that’s a word, are diverse, but they went to the same university. There’s a good chance that they will be less diverse in background than a group of individuals that aren’t necessarily gender and racially diverse that went to different universities, or didn’t go to university, at all.

[02:45] So, why? Well, let me use an analogy here. So imagine there’s this mountain and I can’t see it. Okay, cool. And all of you have gone and you visited this mountain from different aspects, from different points of view. Now, individually you’ve all got a very narrow view of this mountain, and from that you don’t know all the tricks and traps and the way to scale this mountain. But if we call come together, and we take our collective experiences and perspectives, and put it down on the table, we’d get a much better idea of this mountain and what’s the best way of scaling it. And that is what’s important. Whoops, there we go. And that’s what important. Diverse backgrounds gives us many perspectives. Many perspectives give many solutions to a problem. And with many solutions, we can have a final solution that addresses the problem from all these different, diverse aspects.

[03:57] So what are the benefits? So from a personal point of view, working with a bunch of people that are diverse in background, you’re going to be solving problems with them. And your way of thinking might not be the best way of solving that problem. So when talking to them, and solving this problem, you’re going to be enlightened to all these different perspectives that you may have never considered, and you’ll be left with, well, wow, like, “This guy’s amazing. He figured this problem out like it was easy”. And you can go forward with that in your back pocket. And hopefully, you can apply that to future problems that you approach.

[04:37] So on a company level, the benefits of having diverse background is you get, like I said previously, holistic solutions that have got all these different aspects and are contributing to the solution at hand. So then also some tips and hacks just around how we get that right. Well, part of our interview process is we have a culture-add portion of the interview, where our line manager that’s hiring will talk to the candidate in a much more relaxed setting, and gauge their background, see how they will add value and diversity to our backgrounds at Luno. And while doing that, we want to look for productive disagreement rather than agreement, because if everyone agrees on a problem, you’re looking at it from a very narrow point of view.

[05:29] Right, so the second topic I’d like to talk to you about today, is the Principle of Charity. So what is the Principle of Charity? It’s pretty straightforward: always assume someone’s best intentions. Take what they meant, not what they said. So, when we come to questions later, remember, anything I say, take what I meant, please, not what I said. So where did the Principle of Charity come from? So with the advent of modern media, more and more what’s happening is things are being taken out of context and debates and conversations spiral out of control about the things that are irrelevant about the topic at hand. I’m sure many of you can think back to a Facebook or Twitter conversation recently where someone said something, perhaps poorly, and everyone then proceeded to attack that person for what they said, not the message they were trying to convey.

[06:34] No one ever really asked that person, “Well, what did you actually mean?” And some scholars even believe the principle of charity existed well before modern media, even in ancient times. There’s reference in ancient manuscripts where they make reference to the Principle of Charity, and I quote, “He denounces the wicked who make a man an offender for a word”. This can be taken for ‘take what they meant, not what they said’.

[07:08] So why is this important? So at Luno, across many countries now and many offices, and… Okay, wait. First off, who does not know what Slack is? Put up your hand. Awesome, cool. I don’t have to explain that one. So our main form of communication is Slack, and over text, emotion is lost, and it can be obscured based on many different factors: the way you’ve typed it, the person’s personal bias lens. And with the Principle of Charity, you can then, when you get these messages whether they’re written great, and the person who has written it has written it with the Principle of Charity in mind, or not. You can go and you can retract, subtract, remove, all of the emotion or anything else, but leave just what was meant. Yeah.

[08:15] So now, I want to take you through a real life example, because what I’ve just said sounds great in theory, but it really can be hard to apply this in real life. So some background first, we’re busy going live in some countries in Asia, and I started seeing this term being used quite a lot, Xfers, X-F-E-R-S, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, work out what this acronym meant. And the more I saw it, the more I realised I actually needed to know what this thing meant. So I went onto Google like any self-respecting engineer, and typed out, “Define Xfers,” and I hit enter, hoping to get that nice definition box that we get right at the top, just telling me exactly what this acronym means. So the result page loads and, low and behold, it’s just a boring result page with links.

[09:11] And taking a quick glance, there’s nothing that talks to an acronym, just a bunch of business stuff, whatever. So I go onto our company’s Slack, and I post this message, “Silly question time. I’m seeing the term Xfers around a lot, especially tied to [insert Asian country]. What does Xfers mean?”. I send that off and a few minutes later I get this response, “Copy and pasting, or even typing that four letter word into Google, could have saved you and all of us a bunch of time.” Hold up, pump the brakes, I looked, I tried everything. I did what I could, but yet you come up with this. How dare you. And my rage just pours off onto my keyboard and I start trying to type up a nice witty retort to this colleague. And slowly I start thinking, “Wait, no hold up, Warren. You’ve missed something”.

[10:14] And as the emotion drains away onto my keyboard and onto the floor, I start thinking, “Okay, no. No, no, no. Let’s go back to Google”. So I go back to Google and I type in ‘Xfers’ again, and I look at the search results seriously. And there, on the top of the search results, is a company called Xfers, and what they do is they facilitate payments between individuals and companies in Asia. Oh my gosh, I’m a bit of an idiot. The answer was, really, right there. And so, through my narrow naïve, potentially, perspective, I was on a mission for something else, an acronym, and it wasn’t, and I didn’t see the very obvious answer.

[11:02] So I went onto Slack and, yes, while my colleagues reply could have, maybe, been worded a bit better, he was, basically, just saying, “The answer’s pretty obvious, go look”. And so, while I’ve almost nearly didn’t apply the Principle of Charity and give some snarky response, which would have just devolved the whole conversation and, potentially, not even gotten to the answer, I managed to rein myself in and go… The rest of that conversation is mostly apologies for my part for being an idiot. Anyway, so yeah, that’s the importance of charity. And just going back to my colleague and his reply, it could have been better and this is leading into my next point of conversation, which is creating a safe space.

[11:57] So a safe space, you might be wondering, it’s something in Luno that we try and create where we’ve now got these diverse group of people that are applying the Principle of Charity in the conversations they are having. And this is a space that they start generating, where we’re looking for collaboration, constant conversations, hard questions and this is how I will lead to the conclusion, how we start getting a bit more pragmatic in what we do. And, yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve just said. Anyway, so to get this to work, there are behaviours that we need to encourage, and there’s behaviours that we need to discourage. Okay, so the good ones, there’s a lot. There’s a ton. But at the end of the day, what you’re wanting is everyone to respect each other and themselves, I guess. And you want to encourage that constructive conflict.

[12:58] So going back to some of my earlier points. If everyone’s agreeing, you’ve got a problem, because you are missing out on some perspective that’s going to be missed. And now, the behaviors to avoid, again, there are a few, but, to me, personally, there are two that are really, really important. So sorry for the lack of diction, but being a jerk and being oversensitive. And I’d actually like to talk through these two behaviors with you now.

[13:32] So being a jerk. So these are the guys that are rude, condescending, uncompromising, and they don’t listen. I’m sure many of you can think to colleagues, current colleagues, awkward, past colleagues that exhibit this, where you bring an idea to them, and they just shoot you down regardless of whether you’re right or wrong. It’s their way or the highway. They don’t like having conversation and don’t like admitting they’re wrong. These guys can absolutely destroy the collaborative space in an office, in a team, and they really, really ruin the safe space that we’re trying to create at Luno.

[14:20] Now, the second bad behavior I’d like to talk about is being oversensitive. So this behavior might not be as obvious as the jerk, but at the end of the day it still has the same effect on the safe space that we’re trying to create. So the kind of things oversensitive people exhibit are: they’re easy to offend, they take everything personally, and they’re always feeling under attack. And what generally happens in the safe space when we start getting these oversensitive individuals is that, everyone else would rather keep quiet than raise an opinion or say something that’s maybe controversial to this individual in fear of offending them. And you start shutting down that safe collaborative space that we’re trying to create.

[15:24] So how do we address these undesirable behaviours? So, as I said previously, we have culture-add interviews, where, as part of looking for the background diversity, we also see if these candidates exhibit potentially bad behaviors. But inevitably, these kind of behaviors will slip through the interview process, or can develop once the person is in the team and working. That’s very possible. And we can rectify, or attempt to rectify, these behaviors with one-on-one sessions with our managers. So this is a common thing with the Luno engineering team, where every two weeks, you have a one-on-one sit down with your manager and you talk about whatever, whatever comes to mind. And also during this time, you can talk about whether you feel someone’s not contributing to the safe space. You can bring it to the manager’s attention, or inversely, if you’re one of these potential individuals that are starting to exhibit or have these bad behaviors, you can work with your manager to overcome your behaviors.

[16:37] And I find, most of the time, a lot of people that start exhibiting these behaviors actually don’t realise that they’ve got a bad effect on the environment, or the work space, and addressing it with them in these one-on-ones they are very receptive to improving themselves. Because, at the end of the day, 98% of us are not bad people, we want the best. Right.

[17:06] So, in conclusion, is everyone awake? I’ve got a laser pointer, I can point out who’s not awake. Okay, no. So I’ve spoken about the three aspects that I find important to Luno’s culture: our drive to hire diversity, how we apply the Principle of Charity, and creating of safe space. How do these things affect greater picture? So the title for this talk was about how we use pragmatism to succeed, but we can’t be truly pragmatic if we can’t openly question the things that happen in Luno, so our processes, how we interact with our customers, anything, to the communication tool we use, Slack, who knows. If we find Slack falls apart one day, we’ll replace it because we can ask these hard questions.

[18:02] And, as I said previously, the crypto-industry moves quickly. And if we cannot be honest with ourselves and adjust our behaviours, our policies, procedures, we will be left behind. And that’s how Luno succeeds with pragmatism.

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