Common currency

The business

The CLS Group was founded in 1997 to create the first global settlement system (an IT system that manages payments in currency deals) in the foreign exchange market. With the average daily turnover in global foreign exchange transactions now at more than £1,000bn, there had long been a need for an effective cross-currency settlement process.

Supported by 71 of the world’s leading banks and with 190 staff mostly in London, CLS is a response to regulatory concern about systematic risk. It offers a real-time process, making same-day settlement possible regardless of time zones.

The challenge

CLS wanted to ensure its employees understood the company’s strategy and how each individual’s role fitted into this.

While the board was successfully using a balanced scorecard to measure a whole range of performance metrics, there was a feeling that many staff members were not fully aware of the bigger picture.

The solution

Sean Spence, chief finance officer at CLS, and his team called in performance management consultancy Aspiren to launch an initiative called ‘Maintaining a higher performance’.

The first step was a meeting of senior managers to refine corporate goals. Members of the management team then held employee workshops to take each department through the updated objectives.

“We wanted to identify any activities that did and didn’t validate corporate objectives and to highlight how employees should be working to a common goal,” says Spence.

Feedback from the workshops was used to put together a training programme aimed at setting smart objectives and revisiting the goals each department was setting for itself.

For example, HR was asked to look at how it had set up reward systems and, where possible, tie more bonuses to activities that matched corporate goals.

Previously, bonuses had been based on individual performance. Spence wanted to relate them more to team performances and how successfully departments worked with each other.

New metrics were introduced, which could, for example, measure how well the department supported people within the organisation to develop business cases.

“We wanted finance to become more of a business support function to reflect that the business is expanding rather than just ticking over,” said Spence.

The IT department was fundamental to the success of the initiative. It installed a software package from business intelligence company Microstrategy that measures and records these new metrics and makes the results freely available to department heads.

The IT staff were also asked to assess themselves and see if they were helping to push the company forward. What resulted was a cross-fertilisation of work. For example, an application that had been used to measure risk within the company was customised to measure the impact of new business on the company’s resources.

The outcome

CLS recently ran an internal staff survey that showed the hard work had paid off. It found 85% of staff understood the relationship between their job and the overall direction and goals of CLS, while 89% had a good understanding of their departments’ goals.

“We want to develop an ethos and a way of working that is embedded in the company regardless of staff churn. People may come and go, but the procedures and processes will stay in place,” says Spence.

Learning points for HR

Don’t get hung up on technology,” advises Sean Spence, chief finance officer at CLS. “Many companies see technology as a panacea, but it’s no substitute for getting under the skin of what’s going on in an organisation. Get a programme under way and do the analysis later.

You must attempt to engage the whole business in a project of this kind, from HR, IT and operations through to finance,” he says. “This is easier said than done – you find some will say it has been useful and some will say they are not so sure.

“Setting unrealistic or tough targets can cause resistance to change,” Spence adds. “Don’t push people towards targets straight away – introduce them once people are on board with the process.”

Employee perspective

Steve Howell is chief security and business continuity officer at CLS, where he has worked for just under four years. He says CLS communicated its strategy through presentations, team meetings, workshops and working with facilitators to align both personal and team objectives.

He believes his understanding of how his job fits into the business has improved.

“Progress in the business is now completely transparent both at team level and across teams, and it is much easier to identify where and how teams depend on each other for success,” he says. “Results for all the teams are published on the company intranet and progress with team objectives is discussed at team meetings.”

So, is there anything he would do differently in his job in light of the CLS corporate vision?

“There is definitely more focus on team and personal performance – reporting progress regularly and in a highly-visible manner prompts us to take a keen interest in what is going on in other areas, particu-larly where we might be supporting teams with some of their objectives,” he says.

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