Strength in unity
World-class sports teams and special ops military divisions are collegiate, hard-working, and hungry for the same goals. The same can be said of AMP Capital’s high-performing global listed real estate team, led by James Maydew.
Why do you have a culture statement?
Committing it to paper allows it to be enduring and real. We believe in it. It was built by us, owned by us and I’d recommend that if a team doesn’t have one yet, take the time to build one together. It’s immensely powerful. Ours is built around our purpose statement of ‘delivering on our promises’ and the behaviours and values that get us there. Importantly it also allows us to hold each other to account in everything we do as a team, especially when things go sideways.
Quite simply, unless you have a common belief, a common goal, common values and behaviours then it’s difficult to have direction and clarity of what’s expected of you.
Our culture is about ‘delivering on our promises’. That’s an all-encompassing statement, but is very clear and not open to mis-interpretation on what we are here to deliver to clients, stakeholders and to each other.
How do you develop a culture for a team of very diverse people?
Culture takes time and energy from all involved. If the team don’t buy in and build it, it’s simply a load of meaningless words on a page. How you devise a culture statement and what you stand for can be summarised for us in three parts. First, it’s being very clear and transparent on what we’re trying to achieve, especially important when you don’t sit together each day as a team. Second it is giving everybody the time and energy to prepare and a structure of what we’re looking to build using some common thread such as a book, video or podcast for everyone to focus their energy on. The third piece occurs at our offsite, it’s not about one person talking, it’s about the whole team talking and owning the process and sharing their learnings and how they can be implemented for our team to improve. When you build something together you are more likely to own it and ultimately believe in it.
Our culture is about delivering on our promises, about setting the expectation for success, it includes high performance as a minimum threshold and constantly resetting that benchmark higher. It’s also about owning everything in your world. It means you take responsibility for everything – it’s a no excuses, no blame philosophy and can be very powerful"
We do annual offsites where we get the whole team together. We’re a global team based in four different locations without the luxury of seeing each other daily, so getting together is vitally important. The week is always super productive and very hard working, but we also recognise the importance of getting away from the classroom, breaking bread, sharing stories and getting to know each other on a human level. That’s how you forge a close culture and relationships.
We first built our culture statement back in 2016 and we did it by looking for assistance from external sources, including a Wallabies captain. Like many people, I’m sports orientated, and I believe in the power of teamwork, camaraderie and the benefits of mateship you see in team sport. So that was our starting point.
So a culture statement provides a path forward?
Yes, it’s a pathway to allow us to progress, led by principles we believe in. Ultimately, it’s all about delivering, improving and driving us forward. We have had new members in our team and they each bring in something different, something new, so our statement must always evolve with the team and the changing world. As an example, at the 2018 offsite, we had evolved our Asian team and they brought the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen to the global team – which means continuous improvement, which is now a central value in our culture, and has helped us continue to build our own team language.
Explain more about having your own language.
Having your own language creates an environment, a tribe of your own, your own culture, your own direction. A common language is a way to communicate where others don’t quite understand it or follow it. It’s a great way to create camaraderie which both the All Blacks and Navy SEALs have utilised.
Why did you and the team pick the All Blacks and Navy SEALs?
They are high performers at the highest level and have stood the test of time, but firstly they both believe in the power of the team over the individual. The All Blacks have concluded that collective character is vital to success and focus on getting the culture right and the results will come. We agree.
We use the ‘sweep the sheds’ mentality in our team taken from the All Black philosophy that no All Black is too good to sweep the sheds. Everyone in the team contributes, irrespective of how menial the task is or how senior their title. This removes ego and promotes humility. This is because no one person is too important to do the work that’s got to get done. This forges a more thoughtful and respectful environment and the philosophy is ‘better people off the field make better All Blacks on the field’, which we find inspiring.
We use the ‘sweep the sheds’ mentality in our team taken from the All Black philosophy that no All Black is too good to sweep the sheds. Everyone in the team contributes, irrespective of how menial the task is or how senior their title"
The Navy SEALs are a team of people that can excel in the harshest of environments where the body and mind are exposed to some of the most challenging conditions which can determine your survival. Investing in the stock market can be volatile and things can go against you for large periods of time. If you’re true to your investment process, taking direction from the SEALs helps, as it provides perspective and helps you prepare for those tough times when things don’t go your way and you need to pivot.
How relevant are the All Blacks to your team members?
A lot of people in the team have never seen a game of rugby. But they can all relate to it in their own way. It’s really about being a high-performing team and what is expected of you. What you need is to have an enduring approach to whatever your chosen craft is and stick to it. The All Blacks craft is rugby and our craft is investing in liquid real estate, but our philosophy around a high-performance culture is similar.
How have the All Blacks been able to achieve win ratio of over 77 per cent over 116 years? It’s not just about practising more (although working harder than your competition is a clear assistance). They have worked hard on the culture and their team – what they stand for and what they want to leave as a legacy. They want to leave the jersey in a better place and believe in planting trees you will never see. It’s concepts like this that really build strong teams and it transcends countries, backgrounds and time zones.
As a global team, obviously a lot of people in the team have never even seen a game of rugby, but they have all read a book on the All Blacks and can all relate to its philosophy. It’s really about being a high-performing team and having a framework to sustain that in whatever you do"
What about the Navy SEALs?
The Navy SEALs have a simple idea which everyone can understand. Leadership is not a title, it’s a state of mind. Everyone in the team believes in the ownership of problems, mistakes and challenges. If you own the problem, you can deliver the solutions and move forward.
Are there similarities between the All Blacks and Navy SEALs?
There are many, and that’s probably why it has been so straightforward for us to integrate into our own culture. Humility is a common theme. If you have an ego, or if you don’t have the ability to be humble, then that’s when you become too relaxed, not focused, too cocky, sloppy. You need humility to recognise when you are wrong and be humble enough to admit mistakes or error, especially in financial markets.
Another commonality is the power of the team over the power of the individual. You need to instil the central belief that, irrelevant of seniority, everybody does the hard yards, the menial work that has to be done. Richie McCaw the GOAT (greatest of all time) of rugby union was literally sweeping the mud from the changerooms post captaining the All Blacks to back-to-back rugby World Cups.
Strategy, planning and structure are also common themes, as is the goal of being the best at what your chosen craft is and developing both a winning and leadership mindset at all levels.
Sometimes it must be hard to get everyone on the same page. How do you deal with underperformers?
It’s important to recognise that the responsibility and accountability sits with a leader to create an environment that achieves the culture you want and find a way to get the best out of everyone if they’re falling behind. If you can’t, then that’s a failing on you as the leader and there is no one else to blame. Sometimes it is hard to get everybody to the same place, and as a leader must be loyal to the team and the mission above any individual and make hard decisions. If you have a culture statement that you’ve all built, then you all own it, you can use that culture statement as the basis for deciding to make those hard decisions.
A team like the All Blacks is full of intensely competitive individuals. How do you manage that internal competition?
If you believe in free markets, competition is certainly not a bad thing, as that drives improvement and lifts everyone to that next level.
When it comes to incentives for individuals, there’s clearly an important element of what the individual contribution a person makes, but it’s outweighed by what the team ultimately delivers to the client. That is an important factor as we want to have a culture where individuals are willing to sacrifice their own contribution at a given point in time for the greater good of the client.
That makes it so important to have the right people, and why we spend so much energy on culture when we are in the hiring process. We want to ensure that we’re bringing on board the right people with the right frame of mind and a willingness to embrace our philosophy. In the end it’s about having the right people, in the right seats, doing the right role, and we ultimately spend more time with each other than we do our own families, so having culture carriers is vital.
Both the All Blacks and Navy SEALs see themselves as custodians rather than owners of a tradition. What’s your take?
We are immensely privileged to be the custodians of capital for many investors across the world, all A$6.5 billion of it, from mum and dad investors in Australia, NZ and Japan through to pension funds in China, Taiwan, Jordan and Netherlands.
As custodians, learning from the past and embracing the future is part of our Kaizen or continuous improvement. As part of this, one of the concepts that we focus on is debriefing, which is a SEALs term. After a mission, irrespective of how tired or injured a group is, they sit down and debrief on that mission so you can improve the next time around. It’s no different to our approach, assessing what’s working and what’s not. Everybody who’s been in our team has contributed to what’s here in front of us today and having a reflection on history is important.
Can your culture evolve?
The All Blacks believe that even when things are going well, when you’re on top of your game, you need to evolve, innovate and change your game to drive improvement and stay ahead of the competition.
The principles we use are hopefully enduring, but we have obviously evolved our culture statement as new team members join. We need it to evolve to represent the team as it evolves and the investment environment we operate in is also evolving, quickly. Clearly a lot of the behaviours and principles will be durable because they are central to what we believe in and stand for as individuals and will still be as relevant today as they are in 20 years’ time.
Finally, you’re Welsh, but do you support the All Blacks?
I’m a proud Welshman. Recently, when we used the New Zealand All Blacks as our central theme at one offsite in Sydney, it was the same hotel as the Australian Wallabies who were preparing to play the All Blacks that week. We invited the Wallabies captain in to our offsite to provide a few leadership words. He came in expecting to see a room of Wallabies fans but saw a global audience all sitting there each with an All Blacks book on high performance. It was quite embarrassing.
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