In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, company culture has emerged as a linchpin for organisational success. Beyond financial rewards, it is a thriving company culture that drives employee engagement and fosters a sense of pride and belonging. As Chief Human Resources Officer for SG Kleinwort Hambros, Jason Spivey understands the importance of company culture more than most.
Luke James, Co-Host of the Interview, sat down with Jason to discuss topics ranging from his organisation’s pioneering transformation strategy to the challenges of building an inclusive culture of learning and growth.
I’m the Chief Human Resources Officer at SG Kleinwort Hambros. SG Kleinwort Hambros is a private bank with around 630 employees in the UK, Channel Islands and Gibraltar and is part of Societe Generale with more than 120,000 worldwide.
I started my career in marketing, and I fell into HR in my late twenties. I’ve worked in Asset Management at Blackrock, and several investment banks including Deutsche, and Lazard. I’ve always tried to make conscious choices throughout my career as well as taking risks at times. I’d worked in investment banking for 20 years before I decided I was ready for a new challenge. About 15 months ago, a vacancy came up at SG Kleinwort Hambros, and something about it really resonated with me: there was a clear differentiation versus other firms due to the culture, strategy, and vision. It really is the ideal role for me.
It’s been fantastic, although changing cultures is harder than you think. Compared to the fast pace and quick decision pressure of investment banking, whilst still fast paced, the wealth environment allows us more time to think and consider decisions. We have more room for discussions, debates, and building consensus: that allows us to plan longer term. Integrating with the people and the people strategy was much easier than I expected, and it helps to be surrounded by like-minded people. For anyone in a senior HR role, the government and regulatory side is the biggest challenge: every year, there is more and more pressure on organisations to ensure compliance, which requires significant work. Fortunately, the quality of the people here has allowed me to enjoy a soft landing.
We’re currently undergoing a multi year transformation strategy. As CHRO, it is critical we ensure our people strategy is inextricably linked to that. It’s about building our AUM, expanding our client base, and developing a targeted human capital strategy. Many businesses talk about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but they don’t walk the walk: it’s one thing to talk about it, but another thing to actually do it. So we’ve strengthened our employee networks who now represent all underrepresented groups: the networks are deeply embedded in our organisation and culture, and they’re run by and for our employees. It’s not enough to just develop a strategy — you need to live it. If you have a great culture, you retain the best people, and that’s part of how you build a fantastic firm.
I’ve learned over time that there’s no silver bullet for this. People respond in different ways, so you need to have a multi-channel strategy. One person might engage through email, whilst another might get involved in town halls and meetings. Sponsorship and mentorship are crucial; our CEO is one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met about diversity and inclusion, and that goes a long way, setting the tone from the top
Every year, we run an employee survey, and we’ve noticed a growing demand for new experiences and development opportunities. To deliver that, we try and be transparent — to speak openly about things like promotions and how they work. Culture is about trust, and you foster that through open and honest communication. It’s also important to have access to senior leaders: we try and make ourselves available to everyone, and we have open offices and a flat structure to encourage the flow of ideas. Consistency is key: every year, as part of your strategy you need to make sure you communicate this again and again.
You need to combine them and see them as two sides of the same coin. Repeat the message so people can understand where we are now and where we plan to go. On an individual basis, you must ensure you deliver help where it’s needed. Society is a more pressured environment than ever, and everyone is under a lot of pressure and stress across multi industries. So we need to create more personal accountability around well-being: we want an open environment where people feel free to raise any issues they might be having. Organisations need to earn the trust of their employees — people should feel that if they speak up, there will be a response.
There have been some great things written about the topic. Above all, my own perspective is I really believe great leaders should lead with empathy: they need to really listen, ask the right questions, and empathise instead of sympathise. Clear communication is critical, especially in helping to clarifying ambiguity. Finally, it’s vital to have a sense of team spirit, common purpose, and openness. Leadership is creating the psychological safety for your team to be allowed to be their full selves at work.
Early in my career, I had a boss who told me, “Don’t wait for others to shape your career. Take control yourself.” You can’t expect anyone to deliver you everything on a plate. You need to be active in your intentions and live your life instead of anyone else’s