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A conversation with Dean Curtis



To build a successful business, you need to hire the right people and give them freedom to do what they do best. P^werFinance Chief People Officer Dean Curtis explains the process for creating a well aligned and cohesive team, lessons on building organisational culture, and how a business’s success depends on it.

Describe your role at P^werFinance?

I feel like the role I have is unique, challenging and pretty much perfect. I am lucky enough to have a role that encompasses all the things that I am passionate about, a little bit of process, a lot of working with a strong team and plenty of room for creativity.

I work across the business supporting all people-based initiatives – attraction, development, retention, and everything that goes with supporting the growth of a happy, engaged team of experts.

Being here in the early stages, I have been involved in shaping the P^werFinance culture and values. It’s important to us that these are woven into every initiative, supporting fairness and equality, doing everything with integrity and nothing by halves, and of course, being ourselves.

In addition to this, I am equally fortunate to be part of what I consider to be an impressive executive team where I am able to contribute to our wider strategy and learn from some incredible people.

How do you help P^werFinance achieve its objectives?

I’m focused on helping our staff be their best selves, supporting them to grow and stay motivated. A key part of this is ensuring that every part of the business is connected, encouraging an organic flow of ideas. We’ve got a great mix of younger team members and wise heads with decades of specialist experience, and it’s been fantastic to see the cohesion and collaboration that we have between our different teams. This is no doubt where we will find future gold.

My job is to create a positive experience, providing tools and initiatives to grow our people in the direction that they want to grow. Our approach has been to not only hire experts in tech and finance, but also people who have different skillsets and are looking to challenge themselves and try things that may not in a typical sense be part of their role. We also put a strong emphasis on being an organisation that identifies outstanding talent early and uses our broad wealth of knowledge and experience to help that talent grow. Enabling our people to use their full skillset and combine it with things that they are passionate or even just curious about can be a real spur to creativity across our business.

The ultimate benefit I provide to our staff is doing my best to make sure everyone understands that we are all equally important to the success of our team and helping everyone appreciate the massive amount of skill that they have as a collective. My role is empowering them by giving them access to the right tools and training, surrounding them with the right team members, and then getting out of their way to let them do their thing. We wanted to create an environment built on trust, and to do that you have to trust the people you’re hiring – which we do.

When P^werFinance started, did you know what kind of culture you were hoping to build or were you happy to let it grow organically?

Sort of, but I also understood that it was something that couldn’t be forced. The wonderful thing about our strong business culture is that it is organic. Basically, we work hard to hire good people who care about what we’re all trying to achieve, and that passion is infectious.

Ability and experience will always be important when it comes to building a team but ensuring each person’s abilities are backed up by genuine alignment with our core values has been key to creating a cohesive business. Attitude and approach to working well with others is hugely important to us. One of our key criteria when bringing new people into the team is to understand what they will add to our overall culture.

How would you describe the team and the culture at P^werFinance – and what sets it apart from other businesses you’ve worked for?

‘Driven’ would probably be the word I would use. Everyone is dialed into achieving the P^werFinance mission of improving the value and experiences finance can deliver. I think our commitment to achieving that makes us quite unique. People leave their job titles at the door and work together across all levels of the organisation to solve problems and make things happen. That’s something you rarely see.

With the growth of the business, has it been hard to hang on to that culture? How have you achieved it?

It has been on my mind as we’ve expanded. Given how much we’ve grown in the last 12 months, and how much we expect to grow over the next 12, I am really happy with our ability to maintain our culture, I can’t help but feel lucky in the quality of our hires. Part of the reason is that we work well across the business, including relevant people in the recruitment process., making sure the people we’re talking to have the right skills and personality to be effective in their role.

As we grow, the things that are important to the business and its success become obvious, from values and overarching company objectives to internal systems and organisational structure. We’re fortunate to have created a solid foundation that’s working well.

With the growth of the business, has it been hard to hang on to that culture? How have you achieved it?

In a close-knit team like ours, staff need to be able to work with all departments, so finding the right fit is something we take very seriously. When we are looking to expand the team or fill a vacant role, we focus on personality as much, or possibly even more than skill, and in that regard, some of our interview techniques can be quite unique.

“What is the best thing you have ever done?” is one of my favourite interview questions, because it gives insights into what they truly love and what skills they value and gives them a chance to share something that we might not have otherwise uncovered. Exploring this and how they spend their free time not only gives us a great feel for an applicant, it helps them connect with us.

We‘ve actually incorporated some of these passions into the interview process. We know how daunting a job interview can be, which means you’re not always seeing a person at their best, or as their true selves. One of the newest additions to our team had a passion for basketball as a coach and a player, and in her final interview we rounded up a small team and went to a local court for some drills and a game.

The value in this process, which we will replicate every chance we get, was that we could see how she would perform when she was the clear subject matter expert. She was able to demonstrate her communication style and her general approach to working within a new team, and her ability to see past job titles to work with the capability levels of the people in front of her. She destroyed us on the court (physically) and won herself a role in the process. On her first day she hit the ground running, having already connected well with a number of the team, which has made it easy for her to gain momentum and settle in quickly.

How has your previous experience shaped what you are doing now?

Like in any profession, you learn what works and what doesn’t. What I’ve learned is that if you put the wellbeing and growth of your people first, business results almost surely follow.

What are you focused on for the next 12 months?

I’ll say it again – culture first! If we can maintain our current culture, the team will feel responsible for all of our business outcomes, continue to grow and keep creating great things.

Naturally recruitment is at the top of my list, continuing to discover the right people and craft roles that will enable them to go further and take the business with them. I’m always seeking future development opportunities for the team and looking for ways to match our capability needs with what we have. This will become even more of a focus over the next 12 months as we grow further.

In the meantime, though we will spend some time bedding in the things that have worked well and looking ahead to building out a team that can deliver on some pretty impactful goals.

And with how much we’ve grown over the past year, it would be great to get together with the team to celebrate!