Culture is a critical component of a company’s infrastructure. It’s a powerful tool that leaders can use to maintain organizational viability and effectiveness. It’s also the fundamental characteristic that makes an organization distinct, binds a community together, and showcases its values. As such, culture is what ultimately enables the attraction and retention of talent, as well as clients.
So, the truth is, if cultivating workplace culture isn’t already an ongoing priority at your financial advisory practice, it should be. At Commonwealth, the fabric of our culture has been woven around the values of “quality and community” for 40 years. Here, my colleague Giovanna Zaffina and I discuss strategies for cultivating a strong culture that have proven transformative for Commonwealth and our advisors, as well as the business community at large.
What Inspires Your Firm’s Culture?
Every firm has a culture, whether it’s been consciously influenced or not. To define the culture at your firm, answer the following questions:
Who do we want to be?
How do we want to behave?
Ultimately, what do we want our culture to look like?
The variables that affect culture include:
Clients: Some firms want to attract high-net-worth clients, and others cater more to the mass affluent.
Geography: Some firms downplay office aesthetics, going for a more casual vibe, while others aim to model the lifestyle clients have or aspire to.
Business model: Some firms are solos where the wishes of the founder dictate what goes. But there are an increasing number of multiadvisor firms where consensus reigns.
Size: Some firms have one advisor and one staff member, but many more have multiple staff. The larger the organization, the more energy is needed to jointly build and maintain the culture.
How Important Is Culture Today?
This past summer, Giovanna and I had the privilege of attending Commonwealth’s first Summit for Women Advisors. Beginning with one of the opening sessions, we heard the tremendous value of cultivating workplace culture reinforced over and over. For panelist Shana Bielich, CFP®, an advisor at Coghill Investment Strategies in Pittsburgh, joining a company with values aligned to her own was vital, as that’s where she spends most of her time. Others discussed how today’s core workforce of Gen Xers and millennials—and the women within these cohorts—is increasingly looking for more than a competitive salary and benefits package.
What Can You Do to Change Your Culture?
As you look to align your culture with your vision and mission, consider this valuable tool: the Gallup Organization’s 12 dimensions of great workgroups. These simple, practical, and human statements are tremendously powerful. Once you’ve identified your goals, here are four strategies that will keep your culture on track:
1) Talk about your culture regularly. Start meetings with a discussion of culture and what employees observe. Talk about adjustments that will clarify what your culture is for clients. Examine your own behavior to ensure it aligns with the culture you want. Openly address where and when the firm’s behaviors haven’t supported the desired culture and how to right the wrong. In other words, make it a consistent conversation.
2) Hire protectors of your culture. Your hiring practices can dramatically affect your culture. How do you ensure that everyone in your office supports your goals? To begin, hire for attitude and train for skill. Likewise, hire slow and fire fast. An individual with a rotten outlook can be detrimental to your firm. At Kaplan Financial Group, says Sarah Kaplan, RHU®, CFP®, AIF®, another panelist at the Women’s Summit, the company culture is based on, “doing what you say you are going to do, doing it the right way, and doing the best work for the client.”
3) Ask your employees for input. We all want to be fulfilled by our work, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One powerful question to use with your staff is, “What don’t I want to hear?” They’ll tell you! That’s a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to work with your employees to build a culture that represents the best of all of you. You can’t do it on your own.
4) Create a culture of mentorship. By mentoring the next generation, you can ensure they fit your culture—and carry on your legacy. Kaplan attributes her success to her mother and boss, Candi Kaplan, who projected the patience, trust, and confidence Kaplan needed to get where she wanted to go. Likewise, Shana Bielich confided that she never thought she’d be a financial planner, let alone president of her local FPA chapter, but her mentor, Carrie Coghill, believed in her.
Kaplan and Bielich are paying it forward today, though they advise that being a mentor is a big commitment. “You have to do everything three times,” says Kaplan. “First, you have to do it. Then, you have to think about how you did it. And then you have to teach it.”
The rewards for establishing a culture of mentorship are many: more loyal employees, potential successors, an enduring business, and the satisfaction gained from making a difference in someone’s life.
What Happens When You Don’t Tend to Culture?
Good culture is like good health. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are all healthy habits, but you have to practice them regularly. Likewise, culture must be nurtured over time. It’s the opposite of the “set it and forget it” mentality. And just as your health may suffer from a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle, your organization may suffer from a lack of focus and even demoralized employees who end up working against, rather than with, one another.
The best cultures are those that enable people to bring their authentic self to work every day and that provide well-defined roles and opportunities for advancement. By continually cultivating workplace culture at your firm, and leading by example, you can attract the advisors and employees who will be loyal and productive contributors to your success.
As Miriam Manning, Commonwealth’s chief information officer, said at the Women’s Summit, “If you take care of people, they will take care of you and your business.” And that’s an environment your clients want to be part of as well.
This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.