Culture — it's that squishy, fuzzy thing we hear about. It's hard to define, but we know it when we feel it. Generally, an office's culture is pretty evident within minutes of entering the space. But is yours happening by accident or are you doing something to influence it?
If you're letting it develop on its own, you might want to reconsider. After all, culture is a leadership tool that can either help or harm.
One size does not fit all
In my experience, advisers are quite vocal about wanting to learn from one another. So, it's not surprising that they want to hear about the best practices others are using to foster a healthy company culture.
But there's a catch. There is no standardized list of actions that will result in the perfect culture for your firm. What works in one office could be an utter failure in another. We're not robots — we all have unique dreams, values, passions and realities.
Let's look at a couple of examples. Having a minimum and pruning your book are two widely used approaches that help firms improve efficiency and even help advisers maintain their sanity. I've preached their virtues. And they work — but not for advisers who are crushed by feelings of disloyalty at the thought of letting certain clients go.
Then there are the advisers who take their entire staff for a weekend getaway to the Bahamas or some other exotic locale. What about the young parents on staff who can't just jet off for the weekend but feel pressured to participate?
There's a price to pay for the choices you make, and only you can decide whether the cost is worth it, based on your knowledge of the firm you've built and the other advisers and staff who help you run it, not to mention the clients you serve.
(More: Culture can slip as firms grow)
Let's say you've worked hard to create a healthy culture. Your clients keep sending referrals because they love working with you; employees are stoked about coming to work every day; you have immense pride in what you and your staff have created together. You're all set, right?
Wrong. The same culture that is thriving one day is diving the next. You need to monitor it continually, both by observing and by listening.
It's easy to put clients first, for example, but that means your staff may see themselves coming a distant second.
Keeping culture top of mind
You need a clear vision statement. In saying that, I bet I've lost some readers who made it this far. They know what I'm talking about, of course — they're just tired of hearing it.
Vision, values, mission. These words lack concrete meaning for many. Sometimes, though, all you need to do is say or think about these concepts in a different way.
Try this: What in your business do you want to look forward to every day, and how do you want to feel when you go home at the end of the day?
For my part, I want to feel as if I've made a profound difference in just one person's life. I wonder if I have accomplished that here. Even if I haven't, it won't stop me from trying again tomorrow because that's the vision I have for myself.
Culture is a secret weapon because so many don't attend to it. For those who do, the load is lightened and the senses are exhilarated. That's the power of culture, and it's worth the effort to get it right!
Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.