by Tony Vidler
As financial adviser businesses evolve from pure personal services that are entirely dependent on the relationship management abilities of an individual adviser, and they move towards becoming corporate entities that have a life beyond that of the founder, the culture of the organization becomes critical to its success.
Despite the importance of culture to how a service business thinks, acts and performs its functions, it is often not deliberately created. Many business owners caught up in the busy-ness of running their practices don’t spend the time to think carefully about what it is they want their business to be known for, and therefore what type of culture they want to create.
Do your people know the guiding principles, or “rules”, that establish the desired boundaries of behaviour?
A “culture” exists within any organization whether you realize it or not, despite whether you have deliberately tried to shape it or create it. There is a culture…a way of thinking, and behaving, and doing things “around here”. The issue for business owners is whether the culture that has evolved, or currently exists, is actually the one you want.
Any business owner that wants to create an entity that can function without the owners presence 100% of the time needs the right culture and parameters in their business. Any business owner that wants to create an entity that is known to stand for something that matters, needs the right culture. Culture is made up of a number of components of course, and is not simply a matter of whipping out a “vision” and leaving the troops to work out what it means to them individually.
Creating a particular culture does involve having a clear vision and purpose, and being able to communicate it effectively. Having the right people with the right values and attitudes is very important – but just as importantly is how those right people blend together to enhance the teams strength. The right culture can actually compensate and carry some wrong staff selections from time to time too – though not forever. Above all though, the culture you get comes by demonstrating the behaviour you want.
It helps your staff if you are able to articulate clearly and simply a set of guiding principles. To explain it a little better I will use a real example from my own business history with a decent sized team.
The team had rules…and they were laid down in the procedures manual, included in training sessions and internal (informal) reporting; and; referred to in staff induction, performance appraisals and job descriptions. They were constantly communicated openly by asking people when they had issues or questions, or problems they were trying to resolve, what the rules were. While I called them “rules” we referred to them laughingly – but they were living and breathing things. Using the word “rules” accurately positioned them as things that mattered.
They were (in my case):
These rules were supported by an equally simple set of Values, which were used as the principles to make right decisions.
The Values were:
The rule wasn’t actually about coffee at all…the rule was really about shared responsibility. Everyone is responsible for everything here….putting it in “coffee” terms made it memorable. You only had to say “what’s Rule 1” and there would be a stamped of people checking the coffee supplies….but it also meant that everyone had to chip in with answering phones, greeting clients, fixing jammed photocopiers….you get the point…and so did the staff. Making it a little bit silly by using the “coffee” rule also kept it light-hearted and not a draconian thing to know that we played by rules – that rules were part of our culture.
Rule 2: it is okay to not have all the answers…there are no stupid questions….everyone learns by asking and learning from their peers. Nobody is expected to know everything.
Number 3 was a BIG one in establishing the right culture….people have to be given permission to make mistakes.
You want your people trying things, and taking responsibility, and growing as individuals….and they won’t always get it right first time. Give them permission to try, and to learn, and to grow…and then when the inevitable mistakes occur (and they will!), you have to accept it, analyze it, and use it is a learning and development experience for everyone involved. It is incredibly powerful when a junior staff member who really really wants and needs their job and tries very hard at everything they do, actually makes a pretty significant mistake – and you say “It’s ok – what is rule 3?” Then talk it through and work out what you and they can learn from it.
But give your people permission to try things if you want a business that doesn’t need you 100% of the time.
Of course immediately after the big mistake has been made, and analyzed and lessons learned (preferably in a sensitive way!)…it is time to remind them of rule 4.
It is NOT okay to continue making the same mistakes. I value people who can learn from their mistakes, and be better for the experience. Or in other words…as I have said many times before…I value people who find new mistakes to make. In terms of creating a successful culture there do need to be some boundaries on what is acceptable after all – and (in this example) that means it is not acceptable to mentally shrug the shoulders and continue making the same mistakes.
The last rule is all about giving people a decision-making framework. To be blunt, I do not want to be asked by staff whether Mrs Jones should be given some movie tickets to thank her for tolerating a mistake we made…or whether the staff should own up to making a mistake at all. These are not decisions any executive should make…these are decisions that should be automatically made by good staff who know they are allowed to make decisions.
The “values” guide them in their decision making. The first 2 points of the values are pretty self-explanatory…but the others are pretty powerful in building a culture. But the values are placed in descending order of importance too…
Moving onto the rest of the points in the value set, translated they mean:
This is just a working example of the framework to create a culture you want. It is not necessarily a great example – and I won’t pretend every person hired was a right fit…some had to be un-hired of course….but I had a great support team that worked really well together and could be trusted to run the shop really well. Culture matters.
If you know what you stand for as a business, you should be able to put some guiding principles together that will help your team know what it is. More importantly though, in putting those principles together you stand a very good chance of creating a culture in your business that will reflect what it is you want to be known for. And you will probably create a much better and more valuable business in the long run too.