The ClientWise Blog

The Word of the Year: Culture

Posted by Alix Purcell on Dec 22, 2014 1:50:00 PM

“A nation, a workplace, an ethnicity, a passion, an outsized personality. The people who comprise these things, who fawn or rail against them, are behind Merriam-Webster's 2014 word of the year: culture.” The introduction to AP Mobile’s announcement that Merriam Webster has named ‘culture’ the word of the year got us thinking more about the role that culture plays in the financial advisory space. 

 As the article released by AP indicates, the word culture is a chameleon: “When you put it next to another word it means something very different… There’s the ‘culture of transparency,’ in government and business, and ‘celebrity culture,’ and ‘the culture of winning’ in sports,” author Leanne Italie writes.  


This subjectivity is important to notice not only in relationship to how the word is used, but how culture itself is interpreted by people. The fluidity of the word does not stop at its meaning, but at how it infiltrates and impacts a workplace, a financial advisory team, a complex, an entire firm. Like it or not, heightened attention to the word means that firms who are committed to creating a culture of (insert word here) better also be very committed to sustaining it.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:


Everyone should be in agreement about how culture is defined, realized, and maintained: Defining the culture is one thing, but significant effort needs to be applied to realizing and maintaining it. To say that you are a “green” company is one thing, but if you then invest in companies who are not green, or constantly generate new content that necessitates consistent reprinting then you really aren’t living that message.  


It shouldn’t come from the leader: The phrase “we have a certain culture here” comes to mind. This is something I hear frequently from employers, but it is vague and not definitive of what that culture entails. While as the leader you are the root of what that culture looks like, it should be developed and contributed to by the members of the team through team coaching. Those who will be living and expressing that culture day-to-day.


It should be frequently addressed and revisited: Maybe once a quarter at company off-sites, or every 6 months during your reviews, when you have the opportunity solicit information from your team members about how the culture, as you perceive it, is sustaining in reality. What needs to be exposed, scrapped, or maintained to keep your company culture in alignment with the vision?


It should be something that everyone (CSAs, partners, leaders, ops, etc.) can discuss openly: Because culture is such a subjective word, and has a tendency to be misinterpreted or fluid, a healthy amount of conversation about what it looks like should be encouraged. This is a sign that your staff and team members are invested in the impression and therefore outcome of your business. Also, that you are open to them being a part of changing it for the better. 


It should be addressed in the hiring process: All employees, whether they are conscious of it or not, consider the culture of a company or team an important factor in whether or not they want to join. Some even consider this a factor ahead of financial compensation or potential for growth. This should be a main selling point of your business when you talk to prospective employees. It’s also important to follow up on in reviews and exit interviews. Understanding a person’s reaction to your culture at every stage of their relationship with you is incredibly revealing and powerful knowledge to have and use moving forward.


It should be shared with your clients: Your culture doesn’t impact only those in your office, it’s often the first thing that your clients realize when they walk in the door as well. It should be something you are proud of, and talk to your clients or perspective clients about in detail with reference to how it will impact their relationship with your team. It’s a real differentiator in the decision making process for investors.  


Talking about a culture is not only an important way to create consistency among your team members, it’s a CRUCIAL component of understanding what you bring to clients, who your niche clients are, and what the target markets and centers of influence you need to cultivate are. So why not kick off 2015 by having a conversation with your team about culture?


Coaching questions from this article:

How would you, as the leader, define your company culture?

How would your team members define your company culture?Or, if you are a solopreneur, how would the people you partner with define your company culture?

How would your clients define your company culture?


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Topics: Business and Operations Management, Business Development, Team Development