Every entrepreneur is familiar with the phrase, “It’s very expensive to make a mistake.” This doesn’t only apply to computer software or office space — it also applies to employees.

If an employee doesn’t share your commitment to helping clients achieve their financial goals, or doesn’t adhere to your firm’s approach to investment and wealth management, the situation can be very costly for both your practice and clients.

Independent advisory practices can prevent such mistakes if they have a defined company culture in place, which they can use during the hiring process to ensure candidates are not only qualified, but also share the firm’s key values.

Ideally, a defined culture can reduce turnover as well as bring all employees closer together as a team, thereby strengthening company performance, improving results for clients, and laying the foundations for scalable growth.

Defining your company’s culture, and putting it all down on paper, may seem easy, but if you’ve never done so before, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Below are some guidelines for pinpointing the attributes of your practice’s culture:

  • Define your mission: What do you seek to do for clients, and how do you seek to accomplish it?
  • List your core values: What are the values that drive everything you do for clients, and influence the direction of your practice as you grow? For example, a core value could be, “Our success is measured not by revenues, but by our clients’ success toward reaching their long-term financial goals.” Another core value could be, “We are valuable members of our community, providing financial information and thought leadership for our neighbors as well as our clients.”
  • Identify the ideal attributes employees should possess — and nonnegotiable qualities new hires must possess: To avoid making costly mistakes on new hires, you should determine at least 10 ideal attributes employees should have as members of your team, such as “diligent,” “hardworking,” “friendly,” “team player” and “flexible,” as well as expertise in certain wealth management strategies, investment products and technology platforms.

Once you have an idea of what attributes you would prefer every member of your team to possess, you can begin to select the nonnegotiable qualities that every new hire must have in order to join your firm. When you know for sure what you are looking for in new hires, it’s easier to find the best potential additions to your team.

Of course, a firm’s culture applies to more than just hiring new employees. Following the mission and core values you outline can establish a more close-knit team among new and existing employees where everybody is on the same page regarding their mission and values, as well as how to interact with and service clients, how to generate referrals, how to engage with prospects, and how to engage with each other.

Below are some tips for how to strengthen your firm’s culture, and bring employees closer together as a team, throughout the year.

  • Encourage and maintain open lines of communication: Team members should ideally feel that their time, effort and input are valued. CEOs and team leaders at advisory practices can give employees regular opportunities to freely express their opinions by scheduling monthly one-on-one, closed-door meetings with every team member. They should also make a conscious effort to encourage employees to proactively come to them with feedback and ideas — both positive and negative. When employees feel they are free to come to their supervisor about anything, they are generally happier and more enthusiastic, and believe they are truly part of a team.
  • Help employees meet professional development goals: In regularly scheduled meetings with employees, ask them if there are areas of your practice in which they would like to become more proficient, or if they would like to learn more about certain aspects of wealth management or client relationship management. Look for opportunities to bring these employees in on projects involving areas where they want to learn more, and invite guest speakers to your office to discuss certain wealth management products, strategies or workflows in greater depth for the benefit of your entire staff. You can also encourage employees to locate and attend professional development conferences, seminars or workshops, and help subsidize the attendance fees. Employees who feel their company managers are taking an active interest in helping them blossom professionally are more likely to bring their A-game to every task.
  • Bring employees together to work on team-building projects: To give employees the opportunity to participate in something that will improve the quality of life for others in your community — while also bonding as a team — you can set aside one day per quarter, or one day every half-year, as a community service and team-building day. Volunteering at a local food bank, or working together to build wheelchairs for the handicapped or bicycles for underprivileged children, are all projects that remind employees that they are part of something greater than themselves, and enable them to troubleshoot and grow together in pursuit of something to benefit the greater community. When employees work better together, they work better for clients.

A defined and strong company culture is essential for finding the right people for an advisory practice — and helping them grow as the firm grows. When all employees are on the same page as far as their mission and core values, an advisory practice is best positioned to help clients achieve their financial goals.


Chris Radford, president, AE Wealth ManagementChris Radford is President of AE Wealth Management.