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5 Ways to Build a Strong Firm Culture

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What You Need to Know

  • Building a strong culture is a crucial component of any successful firm in today’s world, no matter the size or business model.
  • To attract next-gen talent, you must embrace a way of working that may challenge some long-held rules.
  • Recognition is how you build loyalty, and loyalty isn’t born without your team knowing they are valued.

More than 14 years ago, I was hired as the 13th stakeholder as executive assistant for Ron Carson, CEO of Carson Group. Working for the firm at the time meant wearing a lot of hats, but the one that inspired me the most was looking after the people, and the culture, that was forming within our four walls.

We’ve evolved so much since then, and one of the secrets to our rapid growth over the past decade isn’t exactly the most visible. When outsiders experience our culture today, they assume we’ve always been this way, but I can personally attest that the company I work for today is the farthest thing from the company I worked at even two years ago, much less 14 years ago.

The road to get to where we are now as a $20 billion RIA located in Omaha, Nebraska, wasn’t a straight one — or a smooth one.

We’ve learned a lot along the way. We’ve failed, we’ve experimented, we’ve pivoted, we’ve prevailed. And every step we’ve taken has taught us so much about what it takes to build a movement that attracts top-tier talent and inspires our stakeholders to get behind a unified mission.

If our journey has taught me one thing for sure, it’s that many advisors didn’t enter this profession thinking they’d be managing people or leading the charge for building a cohesive culture. Yet, here we are, amid seismic shifts shaking the very ground we stand on — and challenging the status quo for advisors.

Building a strong culture is a crucial component of any successful firm in today’s world, no matter the size or business model. From the “Great Resignation” to workplace flexibility, no advisor is immune.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned — and a pathway to how advisors can build a compelling culture of their own:

1. If It’s Not Broken, Break It

To attract next-gen talent, you must embrace a way of working that may challenge some long-held rules of the workplace. For example, a few years ago our executive team voted to relax the dress code.

We went from suits, ties, and jackets to nice jeans and tops. Our stakeholders were able to “dress for their day.” A change that made everyone more productive and the environment more vibrant.

Our dress code was a taboo topic for so many years, but it was also one of the easiest changes to make to our culture without spending a dime.

2. Choose Discomfort Over Resentment

If you aren’t familiar with Brene Brown, you know she coined a phrase “discomfort over resentment.”  Two years ago, our leadership team took this to heart. It can be extremely challenging to create a culture of openness and trust.

The only way to truly get there is by ensuring honest opinions can be voiced and respectful disagreements can occur. And for this to be known across a growing firm, the team must see it exemplified by leadership before they believe it.

The more you grow, the more complicated decisions can become. More people are involved in each decision, and each problem has more than one right solution.

This can often discourage people from raising suggestions and truth out of fear. Fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Fear of losing status. Fear of rocking the boat.

It took some effort, but our leadership team leaned into this space. We outlined how to have respectful, authentic and honest conversations. We cracked through walls and got straight to the real issues that needed to be resolved. And we found that those brief moments of discomfort were so much healthier than holding onto resentment for days, weeks or months.

3. Get the Right People in the Right Seats

A healthy culture isn’t effective without having the right people in the right positions. Start with recruiting. Hire hard; manage easy.

The process to join your company and your team should have intention, process, and depth. This is a never-ending exercise. Always be communicating with your team about how to match their strengths with where they can have the most impact within the company.

With millions of Americans leaving their jobs every quarter, it’s more important than ever to align roles with the company mission. Hire amazing people and then, as a leader, get out of their way.

4. Disagree and Commit

Ten thousand decisions will decide the fate of your company. Yes, in a perfect world, every decision that is made would align to every person’s thought process, but that doesn’t happen. Especially as you grow. Nor should it.

You need different perspectives at the table to challenge you. If the team makes a solid point and you disagree, decide who holds the authority in the conversation, empower that person to make the decision and move on. Creating this dynamic among the team has saved us countless hours of wasted debate time and fast forwarded us to where we needed to be, even if it wasn’t a straight line.

5. Celebrate Your Wins

Lastly, but most importantly, celebrate your successes! This seems obvious, but it’s so easy to get caught up on the next thing.

Recognition is how you build loyalty, and loyalty isn’t born without your team knowing they are valued. Treat your people as your number one asset — because they are.

Take a day every year and devote it to celebrating your team. Give back to the community, celebrate the big wins, and call out those who are contributing in unique ways. This simple act plants seeds of dedication for years to come.

Having been a part of small teams and now a large company, one thing remains constant: to continually compete and grow. Those who relentlessly invest in their culture are the ones who scale the fastest, grow the most and expand their impact on the world around them.

It’s no longer a “nice to have.” Culture is never finished.

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Kelsey Ruwe is chief of staff of Carson Group, and the 13th stakeholder hired in the company. 

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(Image: Shutterstock)