In this booming era of financial advisor independence, the opportunities for those who are a part of it have never been more abundant. But the challenges inherent in running a successful independent advisory firm also abound. One such challenge, and perhaps the most exciting to overcome, particularly as you grow your firm over the years, is instilling a rich and vibrant culture that your entire staff (advisors, administration, management) and your clients can fully embrace. Culture is not a simple matter of writing down your values on a piece of paper and telling people what you stand for. Cultures are by their very nature complex, evolving and dynamic systems. Establishing, shaping, nurturing and growing them is therefore an extremely demanding and fascinating enterprise.
The key to creating a thriving culture is to clearly identify, and then instill, the philosophies that define your firm. You must ask yourself – and know – what you stand for, and shape your organization around what’s really important. Grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down the culture characteristics that come to mind. For example:
- Pay attention to growing revenue, but also to quality of life.
- Make sure your clients are always well cared for throughout the financial planning process.
- Acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of people at every level in the organization and in numerous ways.
- Hire people who are aligned with the company’s values, vision and purpose, and cultivate an environment of mutual respect.
- Harness technology as an ally, rather than allowing it to be a natural opponent of interpersonal contact.
- Provide continual learning opportunities, and always strive to do better, based on a standard of meaningful, interpersonal interactions that you will be proud of, both internally and externally.
If you can fully embody your culture characteristics, and do these things well, you will infuse vitality into your business.
Don’t Stop There
Once you have defined your culture, you may think that you’re past your biggest hurdle. But you’ll discover that greater challenges lie ahead. First, it is necessary to establish the infrastructure, the backbone of the culture you want to create. To do this, you will need to identify how your core philosophies are connected to your business model and develop an infrastructure that allows the interconnectedness to function together – much more powerfully than they can function alone.
Second, you’re faced with communicating your culture to your team: demonstrating the business model and allowing your colleagues to experience what you have worked so hard to establish. In today’s high tech world, financial advisors are empowered to communicate as never before in history – yet we are also distracted and overwhelmed by operating on so many levels and running in so many different directions. It is vital to stop and recognize the ability to get talented people together to share stories, share ideas, and enjoy each other’s company as an integral component of sustaining culture. Involve your advisory staff and your management team, in addition to your professional partners, to participate in the interest of nurturing your culture.
Lastly, you need to obtain commitment to the culture, company-wide. Whether other advisors at your firm, your management team, or your receptionist at the front door, you need to hold each other accountable. Identify opportunities to share successes and best practices, as well as areas for improvement. Empower your team to act upon the areas for improvement and meet regularly to review. And keep in mind that this is not a one-and-done exercise. The infrastructure, communication and commitment to culture need to remain at the forefront of your decisions in order to feel any impact.
As you contemplate the independent financial advisor model, I encourage you to determine what kind of culture you and your fellow advisors want to be a part of. This is not something that will come to you overnight. Thinking it through deserves your focus, attention and passion. Defining a culture can easily be overcomplicated because it is such an all-encompassing concept. But in the end, it is quite simple – create or join a company where you feel a sense of belonging, and whose culture makes you say: “That’s where I want to be.”
Paul Saganey is President and Founder of Integrated Financial Partners, Inc., a fee-based financial services firm headquartered in Waltham and Worcester, MA.