Creating Culture: The Importance of Starting Early

While culture is not necessarily the first thought that comes to mind when planning your path to independence, it is an important early step. In the long run, developing your firm’s culture from the get-go can play a significant role in building a successful practice.

Why Culture Matters

Culture is omnipresent and therefore affects everything you do. It is the way you live and work, how you think, interact and act. It reflects your values and your vision, your style and your substance. It impacts how you establish relationships and therefore trust.

  • Culture is a powerful way to differentiate your firm.
    As you know, registered investment advisors (RIAs) offer similar services, including retirement planning, financial planning and investment management. Prospective clients have a difficult time relating to – let alone understanding – what these services mean. Therefore, your offering usually does not help them distinguish among firms. But prospects do connect to like-minded people, authentic interactions and engaging dialogue – the building blocks of strong relationships. Defining a clear culture guides compatible clients as well as colleagues to your firm. They self-select because they feel that your firm is the right fit.
  • Culture builds and binds relationships among colleagues and with clients.
    How you interact with people makes all the difference. Understanding where they are coming from and where they want to go shows you listen and care.  As you have seen over the years, connecting authentically, respectfully and consistently with people builds trust.
  • Culture is central to growing your firm.
    Culture should play in your decisions, especially who becomes part of your firm: advisors, staff and partners alike. In choosing partners – your custodian, advisor tech stack support, regulatory counsel and industry consultants – you need to feel good about their cultural fit. They are long-term and will be an integral part in forming and growing your firm.

How to Build Your Culture

It is your firm, so you should define your culture as only you can. Here are guidelines we have found instrumental in helping firms get to their core.

  • Know thyself
    Start by simply asking yourself what you like or do not like about your current culture. Make a list of pros and cons. Add your strengths and weaknesses into the list to determine what you can and cannot achieve.
  • Know your team.
    Your internal culture can make or break your firm, so you need to make sure it is in sync with your team members. Consider what is working in your existing culture and improve upon it. What is important to them, what do they expect, and how can you make their work life, and their life in general, more rewarding? What you may think are the little things, like dress code and office hours, could be big deals – and dealbreakers. So know what they value most and let them know how they are valued every day.
  • Visualize your ideal client and build your culture with them in mind.
    Think beyond assets and demographics. What do they most value? What are their expectations? How do they prefer to connect?
  • Get to know your industry partners inside and out to determine their cultural connection.
    Make sure to:

    • Ask about their service levels and for references who can speak to their experience;
    • Meet the people you will be working closely with; and
    • Most, important, go with your gut. Do not ignore the birdie on your shoulder. As professionals with many years under our belts, we have had to learn the hard way. When making an industry partner selection, there may be times when all things being equal, the cultural fit puts your decision over the top.
  • Know how to maintain your culture.
    Consistency of culture is critical to success. Every interaction and touchpoint within and outside your firm must acknowledge your guiding principles. To help you achieve a uniform voice, consider defining your brand and creating a messaging roadmap so that everyone is reading from the same page. Consistency itself reinforces culture.
  • Check in.
    Once you build your culture and are able to maintain it, you still should do a periodic gut check to examine if it is still a growing organism, flat or dying.

When you think of culture, it is a feeling and an attitude. It is our job as entrepreneurs to take the concept of our culture and make it concrete, so that our teams can live and work by it for everyone’s benefit.

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