The Importance of Culture

Culture within the workplace really became apparent to me during my time working in Financial Services in Singapore. This was a very sales focused role and a completely different environment to the UK Financial Planning I had left behind. Ultimately, I experienced first-hand that the wrong culture can have a really negative impact on your team, your clients and your business.

Sure, these environments might lead to short term success, but I don’t believe that over the long term this  leads to good outcomes for anybody.

The Red House

When I moved back to the UK, I was lucky enough to join Ruth Sturkey and The Red House, a London based Financial Planning firm. Three years ago we merged with Paradigm Norton. These are two business that really walk the walk when it comes to culture and putting your people at the heart of the business and its this experience that has made me realise there is a better way of doing things, and it can have a really positive impact on all aspects of the business.

The Challenge

I think the importance of workplace culture and how that impacts the service we deliver can often be overlooked. Now I completely understand why this might be the case, we’re all balancing competing priorities, we work in an extremely regulated environment and when time and resources are limited this might be seen as a nice to have rather than a priority. But that doesn’t have to be the case, getting your culture right can have such a positive impact on your team, your clients and your business.

We are all in the client service business, and great client service starts with the people delivering that service. I’m sure we can all reel off a number of examples of when we have gone above and beyond for our fee-paying clients, but do we go to the same for our team members; our internal clients. And if not, why not?

Whether you know it or not, there is a culture within your workplace and its only by being deliberate about this you can be sure it reflects your values, as a business and as individuals. I think we all need to ask ourselves honestly, what is our workplace culture? Is it one of collaboration and everyone pulling in the same direction, or is it an ‘us and them’ culture, where people might feel disconnected and disengaged?

If it’s the latter, think about the impact that can have on your clients. Surely you want the people delivering your service to be passionate about what they do and who they work for. Your culture can and should create this and as well as having a huge positive impact on your team, that will carry through to your clients and business.

So how can you be deliberate about your culture?

It may sound obvious, but the first point is to define it. Use this as an opportunity to engage with all your team and ask them:

  • To describe the type of firm they want to work for and be associated with
  • What do they see as the core values of such a business?
  • And more importantly, where do they feel these are not being lived?

Get this first step right and you are on the start of your journey. 

Once you’ve defined your culture, the next step is to ensure this is lived out within your business

You need to make sure this is visible.

Your culture shouldn’t be something you talk about once a year at your team day, this should be something that is lived and breathed within in your business everyday. Think about what you can do to make your culture visible.

The virtual culture

A big part of our virtual culture over the last 12 months of virtual working has been our weekly Partner huddle. This is a 45 minute video call on a Friday morning where all the business comes together to share great client stories where we’ve helped someone retire early or buy that dream home. We’ve got people giving shout-outs to team members who have gone above and beyond or passed exams and celebrate those success stories. We’ve had Partners sharing their their top five tips on all manner of topics from financial planning to health and wellbeing to employee ownership, a really broad range of ideas, and we’ve had people speaking openly about their struggles with mental health. More recently, we’ve had quick-fire interviews to get to know our newer team members, getting to know people we haven’t been able to meet in person.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, but most importantly, every week we’ve had a continual reminder of the power of culture and a reminder of how good openness is.

Making your culture visible makes your people feel at the heart of the business. A true sense of belonging with everyone pulling the same direction.

Once your culture becomes visible, the challenge is to empower people to take action when they feel it isn’t being lived out.

From experience, this is the most difficult part. At Paradigm Norton, we’ve always been a values led business but the difficulty we found was that of course people will interpret   these value differently based on their own beliefs and expectations.

Setting the bar

An example of setting the bar high for one individual, might be the minimum expectation for another. What we needed was a way for everyone to be clear on what our values meant, not through their own individual lenses, but through the company lens.

To do this, with input from our whole team, we created The PN Way. A working document that not only defines our culture and values, but gives clear examples of what is and isn’t expected.  The aim here is to give all team members, but especially new team members, a very clear guideline of the standards we set, and empower them to hold us to account, if we aren’t walking the walk.

Once people are empowered to take action, your cultural loop is complete:

  • Your culture is clearly defined
  • Its lived and breathed every day
  • And most important, people take action when they see a breach.

That’s how you make culture the heart of your business.

So why is this so important?

When you really start to embrace the importance of culture, it becomes a key to all parts of your business:

You start to hire for cultural fits, people who share the same beliefs and commitment to the standards you set. Not only that, but good people seek you out because of your culture. We’ve hired a number of great people who wanted to join PN because of their understanding of our culture.

Leadership across the business starts to come from your culture. When your culture is clear, and everyone knows what is expected they hold each other to account. You move away from an environment where it’s one leaders’ job to discipline and into a disciplined culture. Culture is what manages the business when the managers are not around.

Finally, think of the importance of culture in succession planning. A strong culture which reflects your values will outlast any CEO or leader in a business. If you are thinking about your own succession planning, embrace culture to ensure the values of your business continue even in your absence.

What comes next?

The last 12 months has thrown at us more change than any before and the only certainty going forward is that the office will never be the same again.

Whilst working from  home has of course thrown up many challenges arguably from a cultural perspective, having most, if not all of your team, working remotely allows you to adapt your culture to a virtual environment.

What happens when people start to return to the office?

I’m sure like many, a mix of office and home working will become the reality, more so than before. Indeed, in our London office, we now have team members based in South Wales and North West England – they will likely only be in the office a couple of days every other week.

So how do we adapt to this? When part of the team is physically together and others still on the end of a video call? This is the next big challenge and if you’re not thinking about this, yet you should be.

Now, we by no means have the answer to this yet, and I’m sure it will be a case of trial and error to some extent, but we’re already planning for an environment where you have ‘core’ days where smaller teams will be in the office to enable that in person collaboration, whilst of course ensuring that virtual culture we have created over the last 12 months continues. Whilst I’m sure this will be a challenge for us all, it’s and exciting one that can lead to many more opportunities.