How Do We Explain Our Firm’s Unusual Culture?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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Our team has worked together for almost 20 years. We have four senior partners and six support people. We recently added a seventh member to the support team because of the explosive growth we have experienced over the last 18 months.
The new member of the support team is young and not very experienced in business in general and she has been complaining to our most senior support member, an older woman in her 60s, about how crass and insulting we are. We aren’t crass and insulting but we do like to poke fun and give one another a hard time about things we do wrong. We go so far as to send out emails – “Glenn’s latest screw-up!” and then go on to say what the problem was and what we are doing to fix it. We have not done this with our new hire, but we do it with one another on at least a weekly basis.
I can see why, from someone else’s point of view, this could be upsetting. But it is the way we’ve worked together for many years and we all understand the jokes.
When an advisory firm brings on a new hire, should that person adapt to the culture or must the culture change for the person?
The culture needs to be discussed and reviewed with a potential hire in the candidate interviewing process. I’m always surprised by how many firms focus on just the role the capabilities of the potential hire and the “likeability” factor, but rarely the cultural fit. Cultural fit is key because it embodies the style of the working environment, the way team members interact and treat one another, and what’s normal or not normal behavior. Even if you did discuss this with your new hire, it doesn’t mean she would have acknowledged her level of being uncomfortable in the interview process. If she wanted the job enough, she may have said, “I like to have fun!” or something along those lines. It might have been good to share the history of your evolution and examples of the emails you send and the style within which you interact.
These are considerations for the future. Include questions around cultural fit in your interview process and also share as much as you can about what it feels like and how people think about working for your firm.
In this case, this hire is here – so, do you tell her to learn to live with it, or do you simply stop what you have been doing for 20 years? A middle ground is your best opportunity. The eight of you have worked together a long time. You’ve been through the “storming and norming” phases. You are likely steadily “performing” together so you don’t even think about your ground rules, your communication practices and so on. You do what you’ve done well and what works.
Use the opportunity of having a new team member join you to revisit your cultural norms. Sometimes it is healthy, even for teams who have worked together a very long time, to take a step back and revisit what they are doing and whether it is working the way it should be.
Do this as a team of 11 and work hard not to “tell” the new team member why you do things the way you do or convince her it is right. Instead use it as an opportunity to objectively consider how the whole team wants to work together, this might be a nice way to integrate all thoughts and ideas and have an open discussion about what you would like the firm, and the working relationship to look like.
You might end up with the culture you have, and with your new team member learning more about you, or you might end up finding it is time for a change.
How do you corral a senior partner who sees all and knows everything? We have a great guy, “Carl,” who has been doing this for 30+ years who is always lecturing the rest of us as if we are junior team members who don’t understand the business.
Meanwhile, my other partner and I have been doing this almost as long – one 24 years and one 28 years. We know where he is coming from and that his heart is in the right place. But his delivery is frequently off-putting. I find myself sometimes shutting down when he speaks because he delivers ideas as if we really should have just known about what he is saying and we should be ready to act on it.
We know each other well enough that of course we give him heck and tell him his style needs a lot of work. But he frequently laughs it off and I don’t see any effort on his part to change anything he is doing.
Can you get through to someone when they are like a sibling/spouse to you and everyone knows everyone else’s issues? I’m not saying “Paul,” my other partner, and I are perfect and do everything right, but we do try and take Carl’s concerns and insights into consideration.
You are exactly right. It is very difficult to give feedback or advice to someone you are very close to when you already know what the other person is going to say and the other person is ready to resist your feedback or advice! In addition, when people deliver feedback to a person they know well, they might not present it with care and kindness, but rather a “knock it off” attitude.
Have you suggested to Carl that he work with a coach? Often times an outsider can help share insights and give feedback that internal people wouldn’t be able to. For some reason it is more palatable when it comes from someone you are paying well even when the message isn’t the most positive one. In my coaching journey, I’ve worked with teams where internal people can give me feedback and I can deliver it, and the person receiving it will tell me they are hearing it in a different way than they have before. Or that they appreciate someone is giving it to them directly instead of beating around the bush.
While you might think you have been clear and specific, I wonder if you are delivering the message in a way that Carl is able to hear it and see the changes he needs to make?
You might also take Carl out for coffee and ask him whether he thinks the way he communicates and delivers ideas to you and Paul is reasonable and effective? Ask him why he chooses the approach he does and whether he is obtaining the results he would like to see? He may be frustrated too because he thinks he is clear but he isn’t getting a response and he isn’t see any changes happen. This could be a way to have him open up about why he takes the approach he does and whether, as a trio, there is any way you could work together to change your dynamic.
You could keep giving Carl the feedback. However, people don’t like to get feedback about their style and approach from peers, especially if they don’t already see a problem with what they are doing and the way they are doing it.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.