Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway employs over 300,000 people. With a workforce that large one can safely assume culture is extremely hard to manage and leadership must remain diligent and persistent to spread the culture of excellence. Mr. Buffet once said in an interview, “Whenever an employee of our business is contemplating an act, that individual should ask himself whether he would be willing to see it described on the front page of a local newspaper that is read by his spouse, children and friend”.
In financial services we employ far less than Mr. Buffet and have a strong grip on our office climate and culture. We communicate regularly, have our finger on the daily business pulse, and are front and center when it comes to interaction amongst staff and between staff and clients. Or do we?
Running a small business pulls us into multiple areas each business day. Some events are scheduled and others are ‘pop-ups’ as we call them at Surge, which require us to stop in the moment and look up to catch the ball. Regardless of time management, all events require us to remove ourselves from select tactical management.
With all of the daily client and business requirements to be successful, how do we ensure we do not have and manage out any Culture Cancer? Like traditional cancer, culture cancer will metastasize if left untreated. Before we realize it we have clients moving accounts or prospects not doing business with us, dysfunction in the office, systems that are not adhered to and the feeling of angst when we need to converse with certain peers or employees. The unfortunate element of any cancer is it often goes undetected far too long.
The largest defeater of culture cancer is communication; communicating with your staff on a regular basis, informal and formal. Formal communication is best positioned in group meetings on a regular basis. Surge suggests weekly, but monthly at minimum. The meeting does not have to be tactical, rather may remain strategic or based on firm happening and updates. The meetings should allow each staff person to have a chance to ask questions or speak about an update or event. This fosters a culture of openness and solidarity. Informal meetings are more challenging but have the largest impact. Each of our peers and employees desire to have time with us either alone or in small groups if more comfortable. It is time for them to comprehend where you are as a leader and any updates on direction of the firm. It is also a time for you to indulge in allowing them to boast about their business and personal lives. Surge recommends this be monthly to quarterly, and an outside lunch is often best.
When we realize through self and firm-assessment we have a culture cancer, the question becomes how do we begin to eradicate it? Immediately your response should be eliminating it! However, many times the culture cancer is a lifelong process or person that has emotional and business connection to the firm. Sometimes the cancer is an individual who was once a rockstar and has gone prodigal. First; can the individual own up through communication and revert back to when things were exceptional? Second, what can you do as Principal to help clear a path for success with the cancer? Lastly, if it is simply something that cannot be removed without firm surgery, begin a planning process with or excluding the person, to remove them from the firm in the most timely and efficient manner. This will require extensive thought about all the areas the individual was involved and or managed, and will likely include a client impact assessment.
Although we average three employees in financial services, which is far less than Mr. Buffet’s 300,000, managing few can be harder than managing a multitude. If a culture cancer is detected by you, peers, or even clients and family members, strike fast and do what is necessary without delay. Begin to think about your communication plan to ensure culture cancer never appears.
**Nicholas Ross is founder of Surge Business Consulting; A Dallas, Texas based business consulting firm specializing in financial services professionals nationwide, through its partnership with Financial Independence Group.