A Winning Culture is an Intentional Culture

“People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a workplace in which each person is left to his own devices”
― Alfie Kohn, Author

Your firm’s culture is the essence of its being and the way it feels to work at your firm every day.  Your culture has both positive and negative aspects to it and is impacted by everything about your firm.  It is influenced by things like the look and feel of your physical work space, the benefits you offer and the way your leaders treat your team members and each other.  Ultimately, your culture is the most important factor in attracting and retaining talent.  If you want a culture that engages people to work for and with you, you have to intentionally create and maintain it.  Otherwise, you risk it evolving on its own, over time into a feeling that repels key people instead of retaining them.

There are several steps to developing a winning culture. Millennials are making deeper inroads into the workplace – and are expected to represent 75% of our workforce by 2025 (according to Forbes).  This new, younger worker brings new values, a need for a collaborative culture and a lack of regard for many current workplace structures, processes and norms. This change, along with the expected Baby Boomer retirements, often causes generational tension. Explore the primary areas where Millennials are driving (and expect) change in firm culture to see how your firm is doing to ensure you meet the desired expectations for:

  • Clear vision and direction
  • Engagement by upper-management
  • Leaders willing to change
  • Feedback and the desire to give it
  • Increased transparency – they want to know what, why and how
  • A 100% commitment to work efficiently using the latest IT and standard processes
  • An expectation that they’ll benefit from a learning and development investment
  • Flexibility and anytime, anywhere work (moving away from the time and place paradigm)

Encourage others to share their vision for the future of your firm and their ideas for what would make an engaging work environment.  Consider developing a culture committee that includes cross-representation of service lines (including administrative professionals), levels, generations and genders.  Appoint the culture committee to define your firm’s culture in very specific terms like: “approachable, inclusive, flexible and fun.” These could be considered “values” and values definitely need to tie to and reflect your culture – but they are also the way it “feels.”

Then, identify what actions, programs, communications, and processes you need to address to ensure they represent the culture you desire – in all aspects of your firm! The culture committee should help shape decisions that impact culture, too. This also requires that you identify where you’re NOT living your culture, which may require addressing some “sacred cows” or some tough love as you discuss behavior that is counter-culture and no longer acceptable. For example, not allowing “exceptions” to following processes or client acceptance procedures, or no longer tolerating punishing behavior from partners or managers towards staff, or disbanding any cliques or factions that may persist in your organization.

When you solicit input from all levels and intentionally define the elements of your firm’s culture and what’s expected in each, you’ll reap the benefits like Edward Guttenplan, Managing Shareholder of Wilkin & Guttenplan, PC in East Brunswick, NJ experienced this spring by being named not only a Best Place to Work in NJ but also a Best Places to Work for Millennials 2015 in the Country. We have worked hard to define and embrace our multigenerational culture through open communication and empowering staff leadership,” says Guttenplan. “We have developed some very unique programs for our Millennials and young CPAs along with several standing committees, such as our Advisory Committee, Future Council, and Culture Committee. These initiatives and committees provide a forum for staff to provide feedback on their vision for the firm and the opportunity to shape the future for their career and the kind of firm they want to be a part of. We listen and then empower all generations to take steps towards that vision.”

“We pride ourselves on embracing generational differences and keeping open communication across all levels so that we can work effectively together as a team at Wilkin & Guttenplan,” says Valerie Thorpe, CPA and Supervisor at Wilkin & Guttenplan, PC and member of Wilkin & Guttenplan’s Future Council. “One element of our culture that is very important to me is our genuine commitment to each staff member’s goals and success both at work and in their personal lives. Everyone works hard at our firm and our firm’s leadership does an outstanding job of ensuring that every staff member is well supported.  At the same time, our culture enables our staff members to have fun and build friendships while working hard.  The firm’s culture is what enticed me to come to Wilkin & Guttenplan in the first place. As our profession evolves, I am excited to be able to share my vision for the firm and participate in shaping our firm’s future.”

Creating your firm’s culture requires intentionality. Are you defining your culture or letting it define you? Choose one step you could you take today:

  • Develop a culture committee and use it and other means to solicit input from the multiple generations in your firm – especially your young people!
  • Define your firm’s cultural “must haves” and “cannot haves”
  • Incorporate your cultural elements in all aspects of your firm and empower your staff to lead these initiatives as much as possible
  • Fiercely protect your firm’s culture and address areas where people are straying from it

When you intentionally create your culture, you’ll develop a firm that people clamor to work for!    


 About the Author

tamera2Tamera Loerzel is a partner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a national leadership and management consulting firm. Tamera leads strategic planning and retread facilitation along with executive coaching and leadership development programs to help her clients realize their goals and vision.  She can be reached at tamera@convergencecoaching.com