How to Think About "Codifying" Culture

October 5, 2016 Yoseph West

As you scale your business, codifying culture becomes critical. As you add more team members and clients, you want communication to remain effective. Expectations should continue to be clear. You want your growing team to stay focused on creating awesome client experiences.

Here’s how to codify your culture to maintain high-performance.

Aspirational versus actual culture

You have a culture whether you planned it or not. But is it the one you want? The one that is best for your business, clients and team? The first step in codifying your culture is to capture what that culture is today. Take the time to identify how you treat each other and how you treat clients.

Then identify what you want your culture to be going forward. That aspirational culture may not represent things that you currently do every day. But rather it defines what you wish you did consistently. It gives you something to strive towards. It will shape your behavior, your business and your client relationships as you grow.

Define your values

Too often values exercises generate a list of traits that advisors say their firm stands for. But the list is abstract and doesn’t really impact behavior. In fact, values are crucial to your firm’s success as you grow. But they have to be actionable. Only then will they act as your roadmap to how you will act and treat clients in the future. 

And keep in mind that defining your values needs to be a process that includes everyone. Values are not something handed down. A leader can’t just list what they believe and expect others to follow. They need to take input. Build consensus. Share and communicate the results. It’s a bottom up exercise.

Make your values real

In order for values to actually drive culture, they need to be made tangible. Great firms find a number of ways to make this happen.

Operating principles

Operating principles are the rules or policies that guide your organization. Things like guidelines for how quickly you respond to client requests. They turn abstract values into actual behavior.

So, take time to tie each of your values to a set of concrete operating principles. For example, if you value innovation you can make that real by having a flexible work day principle. If trust is important, you might have principles around not tracking employee hours.
 

Employee onboarding process

Accounting firm LiveCA makes their values tangible through their onboarding process. They use the Teachable platform to create simple training modules. The slides and videos take new hires through every aspect of working at the firm, from policies around technology use to guidelines on dress code. They take the time to talk about their culture and the values that drive it. Right from the start, new hires know what to expect. They understand how the firm treats clients and how the team treats each other.
 

External communications

Values are not just expressed in what you do on the job. They are communicated in everything the public sees. They are made tangible in your job postings, marketing materials, and social media. Taken together, these messages broadcast your culture to the world. So be aware of the message you are sending. Make sure it is consistent with your values. These communications will be the source of future clients and employees. If your culture is accurately reflected in them, you’ll get more candidates you want to work with.
 

Performance management systems

Make your values concrete by embedding them in your job descriptions. Many companies use their values to define each role in the company. The descriptions are changing from being activity or skill based. Now they are more aspirational. They describe what the company wants the person in the role to be.

Making values tangible like this changes staff focus from the tasks they do, to who they are.

And great companies take that one step further. They use their values as the metrics for their performance management. Values become benchmarks. The basis for decisions about who gets rewarded or promoted.

Wrap up

Defining what you want your culture to look like is essential to growth. Codifying your culture means working with everyone in the firm to define the values you live by. But then going beyond the abstract and making those values tangible. Embed them in your operating principles, communication and performance management system. As you scale your concrete values will ensure your high-performance culture remains intact.  

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