It is undeniable that strong leadership, strategic focus and exceptional client service are critical to business success. However, a strong company culture is the backbone of any world-class organisation and should be the ultimate objective for every CEO. Particularly for a professional services organisation, which focuses on people and relationships, there is nothing more important than your workplace environment and having your employees rowing the oars in the same direction.
As CEO of PJ SOLOMON, a leading boutique investment banking advisory firm, I know having a distinguished culture is essential for our future. Banks are often associated with having traditional corporate atmospheres, which is why it is even more important for us to have a defined and unique company identity, not just for our current employees and clients, but also for attracting new recruits.
What is culture?
Culture is the heart of a company. It is a shared mission and values that are understood and acted upon by every employee. It is your own special identity and what sets you apart from your competitors.
At PJ SOLOMON, we define our culture as being built on honesty, integrity and a collective commitment to providing clients with sound, unbiased advice. We are guided on a daily basis by these values and pursue them in a collaborative way that promotes excellence and creativity.
Having defined characteristics encourages respect and ensures everyone is working towards a common goal. We have set up a foundation of trust and partnership, not individualism, so each of our employees understand the only way we will win, is as a team.
It’s more than a statement
Culture is about your employees’ happiness. Your most important assets (your employees) walk out of the elevator each day. How do you energize them to come back with enthusiasm and not go somewhere else? It’s imperative that you build an atmosphere people enjoy, a place where people want to come to work day in and day out.
A good working environment has always ranked higher than compensation by employees. Companies like Google and Facebook that consistently top the “Best Companies to Work For” lists are known for their unique workplace settings, generous benefits and flexibility, which collectively help shape a unique identity. Although not every organization will have the culture of a millennial or start-up company, it does not mean creating an enjoyable environment is out of reach. Employees care about inclusion, recognition and support, which can and should be part of the culture at any company.
It’s also essential to keep in mind that your culture ultimately comes across to existing and prospective clients. When we pitch business, prospective clients see how we interact as a team, i.e., if one executive is doing all the talking or if the group is connected and working together.
Clients hire companies they trust, who they believe in to do the right thing, and most importantly, individuals they want to be around and work with. This is the type of environment that all business leaders should strive to instill.
How do you build it?
Culture needs to come from the top.
As CEO, you set the tone for your organization and this will come through to those working under you. I like to think of myself as working FOR my employees, instead of them working for me. I ask my partners to think of those working under them in the same way. This small shift in thinking can greatly affect how you speak to each other and the culture as a whole.
Leaders must reflect the firm’s values and standards. They must be the strongest representatives of the firm’s philosophy and purpose, not only memorizing a mission statement or tagline, but rather internalizing and embodying what the company stands for.
With each individual hire, it is critical to think how this new person will fit in, making sure he or she is the kind of person who shares your ideas and vision. This then permeates and builds upon itself.
How do you maintain it?
By far, the biggest challenge to maintaining culture is company growth. It’s easy to establish a positive environment with 10 people, but when you become 100 and then 1,000, and 10,000, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain. As your company expands, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with your employees and continue to talk about your values to keep them top of mind. Maintaining traditions, no matter how small, helps keep the uniqueness of your company identity.
We hold a company-wide Monday Morning Meeting to boost employee connectivity and engagement. Leading with an update on the state of the business, personnel updates and significant tasks for the week, the meeting is open for discussion and all levels, from Interns to Managing Directors, are encouraged to bring ideas to the table. Having everyone together on a regular basis creates camaraderie among the team and improves communication, which is paramount in maintaining culture and employee retention.
It is important to always be on the lookout for ways to be more accommodating, appreciative and take interest in employees’ passions. We encourage and support our people to be active in the community and engage in the non-profit world whether through volunteer projects, participation in charitable events or donating their time in non-profit board positions.
A defined culture is invaluable and attributes to the satisfaction of your employees and the long-term success of your business. From a leadership perspective, there is nothing a CEO should take more pleasure in than seeing people enjoy themselves around an organization.
You can’t buy happiness. But you can build it.
Marc Cooper is the Chief Executive Officer of investment bank PJ SOLOMON
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