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Leadership Lesson #4: Choose Your Culture

by George Virtue, CPA, CA, Managing Partner

I love it when visitors to the firm that I lead make comments like “You can tell that your people love what they do” or “It just feels different at your place”. It is a great reward to hear a departing team member say that they hope they can find a place “just like Avail” when they move to Calgary. I am gratified to hear clients remark that “you really seem to care about us”. These are all signs of a strong and positive culture.

Every organization has a culture. If you are not intentional about the culture that you want to have, you will develop a culture “by accident”, one that is not aligned with your values and may even be negative, counterproductive and dysfunctional. Have you ever been to retail store who’s Mission Statement might have felt like “Our employees personal phone calls come ahead of our customers’ needs”?  Well that is culture - but not a particularly positive one.

So, just how do you go about being “intentional” about your culture?  Here is a good place to start – follow Leadership Lessons #1 to #3!  Then create your culture by living your values every day in every way especially when it is tough to do so.

The culture at Avail CPA was crafted intentionally by a number of partners and team members who had been part of a firm with a negative internal culture. When we decided to create a better firm, focused on fun work and a “positively different” service experience for our clients, our best guide was to be anything other than what had been in the past. We had a brand new Mission Statement and we were determined to live it. Life was good … and then it got hard. Some team members did not seem to behave in a manner consistent with our values. The idea of “fun work” seemed to challenge some of our partner’s sense of what it means to work hard.  The financial cost of implementing some of our ideas for change was high. But we did not waver, because we had seen the impact of negative culture and we were committed to change. We just didn’t put our Mission Statement on the wall – we lived it!

Our clients and our people noticed our commitment. If the firm was willing to let partners who did not support the vision leave; if the firm was willing to make the investment in change; if it became clear that it was not only OK but encouraged to have fun at work; then maybe this would be the new way of doing things at Avail. Now, as I look back, the culture maintains itself. Our people insist on doing things the Avail way and gently let others, including partners, know when they might be straying too far from the cultural values that the firm has chosen to follow. We are positively different, mainly because we have chosen to be that way.

When your team members say “That’s just the way we do things around here” you know you have a culture. Make sure it’s a good one.

Click here for a downloadable PDF of Leadership Lesson #4: Choose Your Culture

Click here to read Leadership Lesson #3: Figure Out Where You Want to Go and How You Will Get There
Click here to read Leadership Lesson #2: Make Sure that Everyone (Including You) is Doing the Right Job
Click here to read Leadership Lesson #1: Get the Right People on the Team

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Leadership Lesson #3: Figure Out Where You Want to Go and How You Will Get There