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Why Culture Is The Most Important Thing To Look For When Hiring An Advisory Firm

Joshua P. Itzoe, CFP®, AIF®

In the world of corporate retirement plans and wealth management, it’s getting harder to differentiate and stand apart. So many advisory firms say the same types of things, offer the same types of services and promise the same types of experiences that it’s difficult for the marketplace to separate fact from fiction.

If you are a prospective client, hiring an advisory firm to be your advocate is an important decision and one that you typically stick with for a long period of time (frequently changing advisors is burdensome and often counterproductive).

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a retirement plan committee trying to manage your company’s 401(k) on behalf of your employees or an individual trying to plan and provide for yourself and your family. The risks are high and there’s a lot at stake – it can be difficult to decipher what is real and what isn’t. And once the ink is dry on the advisory agreement, whether the firm delivers on the promises it made to you throughout the hiring process comes down to one essential thing: its people.

In today’s world, just about every company (regardless of industry, but especially in professional services) is going to stress how good its people are. “Hire us and our people will provide terrible customer service because they are unmotivated, unresponsive and just in it for themselves” isn’t typically a winning pitch.

But building a successful company and delivering an exceptional client experience isn’t simply about hiring good people (though that certainly helps). More importantly, the foundation of any great organization is the culture that exists which unleashes its people to do great things. How often do you see capable, talented and energetic individuals go to work for a company with a great deal of enthusiasm only to see their spark go out over time? Why does that happen? The culprit often has almost entirely to do with culture (or a lack thereof).

If people are truly an organization’s greatest asset like everyone tells us, then having a strong culture is central to its success. Think of culture like the power charger for your phone or laptop. Your device can run on its own for some time but sooner or later if it’s not plugged in, it’s going to run out of juice and die.

Your people are like your devices and your culture is the power source that keeps them charged. Natural talent, ability, motivation, and mindset may help some people last a little longer than others but in time, without the right energy source, your people are going to run out of juice. Even worse, they may sap the energy of their colleagues and your clients as they are powering down.

Show me great employees entrenched in a bad culture and I will show you a recipe for disaster. It may take months or years, but at some point, things are going to end badly for everyone involved. On the other hand, show me a group of employees (even average ones) united together around a common purpose and contributing to a thriving culture and I’m willing to bet they achieve great things for their clients/customers and themselves.

At Greenspring Advisors, we are focused on building an exceptional company that succeeds over multiple generations. And it all starts with creating a great culture for our people because if we get that right we have found everything else basically takes care of itself. It’s amazing what happens when team members feel valued, appreciated, supported and given opportunities to succeed. People work hard and have a sense of pride in what they deliver, they go above and beyond to provide great service, and they treat their colleagues and clients with the respect they deserve. And it turns out that it’s good for business because happy employees usually lead to happy clients. In many ways, building a great culture is the ultimate corporate strategy and driver of success.

Over the following six weeks I am going to give you a behind the scenes look at what really makes us tick at Greenspring Advisors. Whether you are a current client, a prospective client, a business partner we work with or a potential new hire, we want you to get to know us better so that we, in turn, may serve you better. A key to any successful relationship is setting proper expectations because without this disappointment is sure to follow.

The cornerstone of our culture at Greenspring is the combination of our Core Purpose (which is why we exist) and our Core Values (which is how we choose to live) and how these two elements work together. Now most companies have some sort of variation of these – you see them highlighted on the company website or plastered on the walls at corporate headquarters. The fact that we have them doesn’t make us unique or different (especially because they are highlighted on our website and plastered on our walls, too!).

I think what is different is how closely aligned our people are with these two things. Our Core Purpose and Core Values are non-negotiables and they drive how each of us approaches life, how we conduct business, how we treat others, and how we do our jobs. In a word – we believe these two things are “authentic” in our company and vital to our success and the success of the people we serve. And that’s why each of us at Greenspring is vigilant about protecting our culture. If we don’t sense people are aligned we simply won’t hire them, no matter how talented or capable they may be. There’s just too much at stake for us and our clients.

In next week’s post, I am going to share our Core Purpose followed by each of our five Core Values in the weeks that follow. But I am not simply interested in telling you what these things are. I am much more interested in telling you why they are significant to us along with trying to provide you with examples of how they manifest themselves in what we do for each other and our clients. My goal at the end of this series is for you to feel more connected to us and vice-versa. I hope you will stick around!