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Why Greenspring Advisors Exists And What We Stand For

Joshua P. Itzoe, CFP®, AIF®

Welcome to my second in a series of seven blog posts about the importance of Culture, Core Purpose and Core Values at Greenspring Advisors. I decided to write this series to give you a behind the scenes look at our firm in order for you to get to know us better so that we, in turn, may serve you better.

My initial post last week discussed the significance of culture and why this is the most important thing to look for when hiring an advisory firm. I also mentioned how the cornerstone of our culture at Greenspring Advisors is the combination of our Core Purpose and Core Values and that I would be unpacking these essential elements further throughout the series. This week I am going to focus on our Core Purpose which is the reason why Greenspring Advisors exists and what we stand for.

But first, let me share how we developed both our Core Purpose and our Core Values. When we first started Greenspring we developed a mission statement which was “to serve others and make an impact in their lives.” We defined “others” as our clients (which were few at the time), our employees (only two of us at the start but thinking bigger) and our community (which is why we give 10% of our profits to charity each year). For the first 12 years or so that loosely defined mission served us sufficiently.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and we embarked upon a comprehensive strategic planning process that we hoped would guide the firm over the coming years. We were fortunate to get introduced to Will Ditzler from RiverBirch Executive Advisors who agreed to facilitate this process for us. Using some of the writings and research from a number of business gurus, including Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Built to Last), he helped us clarify what we stand for and why we exist and the organizational values we hold dear. Most importantly, with regard to Core Values, Will stressed the importance of “discovering” these things about our organization rather than just stating them and hoping they were true.  Essentially, our Core Values needed to be authentic and real rather than just aspirational platitudes we selected so we could check the box that we had them. Over a period of several months and through a series of exercises, conversations, and interactions we honed and refined our Core Purpose and Core Values.

So, let’s start with our Core Purpose which is “to improve lives by helping people make better decisions for themselves and those who depend on them.” While that sentence may seem straightforward, there’s quite a lot to unpack so let’s dive deeper:

1. Improve lives – Improving people’s lives is a key motivator for everyone who works at Greenspring Advisors and can be traced back to our original mission. We care about others and want to be difference-makers that impact them in a positive way. We also understand that we have the power and ability to do both good or harm to people by our actions and behaviors.

2. By helping people – Those of us at Greenspring Advisors have the heart to help people. It is part of our DNA and it emanates from the fact that we place a really high value on people and relationships. We take both of these very seriously and try to live by the mantra that you should “love your neighbor as yourself”.

3. Make better decisions – At our core, we are advice-givers. People put their trust in us once we’ve earned that right and they seek our counsel about important decisions they are facing. Good, objective advice in life can often be the difference between success and failure.

4. For themselves and those who depend on them – We recognize that when we help people make better decisions it usually reaches beyond just them. It may impact their family, friends, co-workers, employees, customers, etc. The impact of any decision, good or bad, can be far-reaching and often well into the future. We try to be mindful of that reality.

I’d like to point out a few things that I think are crucially important to understand.

First, our Core Purpose is primarily an internal call to action and source of inspiration for those of us at Greenspring Advisors. It functions as a sort of North Star for each of us that serves as a guide to help us avoid losing our way and keeps us focused on the things that really matter, both in business and in life.

Second, it doesn’t mention anything related to financial services or what we actually do as a company and that’s by design. Our Core Purpose is aspirational in nature and a statement of what we stand for and not simply what we do. And while it has very practical implications that impact how we serve our clients, it’s not meant to be our value proposition that presents a compelling reason people would want to do business with us. To quote Jim Collins, we expect our Core Purpose “to remain fixed while our business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.”

And third, it broadens our horizons and our capacity to be impactful, certainly in the lives of our clients, but also in the lives of our people as well as in the communities in which we live and work.

This last point is essential. We care deeply about our clients and positively impacting their lives. But when we think about who we serve it’s more than just our clients. We also want to improve the lives of our team members and colleagues. That means doing all we can to provide a great working environment, recognizing and acknowledging their contributions so they feel valued and appreciated (we do this using our “Praise Wall” where people can write handwritten notes to their teammates when they see them live out our Core Values), compensating them well, offering good benefits, investing in their professional development, and providing opportunities to grow and advance.

But it goes further than that and also means caring about them on a personal level (as well as their families) and supporting one another in times of need. It requires creating an environment that functions more like a community and not simply a company where we show up every day, punch in, punch out and go home.

At the end of 2016, we conducted an employee survey to get a better sense of what we should start doing, stop doing and keep doing. The feedback was really valuable overall and validated some of the things we had done while also showing us where we needed to get better (hey, nobody’s perfect!).

However, two things showed me we were on the right track towards building something meaningful and sustainable.

First, 100% of employees answered “Yes” when asked, “Do you feel your opinions are heard and seem to count at Greenspring?” This doesn’t mean everyone always gets what they want but I think it does instill a sense of ownership and belonging that people feel connected to and a part of.

Second, our employees requested more opportunities to spend time together away from the office. I’ve found that at many companies, once the day is over people can’t wait to get away from their co-workers. But in this case, they were actually asking for more chances to connect because of how much people enjoyed being around one another. That’s why we do things like team bowling, a chili cookoff, cornhole and miniature golf tournaments, and family gatherings to play with awesome robots and drones! As one of the founders of Greenspring, seeing this type of community develop over time has been pretty cool, to say the least.

Finally, we want to impact the lives of people in the community and our Core Purpose gives us the opportunity to do that. In the words of Jim Collins, we have some “big, hairy audacious goals” or “BHAGs” when it comes to charitable endeavors. Since our inception, we’ve committed to giving away 10% of our profits each year and we’ve contributed more than $600,000 to charity over that time. Looking forward, we have a 20-year goal of investing more than $10 million in philanthropic causes and organizations we are passionate about.  That may seem crazy for a company our size but it provides a strong catalyst and motivator to continue to grow and expand our influence.

And it’s not just about investing our treasure, but also our time and our talents to improve lives and help others. Whether it’s speaking to emerging high school entrepreneurs, volunteering at a food bank, or getting involved in organizations and boards, we want our people to get engaged and become part of the story.  And over time, as we earn the right to be heard, that involvement should help the organization or the people it serves make better decisions.

So hopefully I’ve given you a better sense of why we exist and what we stand for at Greenspring Advisors. Our Core Purpose isn’t meant to be a business differentiator but simply a way to create organizational clarity as to why we exist and align the hearts of our people with that point of reference so we don’t lose our way.

Next week, I’m going to share the first of our five Core Values which is what we call “Love Your Neighbor”. These Core Values embody and represent how we live and behave at Greenspring Advisors. I hope you will continue to stay tuned!