Building a Culture of Motivation
Most CPA firm leaders know that a strong firm culture is critical to their future success, yet culture tends to feel like some magical force that few firm leaders know how to create or control. Efforts to improve firm culture typically take two firms: leaders trying to push culture initiatives down from the top, or looking to employees to push change up from the bottom. Both methods can be effective, but there may be a third way that looks at culture from a biological sense and applies scientific methods to building a culture of motivation in the firm.
Defining culture conventionally
Culture is a critical factor in driving positive or negative change within any firm. The most conventional definition of culture sounds something like this: the beliefs and behaviors that are common to a group. This definition implies that to build culture, you need to create the right behaviors, and in many instances, this leads to initiatives, rules and teams. It’s a “top down” vision of culture.
The issue with creating culture from the top (although it can be successful) is that you already have a culture. Whether it is positive or negative, trusting or not, the culture you have needs to be considered when changing for the better.
In reaction to the tension of balancing current culture with new changes, some companies take the approach that culture starts from the “bottom up.” In this model, a firm would look to the employees to see where change is needed, thus leading to a line of change that could improve the culture. Again, this may help improve culture, but it potentially puts the culture at odds with what the firm needs to do.
An alternative culture definition
I propose looking at an alternate definition of culture. Culture is a term used in biology to talk about the environment in which cells are grown in an artificial environment. The cells need a certain mix of chemicals to prosper. This mixture is provided by the scientists or technicians and is learned through experimentation.
Now, I am not saying that we need scientists to determine culture. What I am suggesting is that there are three key characteristics of cell culturing that can be applied to any company to improve overall performance and engagement.
Figure out who you are
Cell cultures are usually introduced in school with an ideal environment; known cells, known chemicals and a well-defined experimental procedure. However, in the real world, this isn’t nearly as easy. The first challenge is to determine what you have. This is done through an assessment.
Company cultures can also learn about the current state of employees by learning about who each team member is. This can be items like roles, competencies, etc. More importantly, you should know two key variables:
What motivates you
Where you get the most juice
These two characteristics can help define the “cells” in your company.
Determine what environment you have
Creating an effective cell culture often starts with trying to determine what the “real” environment contains. This provides the technicians developing a cell culture the rough template to build a successful environment.
In your company, an employee engagement survey and/or upward evaluation would help to determine the current cultural environment. These current state definitions are extremely important in determining the next step.
Start the process of refining an ideal environment
Many cells have an optimal growth environment. One easy household experiment is a starter for sourdough bread. This contains yeast and a few other ingredients. You need to monitor the starter to make sure it grows properly; otherwise, you end up with low rise bread or no bread at all.
In a company, this is assessing the results of an employee engagement and/or upward evaluation, and determining root causes of these issues. It should be fairly straightforward to take all of your feedback and establish themes. These themes can then be used to deliver an environment for the culture to grow.
However, there is a tweaking aspect to science that allows for monitoring and change to continue to create this environment. In your firm, the same will happen. Changes take time to stabilize, and once they do, you will need to reassess to see if the changes are positive. Do not assume you are “one and done” when it comes to improving culture.
Create a culture of continuous improvement
By listening, changing and reassessing, you will create a series of cultural changes that take into account both high-level objectives and employee level feedback. The results will be evident and measurable. Finally, you will be able to share your results with your clients. Positive or negative, your culture determines client success, and that success will bring them back to you for further solutions.
Eric Benson is the Director of 10X Operations at Boomer Consulting, Inc. He is part firm administrator, part technology and process guru, and part 10X coordinator for an awesome team. The first two parts may sound familiar. The last part, thinking 10X, has been a core principle of our firm since the beginning. What would you need to change to make your firm 10X the revenue, client service, productivity, profitability, employee satisfaction or engagement that it is now? Eric’s job is to Think about how our firm could be, Plan for this future and Grow our firm into that 10X model.