Culture: Simplicity and Clarity Rule

August 23rd 2016

The tighter the market for CPAs becomes, the more firms focus on culture. Many firms complicate attempts to build a cohesive, happy, productive culture. Fun Committee? Yes! Vision and Values Council? You bet. How about Diversity, Leadership or Women’s groups? But of course.

Oy. So much bureaucracy, so little effectiveness. I suppose if you’re just trying to teach team members how to be involved in groups, this approach is fine. But if you’re really trying to build a culture, simplicity and clarity rule the day. 

You can build whatever kind of culture you want: fun-and-hardworking; flexible; inclusive; BS-free. As a leader, you get to choose and create it. In fact, I would argue that you must choose, or you’ll have at best a mediocre culture, and at worst a toxic one. 

No matter what kind of culture you’re trying to build, you’ll want to insist on three fundamentals. Every person, regardless of rank, title, or experience, must do the following:

1. Respect others.

2. Behave kindly to everyone.

3. Meet deadlines.


To make your culture work, you have to teach people what these words mean. What does respecting others look like? What does it mean to behave kindly? And how do we learn to understand deadlines (real and artificial)?


It’s vital to discuss culture at the beginning of an employee\'s time with your firm. Talk about it at some length. Then let them know what happens if they veer outside your cultural norms. You don’t have to be threatening; you just need to be clear that there are consequences. 


How about a Culture Check-Up with your team members every now and then? Buy them lunch, sit around the conference room for an hour, and just talk about your culture. Can they articulate it? Do they see it in action? Does it work for them? While the first discussion may be awkward and uncertain, over time your team will realize that culture is a critical component of firm success and individual happiness.


Finally, the hardest part of building your culture: as the leader, you must demonstrate the three fundamentals mentioned above every day, in every interaction. On the rare occasions that you don’t, you need to apologize and correct your behavior. There is really no other way, because you are the living embodiment of the firm’s culture.

Keep it simple and make it clear.

communication, leadership, culture


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Joey Brannon
08/23/2016 6:14pm
That next to last paragraph is key. I think a lot of business owners subconsciously quash efforts to build a values centered (as opposed to bureaucracy laden) culture because they dislike being held accountable to a standard themselves.