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We’re NextGen Planners – we do things differently

We do some great things but my question to us all is what more can we do? What more can we do as individuals, as businesses and as a community to have a real impact. An impact over and above the amazing work we do for our clients?

As a member of the Paradigm Norton Culture & Values Team, and a Trustee of our Employee Ownership Trust, this is a question we continually ask ourselves to ensure we use our business as a force for good.

To measure ourselves against the highest standard, last year we began our B Corp journey, achieving our certification in September. For those that aren’t familiar with this, B Corp is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee. They are businesses that give as much consideration to their social and environmental impact as they do to their financial returns.  The assessment measures how you as a business:

  1. Impact the lives of your people;

  2. Impact your local community; and

  3. Impact the environment

Now of course, you don’t have to become a BCorp to make a huge impact in any of these areas. I’ll share some of what we have learnt on our journey which I hope will help you really challenge yourself and your business to make a bigger impact.

My main focus today is going to be on what we can do to impact the lives of our people and why the culture of your business is so important in doing this. For me, its all about culture.  And to really make an impact, your culture has to be right. Once you do get this right, once you have people pulling in the same direction, that’s when real change can happen, faster that you ever imagined. Of course  that’s not to overlook the importance of our community and the environment.

Many NextGen firms are already very involved on their local community.  The question I’d ask of us all is ‘is there more we could do as a community to have a bigger impact?’.

Financial Education is a great example, I know some great work goes on in this space, but isn’t this an area we should tackle together as a community, an area that NextGen planners could really ‘own’ and have a bigger impact across the UK?

Bigger than any governing body before us? I believe that cultural fit is there, maybe after today we can think about how we can work together to really drive change.

To impact our environment, there are of course some quick wins we can make both personally and as a business, this could be as simple as using more environmentally friendly cleaning products, opting for local suppliers or using recycled materials

But can we think bigger?

We have all proven we can work remotely and this has had a huge impact on the environment. What can we learn from this going forwards to ensure we don’t revert to old habits?

If you’ve managed ‘business as usual’ over the last few months, challenge yourself to make a business cause for your offices – for most this will be one of our biggest expenses. Now I’m not for a second suggesting that the normal office should be ditched, there are huge positives of having a workplace, not least from a cultural perspective,  but by changing our paradigm we can challenge ourselves to think differently about some of life’s norms.

And of course we have heard earlier today from my colleague Clem on the environmental impact we can have with our investment proposition, without compromising your portfolio structure or clients returns. Again, many firms already do this, and much more. If you haven’t thought about this yet, what’s stopping you?

Many of us will spend more time at work than we do with our families. Work and the workplace is an environment where lives should be transformed, not just the lives of our clients, but the lives of our team.

There are so many ways we can do this, but your culture is key in the workplace something to be enjoyed, not endured, and there are benefits to us all of getting this right.

We are all in the service business, and great customer service starts with the people delivering that service. Your team are your internal clients. Do you go to the same lengths to ensure their wellbeing as you do for your clients?

In 2015, Google released a paper following over 2 years of research and 200+ interviews on what makes an effective team. They found that who is in the team, matters much less than how the people in that team interact and view their contribution.

This research identified 5 dynamics for effective teams; the most important one? Psychological Safety; team members feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

Whether you know it or not, there is a culture within your workplace. It is only by being deliberate about your culture that you can be sure it reflects your values, as a business and as individuals and most importantly creates a safe environment for people to thrive in. As yourself honestly, what is your workplace culture? Is it one of collaboration and everyone pulling together, or is it an ‘us and them’ culture, where people might feel disconnected and disengaged?

Now, more than ever, when our normal workplaces have been turned on their heads, the strength of your culture becomes so important.

It may sound obvious, but the first point is to define it. Use this as an opportunity to engage with all your team and ask them to describe the type of firm they want to work for and be associated with. What do they see as the core values of such a business? And more importantly, where do they feel these are not being lived?Get this first step right and you are on the start of your journey.

Once you’ve defined your culture, the next step is to ensure this is lived out within your business. You need to make sure this is visible. Your culture and values shouldn’t be something you dust of once a year and review at your team day, this should be something that is lived and breathed within in your business everyday. That’s how you create that psychologically safety for team members to thrive. Uber had a broken culture. To fix it, they hired Harvard Professor Frances Frei. To make what she was there to do visible, Professor Frei wore an Uber t-shirt everyday. This visibility prompted feedback – good or bad – from colleagues or customers and was a constant reminder that culture needed to change. Once something has been visible long enough, it becomes part of your fabric. Whether this be physically, with your values on the wall or as screensavers; or visible in the sense that it’s “just the way we do things around here”, a constant theme around all areas of the business. Get this second stage right and your people feel at the heart of the business. A true sense of belonging with everyone pulling the same direction.

Once your culture becomes visible, the challenge is to empower people to take action when they feel these expectations are not being met. From experience, this is the most difficult part. At Paradigm Norton, we’ve always been a values led business but the difficulty we found was that of course people will interpret   these value differently based on their own beliefs and expectations. An example of setting the bar high for one individual, might be the minimum expectation for another. What we needed was a way for everyone to be clear on what our values meant, not through their own individual lenses, but through the company lens. To do this, with input from our whole team, we created The PN Way. A working document that not only defines our culture and values, but gives clear examples of what is and isn’t expected.  The aim here is to give all team members, but especially new team members, a very clear guideline of the standards we set, and empower them to hold us to account, if we aren’t walking the walk.

Once people are empowered to take action, your cultural loop is complete. Your culture is clearly defined. Its lived and breathed every day and most important, people take action when they see a breach. That’s how you make culture the heart of your business.

So why is this so important? Well, making culture the heart of your business creates that safe environment, sense of belonging and feeling that everyone is pulling in the same direction, but it can do so much more. When you really start to embrace the importance of culture, it becomes a key to all parts of your business. You start to hire for cultural fits, people who share the same beliefs and commitment to the standards you set. Not only that, but good people seek you out because of your culture. We’ve hired a number of great people who wanted to join PN because of their understanding of our culture.

Leadership across the business starts to come from your culture. When your culture is clear, and everyone knows what is expected they hold each other to account. You move away from an environment where it one leaders’ job to discipline and into a disciplined culture.  Culture is what manages the business when the managers are not around.

Finally, think of the importance of culture in succession planning. A strong culture which reflects your values will outlast any CEO or leader in a business. If you are thinking about your own succession planning, embrace culture to ensure the values of your business continue even in your absence.

If you’re unsure what good culture looks like, look no further than the NextGen community, especially in this environment where a virtual culture is so important.

Even without this being defined, I’m sure if I asked everyone of you to explain the NextGen culture, we’d soon have a pretty tight definition.   That psychological safety and sense of belonging are clear for all to see and that’s what has led to this thriving community. People know what’s expected, are empowered to speak up and we’re all pulling in the same direction.

So, how do we take action. My challenge to you is to first of all:

  1. As a team, identify what you want the culture and values of your business to be.

  2. Once you have that, be deliberate. Take responsibility to be that role model and actively lead.

  3. And finally, when you see a breach of you culture, instinctively react.

It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or a new trainee, we can all and should all take responsibility for our workplace culture. Think about what you can do to bring that NextGen feeling into your workplace.

Tommy Watson, Paradigm Norton

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