creating culture

All businesses have a particular set of core values. These values are not just hopeful ideals or marketing lip service. True core values are the bones of a business — the groundwork that supports its purpose and the map that directs its growth. Just as a person cannot lie about who they really are to people who know them well, a business cannot hide its core values from its clients or its community. They are clear in every decision, action and exchange that the business makes. Eventually, core values become a company’s culture.

My company is known for our culture. I am often asked how we managed to recruit such a tight-knit, passionate bunch of overachievers, and how we sustain this cohesion as we grow so rapidly. The answer is simple: our culture grew out of core values that we identified early, seek in every team member and remind ourselves of daily. These are the values that have shaped us from the beginning and have led to our success in countless ways:

1. Excellence

Excellence is not an accident. It is fierce diligence. It is being the first to arrive, the last to leave and showing up with everything you have to give. For our team, excellence is not a goal; it is a verb. When I was in college, I worked as a janitor at an office building in Manhattan, where I cleaned bathrooms and swept floors. An executive in one of the offices noticed my work ethic and gave me the biggest tip of my early career: the name of a colleague in finance. I wrote him immediately, begged for an interview, and, refusing to take no for an answer, got the job. I worked tirelessly for $6/hour, less than I was making as a janitor, determined to learn every detail of the trade. Eventually, I gained the knowledge and experience I needed to venture out on my own as a financial advisor.  It is the same dedication to excellence that served me as a janitor, intern and advisor that still serves me as CEO and it is this very dedication to excellence and refusal to accept defeat that I require from my team.

2. Accountability

Nothing can happen to you without your permission. Plenty of things happen whether you want them to or not, but how something happens to you — how you react or respond to the situation — is entirely your responsibility. When things go wrong, phrases like “it wasn’t my fault” and “that’s not my job” are failures of accountability. They are the words of someone who isn’t in charge of their life. When you take full accountability for everything that happens, you choose ownership, and ownership is contagious. When we own our mistakes and hold ourselves to our highest standards, we inspire others to recognize and honor the best in themselves as well.

3. Growth

When we stop growing, we die. To live is to move, and to keep moving, we must always seek new pathways for growth on both personal and professional levels. I believe that company growth begins with individual growth. We provide employees with personal wellness services that range from life coaching to massage therapy, and we are dedicated to mentorship and performance reviews to keep our staff growing professionally. Our executive committee reviews staff needs and course-corrects as necessary to keep us growing together as a team. By making growth a priority, we push each other to think bigger, expect better and achieve more than we ever thought possible.

4. Gratitude

Gratitude is more than a simple “thank you” in response to a gift or generous gesture. It is the spirit of thankfulness that precedes the gift and pays it forward. At my company, we turn this attitude of service into real, material practices through our unique organizational structure and our commitment to community service. While other firms often default to the traditional model of top-down employment, we opt for a more holistic approach: we all work for the client, and to that end, we all work for each other. When the interests and efforts of the team are one, the politics of competition are replaced by a policy of service, and gratitude flourishes.  We also recognize that gratitude is not just an inside job; we are committed to sharing our thanks and our success with our community as well. Through an office-wide volunteer organization, we pledge 400 hours of community service per year to Dell Children’s Hospital, Austin Pets Alive and other local charities.

I have discovered that, when we honor our core values, gratitude happens naturally. When we are practicing excellence, taking accountability and cultivating growth, life is so sweet that it is easy to be grateful for everything and everyone, good or bad, that led us here. And it works in reverse as well: the more we are guided by a spirit of gratitude and service to others, the easier it is to achieve excellence, accountability and growth in every aspect of our lives.