It’s the responsibility of firm owners to create a deep sense of safety in a firm. This begins from the first moments that the firm owners meet their new team members.
The hiring process is where firm owners can invite their new team into a safe place where any personal or professional high and low can be shared. With this intense safety comes a call by the owners to the team to “share anything with us, with no ramification of backlash.” Some team members may not be able to believe this, depending on where they are coming from. Their families, their prior work, and their prior relationships will all influence how they perceive this call to a safe place.
In this safe place, the firm owners call the team to share transparent truths—the deep scary kind that they haven’t shared with anyone. There is no requirement to share “their dirt,” but rather, only a reminder from the owners to the team to share anything they want, with no fear of retribution. All the way from “personally, I’m depressed” to “I hate doing taxes” is all on the table. And, the firm owners can invite this type of transparency into safe monthly or quarterly meetings, where the owners or firm leadership team meet confidentially and discuss these truths.
With ongoing coaxing and proof that the firm is a safe place to share transparent truth, the team begins to settle into a culture where there are no faux pas, no ‘unspokens,’ no surprises, and no, “She likes that, but he doesn’t.”
There is a consistent underlying tone of safety. “Yes, you can really say it all.” You have to keep telling a team this and overcome any dysfunction they have experienced in the past. But, with time, a team learns, “This safety is real. The owners and leadership will never embarrass me, rat me out, tell on me, hurt me, or disrespect me intentionally.”
If your current culture is arbitrary, ever-shifting, gossipy, or confusing, then you’ll have some work to overcome this culture. Your team doesn’t feel safe. But, working toward safety is worth the investment of time it takes. A safe culture, where transparent truth is consistently shared, will produce amazing growth in your firm, as well as create a team that is willing to take risks with you, taking your firm to higher levels of service and client value.
This safe culture all begins with the leadership. It takes leaders who are willing to commit the time necessary to create this type of strong firm.
As your current team (and future team) sees that this commitment to their well-being is real, your firm will slowly begin to change over time. You will have to cull down the gossip and stop tolerating a hurtful culture. And, maybe even separate from unhealthy team members who can’t come along to a safe culture where transparent truth is shared.
But, in the long run, you will grow to love your team, find joy in sacrificing for them, and watch them step up to becoming the stronger people we can all become. It’s worth the journey, and there are too few firms enjoying this culture. It will change your life and the life of your team and clients. Email me at email@example.com if you want to discuss how your culture can be transformed.
Editor’s note: This blog series is part of an Intuit®-sponsored series, “6 things I’ve learned from leading a firm for more than 15 years.” Read Jason’s first post, “Rocket fuel partnerships and becoming a visionary entrepreneur.”