The Elements

By Andrea Schlapia   |   April 8, 2014

How to Cultivate a Winning Company Culture – It’s more than happy people

Categories: Blog, Culture, Human Element

How to Change Company Culture


A winning culture starts with the highest fruit on the tree.  Translated, team leadership is responsible for establishing the culture your firm embodies. Culture binds organizations together and should be as unique as each person on the team. Why? Diverse teams are difficult to replicate and provide a competitive advantage. Culture in your firm is a direct reflection of the example established by leadership. 

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, leads the focus on company culture. He provides this advice to companies looking for a change:

“If firms desire high performing teams with long term success, the #1 focus and priority of CEOs should be company culture.” 


Wikipedia provides a helpful set of definitions for culture; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution, organization, or group. Culture evolves naturally when teams are passionate, empathetic, and curious. Your culture is formed when these attributes are aligned and practiced consistently by leaders and teams.

  •  Passion drives excitement, enthusiasm, and achievement.
  •  Empathy is the ability to understand and share the view points of another through emotional intelligence. Empathy is critical to effective collaboration and enhanced productivity.
  •  Curiosity prompts your team to discover the contributions others bring to the table.


  • Establish vision, purpose, and mission.
  • Define shared attitudes, values, and goals
  • Specify expected behaviors within the team. Teamwork is not an option, it is expected.
  • Practice passion, empathy, and curiosity.



Empowerment:  Empowerment can make or break teams and is critical to develop a healthy culture. Leaders must understand empowering others does not relinquish responsibility to lead a team. In fact, it will enhance leadership skills and team achievement.  Empowerment stretches abilities, encourages creativity, drives self-motivation, increases loyalty, improves productivity, and directly impacts client service.

Each person in the organization must be cognizant of their unique role and impact to company success. Entrust employees to make independent decisions to enhance and WOW clients throughout the client service process. These decisions are often left to upper management resulting in excessive red-tape, discouraging innovation, autonomy, and minimal progress.

If you haven’t done so already, read Employee Empowerment and Customer Service -The Cookie and the Orangeby Peter Grazier. This is an excellent 5-minute story that will inspire you to rethink empowerment and the client service approach at your firm.

Performance:  Culture plays a critical role in team performance. Teamwork and delivering excellent client service must be forefront goals within your company culture. The two are often overlooked  because they are expected functions.  Equip your team with specific client service procedures for a compelling strategy and a cohesive team.

Management must establish a means to measure client service quality. Provide a channel for clients to furnish feedback as part of the client experience and pay attention to the results. Share results with team members, review areas where improvement is warranted, and reward client service excellence.  The service you provide contributes to the type of clients you attract.

  • Empower employees with tools, training, and autonomy
  • Identify what your firm does to simplify life for clients, how you accomplish it, and why it is important.
  • Create clear, specific, and expected customer service behavior.  Our clients come first!



It takes conscious effort to create or shift culture. Each person involved must keep an open perspective to simple practices that boost the well-being of an intentional culture.

Leaders must understand culture, communicate culture, and model the ideal foundation.

Management must incorporate company culture with the hiring and onboarding process to educate new hires and define the foundation of your business. Research led by the Harvard Business Review suggests incorporating the following characteristics into a carefully crafted company culture:

  • Integrity:  Team members are truthful and candid in all interactions.
  • Performance-focused:  Benefits, development, and talent management systems are aligned with performance drivers.
  • Accountability:  Responsibilities are clearly defined and ownership of individual results are understood.
  • Collaboration:  A team is mindful that best ideas come from the exchange of ideas between each other.
  • Adaptable:  Flexibility and resiliency are necessary to acclimate to external environment events.
  • Innovative:  No stone is left unturned when brainstorming new strategies and tactics to reach specific goals.
  • Winning:  Teams are focused on measures of success.

Core characteristics provide guidance to accomplish mutual goals. High-performing teams generally exhibit a minimum of three or four that are critical to firm success. Edward de Bono, author and inventor, explains the importance of core characteristics and values:

“Effectiveness without values is a tool without a purpose.”

  • Establish cultural training as part of the hiring and onboarding process.
  • Incorporate characteristics most critical to success.
  • Respect diverse perspectives, regardless of hierarchy position.
  • Display excitement toward goal achievement.

Culture has a significant impact on the ability to actualize firm goals. When culture is cultivated intentionally, it will improve over time and enhance your ability to strategize, execute, and succeed.


Download a step-by-step action plan to change company culture: 10 Steps to Change and Cultivate Culture Checklist

Need some help with your company culture? Coupled with assessment tools, employee engagement activities, and collaborative interviews, we will partner with you to develop an effective, self-sustaining, and intentional company culture.

Request more information from the Ironstone team or join the Ironstone – Financial Industry Professionals Practice Management Group on LinkedIn and start a discussion.

The foundation of our Performance Coaching and Consulting Programs are based on Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™, which is essential to design, develop, and sustain a successful business. Our ultimate goal is to help you avoid trial and error; shifting your mindset to launch your process of intentional change. [LEARN MORE]

Photo credit:  ©iStock/Thinkstock/Getty Images

Andrea Schlapia
Organizational Development and Human Capital

Andrea Schlapia, RCC™, HCS, sHRBP, is the Founder and CEO of Ironstone, which represents the culmination of her 20+ year career within the financial services industry. Her experience began as a financial advisor evolving into a consultant coach for advisors entering the field. This ignited her passion to support others through learning and development of best practices in order to achieve substantial results. To this end, she followed her desire into positions of senior-level practice management specialists for Dreyfus, Prudential, and DWS Investments prior to the realization of Ironstone.  Andrea’s focus is on practice management strategies to enhance and improve both business and personal life.

Andrea identifies 4 key performance areas known as the Fundamental 4™, which are required to design, develop, and sustain a successful business. Through coaching sessions and speaking engagements, she captivates her audience with interactive, high-energy presentations which are built with “how-to” strategies resulting in real-world implementation for significant impact. Andrea has been featured in multiple publications and audio broadcasts as a specialist and distinguished spokeswoman in the financial industry.

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