The Value of Company Culture (7 of 7)

This is blog 7 of 7 where I share lessons I’ve learned the last few years as I’ve seen Coaching Actuaries grow from a staff of 5 to 31. In this blog, I share how culture is at the core of Coaching Actuaries.

One fast way my brains shuts down is to hear buzzwords. A buzzword example is company “culture”. I’m sure you’ve heard how important culture is to a company. But, I’m drawn to tangible problems and company culture seems abstract and only something for large companies.

A few years ago, I hired an HR director as part of our leadership team. One of his first goals was to identify our core values. We identified several, but at the top of the list is this.

We’ve done our best to live by that value in large and small decisions. This was only one core value that has helped define our culture. Now, several years later, our company has grown. I have seen first hand the importance of company culture. It truly makes a difference for your staff and eventually, your customers.

How do you define company culture? It starts by asking the simple question: Why? Why does the company exist? Why do people come to work? Why would customers choose you? We asked these difficult “why” questions. The answers to these questions set the foundation for the company. They drove hiring and firing decisions. They drove deciding which projects we pursue and which lines of businesses we exit. Ironically, as the company has grown, we are in fewer businesses than we were several years ago. Less has been more. These difficult decisions were possible because we identified why we existed and what our culture was. Clear answers to these difficult questions made it easier for staff to understand the company’s purpose. These answers simplified the company. It was easier for staff to not only agree with the decisions but also to embrace them. Of course, nothing is perfect and there are always different opinions. But, we have a clear path of where we want to go and how we want to get there.

One difficult decision was to exit the consulting business. Consulting has been part of the company since the beginning and provided almost all of our revenue for our first 15 years. There were a lot of advantages to consulting. But, we realized that our core business was now online education and consulting requires 100% attention to be successful. We made the difficult decision to let it go. I underestimated the benefit of this decision as it allowed us to be more focused and less distracted. Often we underestimate the impact distractions can have on us until we eliminate the distractions. Once the distractions were eliminated, I often wonder how I survived while juggling too many projects.

I’ve also learned how important the HR department is to a company. If people are your greatest asset, then the HR department is one of your most important departments.

This is the final blog on 7 key concepts that have helped Coaching Actuaries grow from a small company to a company something bigger. Any actuary can benefit from these concepts, regardless of the company you work for or the role you have with the company. As you may notice, I shared more of my failures and struggles than I shared of our success. But, struggles are where real learning happens. You may be going through your own difficult time. Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you get to the end of the tunnel, take a moment and identify key concepts you learned. You can’t beat the school of hard knocks to really understand the world!

While this 7-part series is done, I definitely don’t want to take as long of an absence before my next series as I did before I started this one! So next week I’ll have the first part of a new series that I hope will inspire future actuaries and future leaders alike.