Culture is the core of every company, but keeping it consistent isn’t always easy, especially in an increasingly remote-first world.
On this episode of The Modern CFO, Tim Brown shares how Dakota prioritizes culture-building and why CFOs should think about the more permanent changes brought on by the pandemic.
5:54 – The pandemic caused a shift in business practices for sales professionals
Travel and in-person meetings halted during the pandemic, which meant investment sales professionals had to find other means to connect quickly.
“When the pandemic hit, all that changed. Travel was essentially halted for quite a period of time. People were not taking in-person meetings. The vast majority of people were not working in offices, and it just required a very quick, fundamental shift in terms of how you could continue to be effective in that role. I think our team adapted really well, the industry adapted really well–as did a lot of industries. You can't meet live, you meet over Zoom, you meet over some of these other means where you cannot be in the same location, but still have effective discussions. Certainly, it's an adjustment. If you've spent your entire career on the road, and then all of a sudden you're not able to do that, that’s a pretty significant adjustment. I think the software side of our business actually gave us a little bit of a tailwind. Dakota Marketplace was a means that could help bridge that gap between what investment sales professionals were used to, to what the current situation was.”
8:07 – Lead with culture during the hiring process
It can be challenging to maintain a consistent culture, especially through periods of growth. Transparency into the important parts of your company culture during the hiring process helps build a strong, well-aligned team.
“Culture has always been very important at Dakota. When I joined about four years ago, there were roughly 10 people, many of whom had been at the firm for quite some time. It was very evident from day one what that culture was. As our business has started to grow, we doubled the size of the team in the last 18-24 months. So, coinciding with the pandemic, it's been very important for us to not only formalize or write down, for lack of a better term, what those cultural components are (as opposed to just people understanding what they are), but to lead with [the cultural components] during the hiring process. I think each firm will have a slightly different culture. For the most part, no culture is better than another. I think it's knowing yourself as a human being. It's knowing who you are, knowing who you are as a company, knowing what attributes are important to everyone at that company, and that really helps you identify people who fit well and have similar outlooks of the world, and are likely to be great teammates.”
9:48 – Emphasize what’s important to your company
Recognize which components of your culture are most important to the company. That way, potential hires know what to expect from your business.
“I do a lot of the initial interviews of candidates that we're meeting with. Inevitably, culture is one of the first things that’s brought up. It's one of the things that we like to emphasize. ‘These are the things that are important to us.’ It's just really recognizing what are those components of your culture that are important that you want people to come in and sort of add to and build on. Like I said, for us, it's really led to a greater degree of success in bringing on new teammates. One of the challenges a lot of companies are facing is retaining talent, and it's really helped us retain employees as well. Because we're doing a better job, upfront, of laying out what's important to us and our culture, people are self-selecting into that.”
11:05 – Be a true business partner to your team and CEO
CFOs are no longer just experts in finance. Today, the modern CFO is the strategic confidant to their CEOs and a driver of sustained culture to the rest of their teams.
“For most companies, gone are the days where the CFO is just the expert in the finance organization. I think those are table stakes for any CFO. I think that a modern CFO is really that true business partner of the CEO and the management team in helping to lead a lot of different components of the organization, not necessarily just the finance component. Certainly, culture is a key component of it. A lot of larger organizations will have separate HR departments, but at smaller organizations like Dakota, that CFO will wear multiple hats and the HR recruiting aspect is a big part of that.”
14:33 – Pinpoint where your investors’ incentives and your company’s culture intersect
“A family office of a very wealthy family that may have made money under a certain industry, et cetera, may have a very different perspective in terms of what's important to them than a foundation that's geared towards a specific purpose and is utilizing their investment portfolio to help drive income or other value creation that they can then flow through the foundation towards their purpose. So, each one is going to certainly have different things, but I think there's a component of that, of macro long-term trends, ESG being one of them. Then any given day, week, month, year, there's going to be more components that are pressing for that time. Not that those other things aren't pressing, but what I mean by that is in an environment where we sit today, where everyone's looking to the Fed to raise interest rates, and how people look at their portfolios or what the mix of those portfolios are is ever-changing.”
16:10 – By investment sales professionals. for investment sales professionals
If you want to add value for potential customers, find the tools that will help them be more successful.
“Our target customer for all of the products and services we create is an investment salesperson–A person who wakes up every day to raise money for the investment strategies that they represent. Dakota has a number of people at the firm, including our founder, who have been in that industry their entire lives. I think we have a very good perspective as to what types of tools and services can help that person be more successful in their job. One of the things that's exciting to me about Dakota is that we're never short of ideas of other things that we could do, or other ways that we could help our customers grow their careers. So what's exciting to me one year, three years, five years out is just looking at our product pipeline, seeing what's coming, and knowing that there's a bounty of ideas that will come after those that will continue to help us continue to add value and drive value for our customers.”
17:39 – Give your ideas a shot
Even if you don’t have all the details of your idea worked out, give it a shot. Failing fast is better than not trying at all.
“Not everything has to be a fully-baked idea before you're going to try it. If you have an idea and you have the basics down, give it a shot! What's the worst thing that happens? It doesn't work. You kind of have that ‘fail fast’ methodology. If it doesn't work, move on and try the next idea that's on the list. I think it's one of the things we've done while here. We've done some things that haven't been successful, and then we've done some things that have been wildly successful, and we double down on those and continue to do more and continue to develop more. One of the things, having spent a fair amount of time with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley in my prior life, is this methodology of ‘fail fast.’ I think that's one of the things at Dakota that we live by. Give it a shot. The worst thing that happens–It doesn't work. Limit your losses, move on, and try something else.”
19:31 – Shift your perspective on in-office work
Many businesses are pushing people to get back into the office, but not everyone wants to go back to five days a week in-house.
“One of the things that I think is underestimated in certain circles is the fundamental change of how people view work and view spending time in an office. That’s occurred over the last couple of years with the pandemic, but you see these changes in history, where different viewpoints are fundamentally changed, and then don't go back to where they were before. I do think that the way people view work and the way people view working in an office is one of those things that's changed over the last two years. Now, a lot of times deadlines have gotten pushed back just due to variants and waves, if you will, but there are still firms talking about bringing back their employees to the office and having them there five days a week. It shall be seen what happens, but I do think there's going to be some challenges with doing so.”
21:32 – Changing times call for updated policies
Potential employees are now looking for a more flexible working environment. Make sure your business can keep up with the changing times.
“We've done a lot of hiring over the last 18-24 months, and inevitably one of the first questions we always get in the interview process is what is our policy there? Two years ago, a lot of those questions were born out of people not being comfortable being around groups of people, given what was going on. I think of late, increasingly, it's more people that are, quite honestly, looking [for that], because they see their company at least outwardly saying that at some point in the near future, they're going to expect everyone to come back to the office every day. That's just not something they're interested in. So, I do think it will be, as hopefully this pandemic starts winding down and things return closer to normal, one of those things that’s never going to return to where we were two years ago. Many entities will end up with this flexible philosophy where some days are in the office, some days you're at home. As long as you're effective, it works.”
23:59 – Write down your values
If you’re struggling to define your culture, write down the values that are most important to the company. That will help you define what your culture is both for yourself and for potential hires.
“Culture is one of those things that people know and understand. For us, one of the turning points in terms of adding to the team is when we formally wrote it down. It sounds like the simplest thing, but getting the right people together, formally writing it down, and getting everyone behind it...Then we began to lead with that in our interview process. But again, it's not that different cultures are better than others. It's more so just being clear about what's important to you and what you want to be important for the people that join your firm. I think it has really helped us add some great teammates who buy into that culture and have helped us grow and expand it.”