Vet your tech like an executive hire
Why should you care about the culture of the firms that provide your advisory practice’s technology? As long as your tech stack does what you need it to do, everything else is immaterial, right?
Culture misalignment can have real consequences for businesses. Consider the recent, highly-publicized cancellation of TV show remake, “Roseanne.”
How do you think Disney-owned ABC execs, who once lauded the show’s honest portrayal of the realities of today’s divisive political climate, felt about their reboot after Roseanne’s tweets?
It would seem ABC gravely misread the culture of its audience and underestimated the show’s predictably outspoken and controversial namesake, whose real-life reflection of her character's bigotry struck a not-so-pleasant chord with the network’s viewers and employees. The ordeal likely cost the network millions more in lost earnings.
The takeaway for businesses across all industries? It literally pays to think of your partners as an extension of your own team.
Firms seldom pull the trigger on a high-level hire without first vetting them for cultural fit. Tech partners should be evaluated in the same way.
While your firm may not be screening for political convictions, you should consider, simply put, how vendors approach their product (aka their development priorities) and how they approach their people (aka their reputation for building strong relationships). In both cases, seeking a partner who shares similar organizational values will be a key indicator for a successful relationship.
You and your technology partners need to evolve in the same direction toward a shared vision for the future, or a breakup may be inevitable. There is nothing more frustrating to an RIA than the inability to grow because your tech partner — or any partner for that matter — is not keeping pace with innovation in the industry or because your number one priority is not on their roadmap. In this situation, you cannot move your firm forward without a lot of disruption and frustration.
Feel out your prospective tech partners’ commitment to innovation. Look for it not only in their dev capabilities and planned roadmap, but also in how they foster an organizational culture that supports outside-of-the-box thinking and a relentless pursuit of disruptive innovation. Challenge their views on open architecture and web-based application program interfaces. Ask them what happens when you want to use software that isn’t on their list of integrations.
A truly innovative tech partner will seek to push the boundaries of its own model in an effort to build something better. Guy Kawasaki, venture capitalist and former tech evangelist for Apple, recalls a lesson he learned from the late Steve Jobs: Admitting a mistake and changing your mind is a sign of intelligence. This flexibility shows they can critically re-examine their own assumptions and course-correct based on what they learn.
Part of that flexibility comes from a willingness to listen to their clients and stakeholders and to make a genuine effort to align their strategic business decisions with their values. Consider a business like Starbucks, which takes feedback so seriously it closed all its stores for racial bias training. Its decision to do so reflected its values of transparency and accountability, which resonated with its socially conscious customer base.
What do your tech providers stand for? More specifically, do they prioritize processes that foster respect, promote collaboration, and encourage growth among their client relationships? To find out, talk not only to your potential partner, but also to their existing clients. Ask how the vendor builds trust, whether they respond to requests in a timely manner, and how easily they can connect with the right people when there is a concern. More importantly, learn how often their feedback is taken seriously. Does it result in improvements or progress toward upgrades to the tech provider’s service?
Also consider visibility — do your potential partners monitor multiple social media feeds, email, and voicemail? Do they attend and organize events for face-to-face interaction? Partners who offer a variety of friction-free ways to communicate are making a statement about the value of your voice in the conversation.
Once you’ve found a tech partner with whom you’re compatible, displaying some innovative spirit of your own will cement the bond between your firms. What are you doing to energize your own firm’s culture in support of your technology initiatives? Have you tried anything unorthodox to engage with clients or improve your own workflow?
I invite you to comment on this article and share your own creative wins and stories of culture compatibility. Our industry could use more positive collaboration and fewer “Roseanne” moments of irreconcilable differences, after all.