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When you think of your branch manager, what images come to mind? Does your branch manger send off positive, negative or neutral vibes? Perhaps the message is mixed. Because he or she represents the management of your firm more than any other executive, that relationship is most influential in determining your image of corporate culture. In fact, it is your branch manager who runs the ship, sets the tone, and translates home office ideals into everyday practices.

Corporate culture refers to an organizations values, belief and behavior. It is concerned with how employees interpret experiences and behave. It is management’s job to articulate and demonstrate the desired culture. In other words they cannot simply talk the talk, but must walk the walk. Firms with strong corporate cultures are typically very successful. Employees are more focused on what to do and how to do it. Furthermore, the message sent to clients and prospects tends to be more on point and consistent.

Many years ago, I was an internal wholesaler for a wirehouse and I traveled nationally promoting a product line. I had the opportunity to visit over a hundred branches, spending time with our managers and financial consultants. The differences among branches were shocking. Some were well organized and productive and others, well; they were disasters. Generally, the advisors at the less successful branches had negative opinions of the firm and there branch manager. Advisors at success branches usually felt good about the firm and either admired or at least respected their manager. It became evident that leadership and the culture they created were vital to my firm’s success at a local level.

Somewhere during my two year nomadic stint, I decided that I wanted to become a branch manger. Granted, I was tired of living out of a suitcase, but the real appeal was to be in a role where I could make a difference. So, I continued to travel the branches, and carefully observed branch mangers words and behavior. It became clear that manager’s presentations and attitudes had profound effects on advisors perception of the firm as well as their ultimate productivity.

This was the 80’s and as hard as it may be for some of you to believe, firms in that era aggressively promoted proprietary products. Government bond funds were the rage and most firms had their own version. Senior management expected every branch to participate in the initial offering and branch mangers were held accountable for performance. At most firms, the heat was on and it was clear that this was key initiative. My firm, which by the way is no longer in business, was no exception.

I was fascinated by the different ways mangers handled the dynamics of this offering. There was a group that preformed poorly and in the process lowered morale. Another that got the job done at the expense of branch culture. And finally, those leaders who engineered the desired results while also creating a positive team experience.

It was hard to believe how some of our managers were addressing the government fund in their sales meetings. I heard various versions of this approach. “Hey guys, this thing looks pretty good and the firm wants everyone to sell it. They are really putting a lot of pressure on me so help me out here” This appeal asked the advisor to help protect the manager from the big bad firm. The message was the firm does not care about the advisors or client interests, but my poor boss needs me to sells this stuff and help protect his job. Both the product and firm lost credibility while netting weak sales.

Then there where those with a heavy handed approach. “You will sell a lot of this fund or else!” This management style was fraught with threats and deals. Establish advisors were bribed with branch amenities. Goodies such as secretarial coverage, syndicate and account distribution were all tied to advisors ability to push the deal. Rookies were told to sell the deal if they wanted to survive! This technique usually yielded strong sales, but proved culturally destructive. Manager who operated in this fashion created a climate of fear which ultimately led to general negativity and advisor retention problems.

So how were some managers able to achieve top results while creating a positive cultural experience for their branch? First of all, they focused on the softer concept of customer needs rather than the numbers. It was obvious to everyone that the firm was pushing the product, but the best leaders focused on why it was a great idea, where it fit, and how to present it. They enlisted the support of branch leaders and asked them to share their success stories. The fund in these offices became a smart idea that was the right thing to do for clients. Not only did the manager like it, but the best advisors in the branch were all over it. There was idea sharing, team building, and great results. When I visited with advisors in this type environment, they were proud of how highly their branch ranked in the offering.

It is your leader in an organization who is most influential in establishing your perception of culture. My son played basketball growing up and was fortunate enough as a youngster to be on some very successful teams. We were both thrilled when he made the high school team, but I was floored by the presentation the head coach made at the first parent meeting. Coach told the crowd that he had been around for a long time and knew that none of our boys would ever be division one players. He added that we did not recruit players from outside our area, like some of our opponents who break the rules, so it not likely that we will win that many games. I heard this exact speech for four consecutive years thus felt confident that the boys consistently heard a similar message. He created the following culture: none of you are great players; our opponents beat us because they cheat; and we will not win many games. Unfortunately, the environment he created produced the results he expected. By contrast both our football and baseball teams who had very positive leaders won championships during the same timeframe.

The era of the product push has passed, but the pressure is still on branch managers. These days the focus is squarely on recruiting, a subject dear to heart. Much like your old college professor might have told you that he must “publish or perish”; your branch manager’s career trajectory is closely tied to his or her recruiting track record. Like the old basketball coach, some managers create a losing culture for their firms. They tell me that “it’s impossible to recruit in this town”, or “how can I recruit when the other firms have a better financial package?” So, what separates the great recruiting mangers from the rest of the pack?

The best recruiting branch manager are empathetic, positive, and passionate. Rather than just pitching their firm, they focus on understanding the details of a candidates business and personal life. They then discuss how that business might fit, and how the individual would prosper in the new culture. Whereas money is a key element in a candidate’s decision, top recruiting managers know that most are looking because they are unhappy with their current branch manager and the associated local culture.

Unfortunately, many branch managers are not happy with some of today’s trends. Certain managers feel that their firm affords them less freedom to create and make decisions a local level. Blaming mergers and increased regulatory pressure, they complain that it is more difficult to establish that unique corporate culture which traditionally had differentiated them. It seems that many feel that they are being asked to take on more responsibilities for the same or even less pay. Last but not least, the general compensation compression facing branch managers is not being well received.

Consolidation and complexing have forced an unprecedented number of experienced mangers to look for new positions. It is truly a buyers market and some are paying mangers what they can rather than what they are worth. To me it seems penny, but pound foolish for a firm to take advantage of the market at the expense of their leaders. If management discounts the leaders who are in charge of corporate culture, they risk harming the moral of those who represent their firms to a significant group of their employees and clients.