How to create a fantastic work culture; Lead & guide versus assign & dictate, with Russ D’Argento and Phil Laboon
Lead & guide vs assign & dictate: There are times when you need to be hyper-specific with a task or project — however, I find it much more productive to lead your team by guiding them to the direction we want to take something and allowing them the autonomy to produce the best path to arrive there — vs dictating to them exactly what to do and how to do it. There is a sense of pride and increased interest that stems from allowing someone to figure out the best approach to accomplish their goal on their merit.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Russ D’Argento, as Founder & CEO of FINTRX. In addition to his role at FINTRX, Russ also serves as President of Cap Hedge Ventures, Inc — FINTRX’s holding company. Prior to founding FINTRX, Russ served as Sr. Consultant of Family Office Marketing and introductions for Windham Capital Group — a 20-year-old consulting firm in the hedge fund space. Russ holds a BA from the University of Connecticut (Storrs) where he was a four year standout on the Huskies baseball team.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial at heart. However, my most recent experience prior to launching FINTRX came by raising capital in the hedge fund space. I found myself spending a serious amount of time targeting the family office space. I came to find out very quickly that there was a massive gap in efficiency in that vertical. It was at that point I knew there had to be a better way to target family offices, and that was really the genesis of FINTRX.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Sure. I recall the very first time that I realized the impact FINTRX was having on asset raising professionals — a world I was not far removed from. One of our early adopters and original users had left his firm and had to forgo his FINTRX license/login credentials. About 6 months later he called in and asked for the current specs of the family office research we were providing, the current price point & the latest marketing materials. The reason — he was including FINTRX as a must have budget line item upon his start the new group. It was at that point I understood the true need for what we were building.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are. We are working on two core projects right now — investor data expansion into additional allocator types and on furthering our AI to present our users with intricate visuals on how they relate to each family office we cover. Both will be incredibly valuable to our users. The data expansion will allow our current and future users to target an even larger pool of capital from a central source, while our AI additions will give our clients a seamless look into what the best path is to the investors they value the greatest.
Okay, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
To me, happiness in the workplace is driven by two things: appreciation and an avenue to be heard. I understand why the ball is often dropped in those two areas, however, I believe that if you have a workforce filled with people who feel underappreciated and feel as though they do not have an outlet to voice their opinion, you are going to have an unhappy bunch. When the rubber meets the road, people want to be valued and heard — period. It is no different than any relationship you have — including outside the workplace.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Company productivity, profitability, and employee health will certainly all be negatively affected if you have an unhappy group. If you take someone who at the core feels underappreciated and does not feel they have an outlet to be heard, how can you expect them to do what it takes when times get tough? Productivity will certainly suffer. Company profitability and employee health are also at the forefront of happiness at work. Will every day be a bag of roses? Of course not. However, a happy team member who feels that their opinion matters and is appreciated will absolutely prevent turnover (profitability) and keep the team together as a unit (health/wellbeing).
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1) Create healthy competition: We are always competing. Ping pong, sales goals, lead flow, happy client feedback. The medium is irrelevant. The value is found in the act of competing and the camaraderie it fosters. It keeps things light, fun and productive.
2) Be as transparent as possible: Tell it how it is. If someone misses on a target or goal, don’t couch it. They know it and you know it and there is a level of respect that is built when you convey that. The same is true for the inverse — when someone nails it, tell them. You cannot be heavy with your critique and light with your praise. It’s a two-way street.
3) Foster a strong work/life balance: Allow for R&R when you’re able to do so. For example, we offer unlimited vacation days. Not once have I felt that this was taken advantage of. Give the time away that is needed and I believe you will have a happier and more productive group.
4) Lead & guide vs assign & dictate: There are times when you need to be hyper-specific with a task or project — however, I find it much more productive to lead your team by guiding them to the direction we want to take something and allowing them the autonomy to produce the best path to arrive there — vs dictating to them exactly what to do and how to do it. There is a sense of pride and increased interest that stems from allowing someone to figure out the best approach to accomplish their goal on their merit.
5) Genuinely care: People are instinctual and can feel if you truly care about them beyond the workplace. Not everyone will be your best friend, however building real and meaningful relationships is what it’s all about for me.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Treat people fairly with true transparency. Keeping people in the dark typically does not end well. Get out ahead of it, good or bad and show them the respect as professionals that they deserve.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
My leadership style is very inclusive. I tell our team all the time, we simply want to get to the best answer. For me, I’m agnostic on who internally provides the solution. If you have a good idea or a resolution to an issue and can support with sound reasoning, I’m all ears. This approach drives a culture that gives people a voice — and maybe more importantly, one that will often get you to a solution that you would not have come up with on your own. I certainly do not have all the answers — my team knows that & I know that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been blessed with a family that has shown me the power of hard work and never giving in. Both of my parents were in the workforce full time since the age of 19, both possessing some serious grit and grind. Any success I have been lucky enough to have started with the example they delivered.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved the quote: “The Dream Is Free But the Hustle Is Sold Separately”. It embodies everything that it means to be an entrepreneur. Ideas are everywhere, it is those that grind and actually deliver to whom all the credit is due. I love that.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
How about a move towards making fewer decisions out of fear and making more decisions out of passion. It is either one or the other for essentially choice we make in life. Skewing your decision tree to the latter can really open your eyes to what is important to you and allow you to make decisions from a position of power vs fear.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!