Three Words

Dive into this captivating conversation where Dennis and Katie reveal the simple three-word strategy that has helped drive their business growth for the past five years. Learn how you can use this simple exercise to integrate your core values into daily decision-making for a purpose-driven and meaningful life.

Essentially boiling down to three words that we can hold out there for the year that keep us inspired, excited, and help to point toward that true north. – Katie Brown

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Welcome to simply why, a podcast about money and purpose, where we pull back the curtain on running a financial advisory business focused on providing intentional advice to couples and families. I'm Dennis Morton. And I'm Katie Brown. Welcome back, and thanks for tuning in.


Today we're going to talk about one of our favorite exercises that we do every year. We've been doing it for the last. I think this is the fifth year that we've been doing our three word exercise where we pick three words to help define the year ahead. And this year was a particularly fun one. We involved the whole team.


Once you talk about kind of the legacy of this project, why we do it, why it's important for us. Yeah. Well, first I want to credit our business coach, Steve Sandusky, because this was something that we adopted from him that he has been doing for a number of years, and he had shared with us the impact of it essentially boiling down or coming down to three words that we can hold out there for the year that keep us inspired, excited, and help to point toward that true north. Like what are we really trying to accomplish in this year and what's going to motivate us to do it? It sounds simple, I think, to have just three words out there, but the exercise that you go through to identify those words and to figure out what are we trying to accomplish and what's going to align with that, I think is a really fruitful exercise and has served us well.


So this is a continuation. We've talked before about vision casting. It was one of our more recent podcasts, but also just the idea of planning for the year ahead and the things that are going to help motivate you to get there. So this is a piece of that. I was going back over some of our previous words.


The first time we did this was at the beginning of 2020, which anybody's saying it's funny to look back at the beginning of 2020 and say, here's what I'm going to do this year. But our words in 2020 were focus, collaborate, compete. And when you think about what we had to do from the time the pandemic kicked in, the amount of focus we had to have as a team, the collaboration that became remote collaboration, and still trying to compete when everything else was kind of slamming the brakes, those really were powerful words for us. And I remember those coming up often saying, remember, this is what we're trying to do here. The process of getting to those words has changed over the years, hasn't it?


Yeah, I think we have a greater understanding of what we're going to need to hold out there for us to get excited, and I think a greater understanding of how to utilize these words throughout the year. So I think it's been less of starting from ground zero and more of starting from, say, 60% of the way there. Like, really understanding how powerful, once again they can be. It's been more fun, I'm going to say, because that tail end part, that's the fun part. Yes.


And I think another thing that's made it more fun, there are more people involved. Oh, yeah. Because what we're going to talk about today, we're going to go over our three words, how we arrived at them. I'd also like to talk about how they apply to us and how they might apply to you as an investor, as someone who's planning for their financial future with their family, and also how you can apply the same process with your spouse, your significant other, and go through this. Because I think one of the most valuable things is not just going through a series of words and seeing which ones put a sparkle in the other person's eye and say, hey, that clicks for me.


But also having them give you feedback to say, hey, this might be a word for us this year. Based on where we are and everything else, I think it's a great feedback mechanism. So there's going to be some practical application about this three word exercise, too. All right, so let's start with the first of our three words, which is discipline. This one I'm going to talk about more people being involved.


This is one that I think came out of conversations with our team. When we did our annual off site, there were certain words that came out to the forefront. Things like, how do we make sure that we stick to our process? How do we make sure that we're committed, disciplined, consistent, intentional. We're like, this is interesting for an organization that's growing or a family that's getting busier and busier, discipline is something that you have to fight for.


And I think we heard that in the conversations with our team. One of the things that I really like about this exercise, too, is oftentimes we will select words that have a lot of different areas of application. So, as you said, discipline. I mean, that can show up in making sure that we stay within our rails. And I think the same thing can apply to families and couples.


We have a million distractions out there, but not all of those distractions need to be our distraction. So to stay within the rails, to say, all right, this applies to me, and I'm going to focus in this area. I'm going to block out the noise elsewhere. I think that's one of the applications of the word discipline for us. But then there are other things, too, like you said, even just the consistency piece of it, to stay consistent with the things that we're doing, consistent with our communication, consistent with not only the outreach, maybe, and we're going to talk a little bit more about that, but also in the types of things that we're talking about and how it applies to the families that we serve.


Yes. So there's a lot of different areas, and I know even beyond that, how do you think about the word discipline? I think a lot of it is it forces you to define your role, like discipline at what? So you and I, we sat down, we rewrote our job descriptions last year to say, what are the things that Dennis can uniquely do to contribute and support the goals of the team? What are the things Katie can do?


Now? The next step is the discipline to maintain those and to make sure there's accountability in those things, which there's a liberation in that. Like, I know you've got that because I've got this, let's make sure we stay in our lanes. I also think that there's a. I've been thinking a lot about this loop.


Imagine a visual of your values, influence your priorities, influence how you spend your time, which then feeds back to your values. And that in itself is a discipline. I've been thinking about boundaries this year, like, how do I make sure I'm disciplined in my boundaries so that I'm doing these things when I'm in the office, these things when I'm outside and being very disciplined at that, because I can't do all things all the time, which tends to be the way I operate?


Well, like you said, you can't do all the things. And I think it is also being disciplined as a firm and as a team to acknowledge we're not going to do all the things all the time. So let's be really focused with our priorities and be disciplined to see those through fruition and not leave kind of things. Half was great. That was great feedback that you gave me last year.


Well, it's the shifting priorities, and every family has these. As the famous philosopher Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they're punched in the face. Like life's going to happen. You have your priorities. Suddenly something else comes out of left field and the priorities shift.


How do you maintain that discipline to say, all right, how does this fit into the larger priorities, the things that are the big rocks for our family and the things that don't shift. And that goes back to your loop. Absolutely. The priorities tied to the values. What's the line?


Show me your calendar. I'll show you your priorities. And that is so true. I looked back on the second half, particularly of last year, and I didn't like what I saw in terms of prioritization and discipline, everything else. So I think this word really resonates for me.


It has some negative connotations. I'm really focusing on the positive ones, and I think that's there's a liberation. Discipline equals freedom. I've heard someone say there's a liberation in that sometimes. Yeah.


And I think discipline also comes up often in our planning conversations. I get really excited when clients come to us and they're like, okay, this is where we're at. This is what we've been doing all these years. This is kind of how we're thinking about things going forward and to reflect on that and to share with them. I can clearly see that you've been very disciplined in how you have approached goals previously, how you have saved and prepared for things that you've done.


And so I think there's a lot of discipline that applies to the planning work that we do, that clients show up with, and then how we can help kind of augment to make sure that discipline stays within the right rails. Yes, I agree. All right, let's move on to our second word here, quality. These next two are more broad. I think we struggle with how broadly an umbrella, how broad umbrella they are.


But quality is something we have to think about again as things get more complex. One of our words recently, I don't know what year it was. I think was simplified. Was it last year? I think simplified was a word last year.


Yes, it was great. Good. So simplification gets harder as you get bigger, as life happens. Quality is also at risk as life happens, as you grow your business, as you grow your family and your career and everything else. What does quality mean to you, Katie?


I've been thinking about this one a lot, and I think quality goes beyond maintaining a standard. I think that's the bare minimum of what we should be doing as we grow and how we think about servicing families and clients as we grow. As a bare minimum, we need to maintain a quality level of, level of standard, keep that high bar beyond that. The real quality comes through our enhancement of that as we get to know families better, as we get to serve more families, we have more experience, we have more resources as we grow to help fill the gaps and provide a better quality output for hopefully bringing in greater value and greater service capability. So I really like the word quality because it's not just maintenance.


It goes above and beyond that. That's a really powerful point. Quality is often considered an attribute of a product, right. It's a quality car, quality house, whatever it might be. But I think there's also quality of engagement.


There's the softer side of quality to make sure when we are sitting in front of a person, what's the quality of our time? Are we fully engaged? Are we fully present in the financial planning conversation? Are we listening for the right things? Are we coming out of that with the kind of quality information that then feeds back into the quality results?


So there's a hard element of it and a soft element of it. And I think one of the things, as a business owner, you have to make sure you don't lose the quality behind the scenes. Yes. There's what the client sees, and then there's what happens in the background. And if you can get quality right in the background, one, it's a superpower.


Two, it's sustainable. What does quality mean? If we're trying to define that in relationships, in financial planning, whatever it might be for a family, I think it's the quality time. It's where are you spending your time, and is it where you choose to spend your time? Are you making the most of your time?


And ultimately, that's what the money is for. The plan is there to help support you, to have more freedom of time, to make those choices, to be in the places that are going to produce that fulfillment for you. So I do think that it's how do you maximize the quality of your time? And it may be different from the person sitting across from you. For example, coming off of vacations, holidays, especially time spent away from work.


I think every couple has a different dynamic of how they would define quality time. For some of them, it's like, I want my book. I'll be seated over there with earbuds in. Don't talk to me. That's quality.


But for other people, the quality is more outgoing or engaging or something like that. So I think asking the question of what is the definition of quality, whether it's time or resources or anything else, and talking out loud about that. Yes. So how about our third word, Dennis? I like this one.


A lot of, we circled around with this last one quite a bit. We did? Yeah, we got a little wonky in trying to get very ethereal about this word. But eventually, we settled back on communication and all of the facets of communication again, this was something that came back from conversations with our team. We asked the team to come up.


Everybody came up with three words, nine person team. So 27 words altogether. And things like listening, empathy, gratitude, they kind of all fit under that banner. And communication is very difficult. Sometimes our default is to communicate less, especially as life gets complicated.


You're growing a business. Anything else? This one, I think, is a reminder to make sure that both lines of communication are open across the board. Right. And the thing I really loved about this, too, is the internal application of it.


So when it comes to communicating with our staff, so whether in the one to one conversations, making sure that we're enjoying ourselves in the office and that we're building the relationships and keeping the lines of communication open, both personally and professionally, I think all of that is really important to a good, strong, healthy culture. But also, the great thing about communication is that it can be on the softer side, and it can also be in the. All right, are we communicating enough that we're on point with our processes? We're on point with who's doing what when, and making sure that things are running seamlessly because we're communicating well, and everybody kind of knows what each of us are responsible for. And so I love that it has both the softer aspects, but also the productivity aspects of it.


So that's internally. But then we also have externally, how are we communicating with our clients and our community, and how are we supporting communication within couples as so. And I don't know if you want to expand on any of that, Dennis, but there's a whole lot of external application also. You know what? One thing, and this kind of speaks to my shortcomings as a liberal arts major.


Sometimes I think it's communication in terms of volume, the number of words said, the number of words written, those types of things. I'm really challenging myself and how we're communicating now to be very concise and say, are there short things that we can communicate frequently over and over again that help define our values, what we're trying to do, that give people just something to latch onto when they're feeling emotional, that type of stuff, trying to be not as long winded. And I'll keep going, if you like. Katie, I was going to say, it's so funny. I was thinking, in my mind, that is where we are opposites, where if a thought comes to mind, you can write a five page paragraph essay about it.


I will give you three bullets. So your goal to become more concise kind of balances out with my goal of providing more context around what I'm thinking. I'm just trying to get you to read something, anything that I write.


No, but that's perfect because it shows up differently for different people. Some people may resonate much more with the broader context, and other people are like, all right, just give me the bottom line. And I tend to jump to that without some of the softer stuff around it that I perhaps need to help build that context appropriately. And so I love how, once again, communication, it can drive both of those, and it can apply to a lot of different personalities and a lot of different perspectives, both to help get me motivated in one direction, you motivated in another. Yeah.


And I think just the way communication shows up successfully in an organization or in a family is that you feel like you're on a journey together, that if you're talking out loud about things, if you're truly listening to what's happening, then you're not waking up one day and say, I don't quite understand where you're coming from. I don't understand the perspective you get in that habit of communication effectively and understand how people. Some it's bulletized, some it's in verbally and everything else. But if you're communicating inside a family, the same thing is true is making sure that you're checking in and talking out loud about what it is we're trying to accomplish, what matters most to us. And I think it's one of the things that's often taken for granted in couple relationships.


I agree with that. All right, so let's close it out with just the process of coming up with three words. Do we have any advice for what a couple a family might do if they're trying to think of three words to help define specifically maybe financial success for them in the year to come, what does it look like? What would the process of coming up with three words look like? I'm going to assume, perhaps in this, that maybe there's a baseline starting point where they have a pretty good idea of the direction they're headed, a pretty good idea of their values.


I think it actually starts from there. I think there's values, there's direction, there's goals, and then there's words. So you kind of need that progression a little bit. But once you get to the point of saying, okay, here are the big things I want to accomplish this year, then I think you can boil it down to here are the words that are going to motivate me on a daily basis to move in the direction of those big things, to put the pieces in place. Right?


Is there that spark? Is it going to be a catalyst when you see those words written at the top of a page every day? Right? Yeah. I was even thinking about, since there's three options, maybe looking at reflecting on what's going well, what to sustain, to make sure you recognize that I think we're really good at this, what you could improve, and this is a good conversation to have with your spouse or significant other.


And where do we want to grow? What's something that we could do better? And I think some of that is what we did here. I think quality is worth sustaining, discipline is worth improving, and communication is a way that we want to grow and make sure that we're doing it effectively. And I think that applies to a business and applies to a family as well.


Yeah, I think you nailed it. Those are our three words for 2024. We're excited to hear if you have any thoughts on what might help define a successful year for you. And we're going to be checking back in with these. You'll see that last year we infused them throughout the course of the year to help remind us of where our focus is, and we hope it's helpful for you as you try to plan a successful year ahead.


Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Simply why, a podcast about money and purpose. We hope you enjoyed getting to know us, how we approach leading a financial advisory practice, and the work we do every day to help families and couples make important financial decisions. Morton Brown Family wealth is an SEC registered investment advisor. This podcast is designed for educational and informational purposes and not intended as investment advice. More information can be found at