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Embedding Leadership Accountability

About Odlum Brown

Odlum Brown is an independent, full-service investment firm providing disciplined advice and objective research to help clients achieve their financial goals. Founded 100 years ago in Vancouver, BC, the firm has grown to manage over $18 billion across 6 locations.

Strategic inflection points

Odlum Brown was facing multiple strategic inflection points: driving growth, market disruption, and a need for strategic talent development.

Facing increased competition and increased volatility in the financial markets, it was time for Odlum Brown to either leap to the next level — or start to stagnate.

Primary challenges

The company knew that leadership could be a key differentiator in this rapidly changing business environment. However, up to this point, they had many leaders who’d been promoted because of their technical expertise, and they hadn’t invested in systematically developing those people’s leadership skills.

Odlum Brown knew they needed to install a unified leadership style and experience across the organization as they continued to grow, and that they couldn’t end up with six different cultures across their six different offices.

Leadership Goals

"It all started with our commitment to stay the course - this wasn't going to be a once-and-done flavor of the month coming out of HR."
Barb Bahry
VP Organizational Development


Odlum Brown knew they needed to start by instilling their values across the organization and defining a single set of leadership expectations, so that all leaders were clear on their roles and accountable for shaping the culture.

Since beginning this endeavor eight years ago, Odlum Brown has sustained a leadership accountability program built around the core idea of The Leadership Contract: leadership is a deliberate choice that individuals needs to make.

Key components of Odlum Brown’s leadership development system include:

140 leaders

impacted through training 

Strong leadership cultures drive greater results

of team members would recommend Odlum Brown as a good place to work

of employees say their people leader supports their learning and development

of employees say their people leader reviews their performance fairly

of employees say the feedback they receive helps them develop and improve

How they did it

The program has been so successful that  leaders have self-organized into cohorts to meet regularly, discuss their leadership challenges, and problem-solve together.


Define clear expectations for leaders at all levels.

They convened group conversations with leaders throughout the company to talk about what leadership should look like, based upon their strategy and future business priorities.

These conversations were anchored on the four terms of The Leadership Contract, setting out the baseline expectation that leadership must be an active choice.


Align leaders around these expectations.

Odlum Brown worked to gain buy-in and make sure everyone understood how they related to the organization’s strategy. Every leader was asked to commit to being an intentional and accountable leader that aligned with the leadership expectations, and solutions were found for those who were not ready. These conversations also served as early opportunities for leaders to practice having critical conversations in a productive way, a crucial leadership accountability skill.


Embed expectations into organizational practices

Odlum Brown embedded those expectations into their social structures and people systems, including conversations with team members about performance and contribution. Individual leaders must check in with their people leaders at least 3 times per year to reflect on how they are stepping up as accountable leaders and what critical conversations are on their plate. 

"Fast is not good enough when it comes to developing leaders. What's the drum beat every day about what it means to be a leader in your organization? That's what you need to be thinking about."
Barbara Bahry
VP Organizational Development

Lessons learned

More leaders at Odlum Brown actively take on the hard work of leadership and the impact can be seen through their behaviors and performance.

Calling out unaligned and unproductive behaviors

Supporting one another for individual and collective success

Having deeper conversations on performance and contribution

With strong leadership, the pandemic years were some of the firm’s best ever

Competitors recognize Odlum Brown as an organization that invests in leadership

Team members ask when they'll be invited to be part of the leadership community

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