My Boss Wants Me to Compete with My Coworkers
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I work for a large financial services firm and run the sales operations and support. Kicking off 2020, our boss (who oversees me and four colleagues in other divisions) told us straight up she was pitting us against each other in our goals to create competition between us. The weird thing is that we’re not competitive. We should work as one – the head of marketing, the head of sales, our support team on the client service side and product management.
It’s not like we have a need to compete. We are all working together to achieve similar goals.
But her objective has created a very tense environment where we are starting to lose trust in one another and jockey for our boss’ attention and validation. I used to really like working here and especially enjoyed the collegial environment. Now I hate coming to work. It’s draining.
Would we all get fired if we were to just work together anyway? I’ve been thinking about taking my colleagues out to lunch and seeing if they would agree to stop this insanity and go back to the way things used to be. Even the goals we now have are silly. She created objectives that don’t match what we do just for the purpose of creating the competition.
This isn’t good for us and it isn’t good for the company.
I teach a graduate course at Suffolk University called managerial skills and one of the exercises I have the students do is to break into groups where they are managers in a company trying to solve a difficult problem. I want to illustrate, through the case I created, how hard it is when managers are sitting in different seats to come to a collaborative decision – the head of finance might want to cut costs while the head of marketing thinks spending more on advertising will help better the finances.
Even when there is no overt competition, it is always hard in an organization for leaders to collaborate well because their areas of focus and reward are often different and sometimes are in conflict.
Firms in our industry today have enough outside competition and are dealing with enough change in the marketplace. They don’t need to have internal competition between colleagues who are supposed to be aiming toward the same goal.
Your idea of engaging your colleagues is a good one. You have to be careful not to convey to your boss that you are undermining her or deliberately insulting her authority. But talk with your colleagues about their experience of this new world and how productive they think things are now. It would be helpful to get an idea if they actually like working like this – you don’t say that your view is shared by the other four and you might find they enjoy the harsher, more competitive situation. It’s all about behavioral wiring and what motivates people. Your boss could possibly be tuned into something in the other managers that she is trying to cultivate to get them to be more proactive in their roles. Sometimes, at a less senior level, you don’t have all of the facts and data about why a leader makes one decision over another. But it is conceivable she is trying to address something with your colleagues and this is her best attempt to do that.
This said, I’m not a fan of, “pitting people against one another” in the same organization. Establishing shared goals and being clear about the success outcomes you want, creating or confirming the mission and values of the team in a shared fashion, and then working together collaboratively is always going to be the best way to succeed.
I work in a family advisory firm – my two older brothers and my younger sister (I am the first daughter but third in line) all work together. We each have our own responsibilities, which is nice. I spent years running institutional portfolios for a large investment firm, so I am the CIO and manage all of our portfolios. For a family business we have worked peacefully heretofore.
Lately, driven by fear of market changes, my siblings have been ganging up on me and trying to give me advice on how to invest. They are entitled to their opinion so that isn’t the issue. The issue is that in making these suggestions they are bringing up concerns, reflections and issues from our childhood! They point out every single time I didn’t listen or wasn’t willing to go along with what they wanted or when our parents criticized me for being so confident and forthright.
The business issue of, “how should we invest?” is betting mixed in with the personal issue of, “she was always difficult.” It’s super frustrating because it makes me want to make no changes whatsoever to our portfolios. I find myself digging my heels in and refusing to even listen. I don’t want to get stuck in this situation. I recognize I’m not helping but it is hurtful to me that they don’t see how well I’ve done in this role (our performance has been outstanding) and give me credit that I know what I am doing.
The joys of working with family! If things aren’t hard enough with the strangers we encounter and are forced to work alongside, adding in family with all of the history and baggage can make it especially difficult.
I’ve seen this happen many times – family has history and age-old perceptions and their own thoughts and feelings about what went on, what was fair, how one person was treated over another, and so on. It takes a lot of self-awareness and objective thinking to examine things in today’s world, rather than carry over the history that has been created. Many times you don’t want to lose the history, it makes your family who they are.
Because of the history, the baggage and the inability to sometimes see objectively, you probably need an outside facilitator to engage you and your siblings in this discussion. Ultimately this is a very important business decision your firm needs to make and you will be held responsible for the changes that are made, and how the portfolios perform as a result. You don’t want to be unreasonable and dig in, but you also don’t want to make the controversy go away and just make the changes to keep everyone happy when it might not be in the client’s best interest. You are in a difficult spot because in either scenario you could be perceived as either being difficult, or as having made a bad and hurtful decision.
Find a business coach with some sort of therapy or even negotiation background (I find third parties with pure therapeutic backgrounds working these issues in our industry miss a lot because they don’t understand the business) and engage with them. Raising the issues and having your family talk about them together is important.
You don’t mention a parent in the picture – whether your father or mother or both founded the business or work in the business but if they do/did, you might want to consider having their involvement too. In my experience these situations can turn very ugly and can affect the entire family outside of the workplace too.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and hafs been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.