Should We Issue a Statement About Racism?
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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With everything going on in Minneapolis and the rest of the world, what should our messaging be? Do we address our firm’s core philosophy on what’s happening or stay silent to avoid insulting our clients if they have different beliefs? The old adage of staying away from politics and religion seems to be going by the wayside. If we stay away from it, are we silent in our culpability? And what about racism?
Should we make a statement about our beliefs? Do you have any best practices on communication we should consider?
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine wrote. History tends to repeat itself. While we have all been trying to figure out how to live in a COVID-19 world and continue to do what we do virtually, now there are protests and serious discussions about systemic racism that need to be addressed. They are certainly “trying times.”
Firms need to take a stand and have a perspective. I am working with a few firms, and have been for months, on the topic of diversity. As an industry, we haven’t done a good job of embracing differences in hiring practices and promotions and retention. We have to look closely at why this is and figure out ways to change the approach within teams and firms to change this dynamic. There are many firms fully focused on this, but it has to become more normal and natural for the system to change.
However, as I recently said to an advisor client when he asked about appropriate messaging, it’s hard to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach to what your firm should say to your client base or whether you should say anything at all. It’s important to know your market and your clients and consider what connects to your firm’s philosophies and beliefs. I would hope that your clients are working with you because of your culture and philosophy and that you’ve found clients who align with your perspective. But those perspectives will differ from firm to firm.
Consider what your firm stands for, what’s important to you, and what matters to you and your clients. It might be right for you to say nothing. It might be right for you to take a firm stand and speak out strongly. It might be right for you to simply acknowledge the pain many people in our country are suffering right now. Whatever path you choose, do it because it is meaningful to you and not because you feel you “should” do something. If you come off as appearing false or opportunistic in your messaging, not only will it fall flat, but it actually could backfire. With personal and emotional issues, people can often see through the messaging – we’re more transparent than we think. This could be a great discussion for your team as a whole to determine what fits best for your firm, and your clients.
We brought up many of the past week’s activities in our recent firm-wide meeting. It was stunning to me, as the president of our firm, how many people needed to just talk about what they are experiencing. I want to connect in with each and every person (26 people in total), but I am not sure the right way to do this. Should I be setting up a call or Zoom meeting to ask what’s on their mind? Would it be inappropriate to ask whether what’s happening is affecting their job and what I can do to help them? I’m entirely out of my comfort zone, but recognize I need to do something.
I’m impressed with your desire to do something and your willingness to wade in, as a leader, to an area where you admittedly have some discomfort. That shows true leadership! Think about a few things:
- Are you sure that each of your 26 team members want to have a dialogue with you about these topics? People process things differently and not everyone might want to talk to their boss/firm leader about their views on what’s happening. Perhaps it makes sense to put the option out there and allow people to respond as to whether they want to schedule time to talk or not.
- Are you going to be able to forgive a team member who doesn’t want to talk with you one-on-one? At times, leaders take umbrage with the fact that someone doesn’t appreciate an overture, or they might take it personally if a team member is unwilling to engage. You have to apply some self-reflection here and look at yourself honestly to ensure you can treat everyone’s response to your overture equally.
- Could you schedule a more general check-in with each person? There has been so much going on over these three months and you could, as the leader, make it a chance to find out how each person is doing, what’s working for them and what’s not and see what they might need. Let them know the sky is the limit and you are open to any sort of dialogue and that way each team member can choose their own comfort level.
- Can you share information or ideas with team members about other places or forums they might be able to learn and share ideas? There are a number of resources specifically designed for educators and students that you can find in a Google search. I have shared this page with a few people to find different outlets and resources. Hopefully our industry will share more ideas and insights generally too to assist advisors in navigating all of this.
Continue what you’re doing. You clearly care about your team members and spend time thinking about how best to support them. Make it safe to have an opinion and share that opinion. Facilitate as much positive dialogue as possible. These situations require hard decisions and taking a stand, but you don’t want to have nasty and negative unrest between team members so be watchful about the kind of open dialogue you allow team members to have with one another with no facilitation.
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 has 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.