How to Deliver Bad News
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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Is there a right way to deliver bad news to an employee?
We’ve had an advisor with us for 10 months. The expectation was that he was joining us as a “rain maker” to bring new AUM. I understand COVID has changed things, but now he tells me his favored approach is to circulate with high-net worth individuals in person. He says he doesn’t do as well virtually and I should lower my expectations.
I don’t agree. If you know how to grow, you ought to know how to do it in all conditions. How do I tell him I’m extremely unhappy and his time with us might be limited if he doesn’t change his tune quickly?
These times are challenging on so many fronts and for many people in the way they are used to being successful. I conducted a four-day training this week and when we asked about obstacles to success, many of the participants noted how challenging it is to interact with prospects and clients virtually when they are so used to, and skilled at, doing it in person. I share this because before you go full board criticizing him and putting him on notice, consider how you could help him make a behavioral shift and take his in-person skills to the virtual world. I have another client whose entire sales force was an in-person, go to the office team and now they are relegated to the phones. They are seasoned, savvy salespeople, but they are struggling because it is very different and they need to learn new behaviors.
Have you given him support or asked him what he needs in order to transition to growing AUM when he cannot get out and network? Has he shared what different things he is trying or would be willing to try?
What if you were to have more of an interactive conversation – acknowledging the changes, and the difficulty and asking him to brainstorm with you? Your position is a fair one; you have to grow AUM no matter what the conditions. You can’t just wait this out and go back to what you were doing when everything is over and done with! You all have to learn to navigate during this current environment, but getting on the same side of the table with him could be helpful. Be his advocate and supporter more than his challenger.
Coaching in the virtual world and giving feedback is different. I’m not sure how you are communicating, but I strongly recommend using a face-to-face method instead of just the phone. You want him to see you and you to see him for this discussion. Make it as friendly as possible. This isn’t to say that you defer the goals or decrease what’s expected. Before you do that, check in on what he is doing, what’s working and where he needs the help and support.
You, as the leader of the firm and his boss, absolutely have a right to set certain parameters and expectations. You also should recognize it might take him a bit to make his shift and start doing things differently.
As Stephen Covey famously said, it might be time to, “seek to understand, not just be understood,” first and then determine your best next steps.
Are people moving from firm to firm in this environment? I’m very frustrated in my current advisory firm. We are not growing, not investing in the business and our founder is not willing to make any changes. We desperately need a succession plan and he is unwilling to discuss the possibility of creating one. Is it crazy for me to think about jumping right? There is so much uncertainty and unrest. Is the place I am in better than what else might be going on?
Well I certainly don’t have a crystal ball and cannot tell you if another situation is better than the one you have. I’ll move on to your first question. An empathic, “yes!” People are moving around quite a bit in the current market. Firms are still growing and changing and seeking good talent. It’s a bit of a different process of course, with most interviews being conducted by Zoom or Skype and most people joining the firm by staying in their own homes, but our clients have new people coming and existing people leaving quite a bit right now.
I run profiles to gauge behavioral style (DISC) and values (Driving Forces) for many of my clients when they are hiring. I am being asked quite a bit to provide these and find a good fit for the firm.
The question is whether you know what you really want. The reason people go from one bad situation to another not-much-better situation is that they are moving away from something, rather than moving toward something they desire. You can outline what you don’t like about your current firm, but what do you want in a new situation.
Craft your desired outcome. What sort of role, culture, opportunities, and so on are you seeking? You have learned about working for someone who is resistant to change, but what sort of person would you like to work for? Those who are constantly changing things and making plans that may or may not be implemented are often not great leaders either.
Be clear about what you care about and then start looking in the market for the type of firm. You can still network and talk to people (carefully of course) to learn about different firms, how they are run and their culture.
I’ve found that starting the process of looking for a new opportunity when you feel stuck can do two things: It can remind you there is a world of opportunity so you don’t have the feeling that you are stuck indefinitely, and it can open your eyes to other firms. Some people find their current situation isn’t as bad as they thought it was when they start looking around!
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.