Virtual Communication is Failing
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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How do I keep my team working together effectively in this remote environment? We have a business-development initiative this year across our firm of about 115 people and they are supposed to be partnering together and then meeting as small groups in order to accomplish the outcomes.
I have not heard a word from anyone.
When we have company-wide meetings and I ask how it is all going, no one responds to me. I have an executive admin who has her pulse to the team and she tells me people are not taking the program seriously. I hired an outside coach to put this in place at substantial cost.
Is there a way for me to push the importance of this for the firm? Why don’t employees respect the cost to try and make improvements and respond accordingly?
Do you know your team members don’t understand the importance or could it be that they do, but they are stymied about how to proceed? Have you asked directly about obstacles to completing the project, rather than relying on hearsay from your EA who is not operating in a formal capacity? Are your colleagues clear about what to do, when to do it and requirements for reporting back to you?
More often than not the problem is mixed communication and a lack of understanding on the part of the people who seem resistant to respond. Many times the people being “accused” are shocked that something was expected of them when they didn’t realize what exactly was required.
If this is a year-long initiative, could colleagues believe they are accountable for results by the end of the year? Did you establish there would be check-ins and you would need updates and information throughout the year about how things are going?
I’m not sure when you put the program in place, i.e. pre-COVID, or in this virtual environment, but the experience has changed for everyone. If you set a program in place when everyone was in the office and able to see one another and get together ad hoc, then review expectations and outline the approach for the virtual experience. You might have to be a lot more stringent in the timing and content for updates, too. If you make it clear to your team what you are expecting, and when you are expecting it, then you can hold them accountable in your meetings to give you the information that is required.
One other thought: If this is a business development initiative, I find quite often that advisors and team members don’t know exactly how to go about uncovering new opportunities, leveraging client relationships to meet new people and so on. It has become particularly challenging in the virtual world where you can’t see as many clients and COIs face-to-face and connect as easily. Ask whether they would like some coaching or training for this project? Do they need skill building and confidence to do what’s required? Explore this with a few people as a focus group (not the whole company at once where people might be more reticent to speak up) and inquire whether there are tools, and information you could provide to help them on this journey.
Go about it expecting they want to do well and do the best thing for the company, for you and for their own careers, but something is blocking their ability to proceed in the way you expect and they might need other support to do so.
Until you have more data to the contrary, open inquiry and curious exploration is often better than assuming someone is behaving badly on purpose!
I am working longer hours and harder than I ever have before. My energy is spent. My firm, which is a large bank, has cut staff quite dramatically and rather than replacing people, we are simply reallocating duties and responsibilities across existing team members. I’m not a senior person, but I see my boss struggling every day to figure out how to support us and get her own work done. She encourages time off and vacation and is very supportive of family because she has three small children of her own. I am burnt out but feel loyal to her and my team members. Is it time to look elsewhere? How does one know when they have reached the end of their career rope?
This is a very personal question and each person’s situation is their own. Some people have a much higher tolerance for pain; some like to have too much to do and some value one thing over another in a work environment, so they stay for their own reasons.
You never want to stay in a difficult situation because you are loyal or committed to the boss or your team members. It’s not that loyalty isn’t good, it is, it’s that when an environment gets to be as toxic as you describe, your boss and team members are likely looking for new opportunities too!
Before you decide to make a career-changing decision, do a few things:
- Take the time your boss is encouraging. Get space. Separate from the environment and find a way to recharge your batteries. Yes, I completely understand there is too much work to do already and not enough time but you self-describe as burned out which means you are running on empty right now. This won’t allow you to do your best work so you need to refill the energy tank. Most times the only possible way to do this is to have a physical break from the work. Take a day, or two or even a week and rest and recharge.
- Have a conversation with your boss about what’s coming next. It’s possible she has more information that could be heartening to hear, or could solidify the fact that things are not going to improve and you need to consider moving on. One client I spoke with this week was describing a tough scenario at the workplace and said, “When you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, you might need to get out of the tunnel altogether!” And that seems like sage advice.
- Start networking and talking to other colleagues just to explore opportunities and see what is happening in the industry. You might find your situation isn’t as bad as you think when you talk to others and find out what they are experiencing! Or, you might find there are many other more positive and fulfilling places you could be and that it is time for you to move on.
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.