Dealing with Gossip in a Small Firm

Beverly Flaxington

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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Dear Bev,

Is gossip bad in a small firm, or can it be useful? I like to have employees tell me what’s going on in our eight-person advisory firm. A coach told me not to indulge my people and allow them to talk about one another. For me, it’s where I get my best information about what’s really going on. Is there a better way for me to manage? I don’t want to be destructive but I don’t want to cut off my best sources of information.

Cheryl D., Minneapolis, MN

Dear Cheryl,

I don’t see the value of using gossip as a means to get information about what’s going on. Period.

We all filter information and there are two sides to every story. You’re only hearing one side when you listen to staff members talk about others. In their re-telling to you, it’s one person’s view of what happened or what was said. What if you hear about a real problem that needs to be addressed? The only way you could possibly get resolution is to deal with the employee directly. If you are operating on gossip, how do you do this? Do you reveal your source? Do you pretend you don’t know and try to get the information out of the person another way? No good can come of it. People get very defensive if accused or tattled on by someone else. Trying to use gossip constructively is fraught with problems.

Instead, try to create an open environment. If someone comes in with an issue about another person, create a culture where you call in the other person right then and there to talk about the issue. Instill respect for one another as part of your culture. If problems arise, and someone wants to talk to you, don’t allow them to do so unless they have spoken to the other person first. Only in cases where people simply cannot reach resolution on their own should they be coming to you. And both people should come at once – not one talking about the other.

I know your firm is small, but this is where a HR resource comes in very handy. Look into outsourced or part-time options if you don’t want a full-time person on staff. Putting you, as the leader of the firm, in the middle of these issues is wasteful of your time and energy.

Dear Bev,

I hired a young CFP in to work alongside me about three years ago. We get along fine; he is a nice young man. The problem: I expected him to be more active in growing the business. He doesn’t know what to do without my intervention. The whole point of bringing someone in was to hand over some of my activities, but I am more involved than ever.

Mark A., Central Florida

Dear Mark,

I am going to assume your question is, “How do I get this guy to do what I want him to do?” Let’s first explore your feelings; are you frustrated that he isn’t a go-getter? Were you looking to this young man to be the main source of growth for your business? Is it that in hiring this person, it has put more of a burden on you?

It’s important first to isolate what you really want to accomplish. Given how vague your question was, I’m wondering whether this young man is really clear about what you expect of him. Too many times advisors don’t spell out the expectations for a role or a new hire. There are assumptions built in that the person will do whatever the advisor wants them to do. While you may believe your wishes are clear, they may not be clear to him.

It’s time to sit down with him, spell out your expectations (in writing), give him clear feedback about what’s working and what’s not, and then have scheduled check-ins with him to give continued guidance and feedback. It may be difficult for someone new to come into your firm with your imprint on it. He may feel reticent to charge forward, not knowing what you really want of him. Remember that he sees it as your firm, so you may need to give active “permission” for him to make his own decisions about things – if, in fact, that is what you really want.

Get clear on what you want first. Be sure to reduce it all to writing. Next, talk about it with him and check for understanding. You can’t over-communicate on employee expectations or give enough feedback.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers.  She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. 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,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.


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