When Employees Can’t Get Along

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,

We have two employees who do not like one another. I have talked with them to let them know how disruptive their behavior is. Should I fire one? Should I take sides? I’m a mother at home, but don’t feel like I need to be one in the office.

Kristie M., Upper Midwest

Dear Kristie,

Why are you in the middle of this? The office isn’t a home where you need to do everything you can to keep the peace. Take off your mother hat and look at this objectively and critically.

You need to look at each individual and assess their overall behavior – how are they each, separately, performing their job? Overall, are they team players, except for this situation? Does anyone else complain about either of them or have issues working with them? Look at them each, but then consider them versus one another - are the contributions they make equally effective? Are they equally at fault in what’s going on?

Look at the impact this has in your office. How disruptive are they? Is it the situation bothers you or is it truly a disruptive influence in your office? When it comes to managing conflict, asking the “impact question” first is key.

If they are both equally valued members, and their behavior is truly causing problems in your firm, then it is time for performance warnings. Document what they are doing and give them specific feedback and direction about how they are causing a problem and what you want them to do differently. Once you have this dialogue and document it, start monitoring the behavior. You can’t let it go without being addressed. As soon as one of them falls into their bad behavior again, you need to address it.

It’s frustrating and it might feel like you have already talked to them so they “should know,” but you need to address this in a systematic and logical fashion. Pleading with them or trying to negotiate hasn’t worked. They are professionals in a professional setting; they need to learn to put their differences aside when they are in the workplace. It’s clearly disturbing to you and probably to others in your firm.

Instead of trying to negotiate and win them over, it is time for conversations with them, outlining what’s acceptable and what’s not. You have to be ready to put them on warning, or even fire them, if they can’t turn this around.

Dear Bev,

Can you offer any tips to communicating with clients via email? We have had a few complaints about emails that have been sent by our staff members. I read them and I honestly don’t see the problem, but our clients do. What are some best practices to keep clients happy?

Ron P., Kentucky

Dear Ron,

It would be interesting to read the emails to see what your clients are complaining about.

Email is a funny medium – quick and easy to ask a question or to reply, but ripe with opportunities for miscommunication for the same reason! Behavioral style plays a role – some people are direct and use few words, some are more flowery and personal in approach.

Before you send an email, it’s helpful to know the style of the person receiving it. If someone sends me something and uses my name, “Hi Bev…,” then I always respond and use theirs with my reply, for example.

Adding structure to an email helps. Be clear about what you are providing, asking or following up on in the subject line. Next, outline what the email is about. Then give the information or questions in a clear order (bullets can be good here). If you need a next step or a follow-up, be clear about this in your close. Don’t leave the recipient trying to figure out the meaning of the email or what you are providing and why.

Make sure emails are responded to right away. If a client sends something, your staff should at least respond saying they received it, even if they don’t have all of the answers. Be sure to follow up with the information requested in a timely manner. Receiving no response to emails can be very frustrating for some clients.

And if it is a sensitive situation, there is no replacement for a phone call. While from a compliance perspective you might want to have certain follow-ups in writing, you can also coach your staff to call the client and make sure they received the email and they are all set. This sounds redundant, but it is the little things that only take an extra five minutes that go a long way with clients.

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, 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.

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