Managing a Stressed Out Team
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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Our advisory firm is booming, and we are benefiting from the market ups and downs in a big way. Our strategies are perfect for what’s happening. We aren’t even making outbound calls; calls are coming in to us. We are reaping the benefits of our investments of time and money. So what’s wrong? My team is stressed. People are working 14-hour days. We can’t keep up. Everyone is jumping down one another’s throats. People call in sick, and we are left stretched even thinner. I think someone could really have a nervous breakdown – even me. I can’t tell clients that we don’t want their business; this is what we’ve worked so hard for over the years. I can’t hire new people because that would mean training and who has time for that right now? What do I do?
I respect what you are dealing with, and it really is the downside of success. I’ve seen too many firms focus on obtaining new business and fail to make sure there are processes and plans to ensure new client onboarding, portfolio planning and construction and client servicing. It can be hard to want to spend time and money getting these areas organized when your firm hasn’t grown to have the revenue associated with it, but when you don’t do it, this is often the result.
So, that would have been great to do in advance, but it doesn’t help you now, right? You are going to have to take a step back before you step forward to create some sanity. The situation you are in is like going to a black tie event by changing your clothes from jeans and a t-shirt standing up in the back of a pickup truck moving down the highway at 70 miles per hour. You have to get to that important event, but the process of changing would be hairy at best and potentially painful at worst. That’s what it’s like when your organization is already in overdrive. You must stop somehow and find a way to bring order to the chaos.
Consider scheduling a two-hour break during one of these crazy days. Take your team somewhere, preferably offsite, and catalog what’s working and what the main obstacles to success might be. Where is there redundancy? Where are things being dropped? How could you be more efficient? What might be less important and able to be moved, temporarily, to the side? Could people work in a different way and maybe take on portions of other jobs, or eliminate something they do for a temporary period? You probably need a couple of hours (more if you think you can spare it) to examine what’s happening and make a plan to change or tweak a few things.
You may not want to hire, but we’re coming into spring and that means college interns – both paid and unpaid. See if you can carve out some lower-level activities or find a finance student (or even someone on a CFP track) who could share some of the load. We often help firms identify the components of what they are doing, and in every case there are some pieces that can be offloaded even to less experienced people.
Let everyone take a breath in the midst of the rush, and figure out some more effective ways to do something. They are there, I promise you. I’ve never seen a case where they weren’t. However you have to have the confidence, the discipline and the courage to take the time you need to stop and consider what could be different. It will be more effective in the short – and long – run than visiting your team in the hospital!