Sometimes You Can’t Change Behavior

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,

I appreciate your work and agree that our industry needs more human-behavior contributions. While we talk about behavioral economics and investor profiles, we don’t put enough emphasis on the behavioral problems and implications within our teams.

To wit, we have someone in our office who fills the COO role (and is one of the original founders). He isn’t a great salesperson, so he has taken over managing all of our operations, HR, administrative and other functions. He is under 50, but he is stuck in his ways. He won’t listen to reason on anything, thinks he knows everything and shuts people down literally in the middle of their sentences. He has a number of his own clients he continues to manage. They provide a great deal of revenue to our advisory firm, so he walks around like he is untouchable.

I was recently made partner (there are five of us) and I believe we should do something about his behavior. It affects people on our team and many people comment on how brash and abrasive he is. He founded the firm with one other partner who is still here (two others have retired) and the remaining partner is a see-no-evil-type of guy. He doesn’t like to hear negativity and overtly says he will not deal with conflict.

I’ve spoken to the other two partners and they want to confront the difficult partner. Can you recommend approaches that could work for us and give us some support in the process?


Dear E.G.,

If you could hear me as I read your note, you would notice an audible sigh. I couldn’t agree more with your statement that we don’t focus on the human element enough from an employee and leadership perspective. But one thing I have learned having done this work now for 20+ years is that there are times where you just aren’t going to change someone. Certain circumstances conspire to prevent you, the person delivering the news, from being heard and the person who needs to hear the news from hearing and understanding.

You have circumstances working against you – his contribution to the firm, his long-standing position, the unwillingness of his long-time peer to engage in the discussion and, possibly, an unwillingness on his part to look at the impact of his behavior.