Our Team is Coming Apart at the Seams
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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I’m a senior advisor at a firm but not yet a partner. The partners (five) recently decided it was prudent to hire a COO. There was a significant search process to find this person and the start date was early summer.
Now, with three months of experience, the situation has been, “change, change and more change.” A new COO shouldn’t be shaking everything up before they know all about us. Our firm is doing well financially, and our team has been in place for many years. We don’t suffer turnover or poor performance.
Why do people in leadership roles think that change is always good? It’s been hard to get work done because everyone is swimming against a tide of things we don’t need or want to do. It’s exhausting.
As I re-read your question, you are asking why leaders think change is good. That’s a loaded question because not all leaders do think change is good and many also resist it. In cases where leaders institute change, it is often in response to competitive or financial pressures or concerns and obstacles presented by employees.
Is change always good? No, but good leaders are often trying to find ways to make things better. The road from now to “better” is often marked with potholes.
Your real question, not the one stated in your note, is whether the changes your COO is implementing are worthwhile and whether there are too many, too soon. That’s a harder question to answer without having more details. But I’ll ask you to consider a few things:
- You mention that things are going well at the firm, you have a strong team, good financials, and the like. You infer there is no need to change anything. There is a philosophy if it isn’t broken, don’t worry about fixing it. This can be true. However, you might not have all of the facts and data. You are not a partner, so likely not privy to all of the partnership discussions. There may well be some things brewing that need to be addressed and fixed. I don’t know this to be true, but I wouldn’t assume everything is as rosy as you think it is. Many times there is other information that isn’t as well known or widely distributed throughout the firm.
- Leaders and managers have different behavioral styles and approach things differently. You may have a low-S (steadiness) COO. The “S” factor is about pace, process, taking things slow and implementing on a steady basis. People who are low on this scale like to mix things up. They like change and trying something different. One of my clients describes their low-S boss as, “flavor of the month.” It’s a scale of 0-100; the lower someone is, the more they like change and will push for it (my client noted here is an 8 on the scale). Try and see whether this is how your COO best operates and whether you can encourage stepping back and being clearer about what you are doing and why.
- The COO may have received a mandate from the partners. Many times, someone is brought in because the existing leadership doesn’t want to embrace or doesn’t have the skills to make necessary changes. It’s not a reflection on existing leaders; it just requires a new skill set. Consider whether the COO may be acting under direction and taking steps laid out by your partners. Consider this and be inquisitive with the partners about the changes being made.
I understand the confusion caused by multiple changes, and many of my clients talk about this and the quest for some normalcy, but I also have seen this from the COO’s view, and it can be hard to balance change with desired results and employee comfort level. Not an easy task to manage it all!
Our team is coming apart at the seams. The pressures of this remote environment, far too much work, many new clients to be onboarded, and changes we’ve made to our staffing model and how we do things (primarily removing much of the support infrastructure we had built) is creating confusion and infighting.
In these virtual times, how in the world do we get back on track?
You are experiencing the perfect storm. I have many clients, especially the larger ones trying to turn a big ship in a new direction, who are in this boat (not to mix metaphors). You don’t mention the size of your firm or whether you have a lot of leadership responsibility, so I’ll outline a process I often use with teams trying to get back on track. The beauty is that you can complete the process virtually and hopefully find a bonding experience as a result.
I call this the SHIFT model, and I’ve written about it previously, but I always come back to it when teams need to coalesce and move in the same direction. Have a virtual session, and if the team isn’t too big, do this over lunch and send everyone a voucher or delivery of food – people who are eating are always happier!
- Start by specifying your desired outcome. What does the team want to look like at the end of 2021, or by the end of 2022? Don’t just focus on quantitative, focus on qualitative. What will be working well? How will the team work together? Spend time gaining agreement on the vision for success.
- Highlight the obstacles and categorize them. This is what I call the therapy portion of the session. Allow people to put the obstacles in a list and talk about what’s in the way. Rather than sit with problems, however, make sure you categorize them: What can you control, what can you influence, what’s out of your control? Ask the team collectively to focus on what is controllable and what you can influence.
- Identify the human factor – are people now in wrong roles? What are each of the styles of communication of the different team members? Who has lost touch with one another? What stakeholders need to be engaged? Allow the human discussion to be thorough – it’s often where many of the difficulties lie.
- Find alternatives. What can be done to start to move toward where you want to be? What options are there and what are the pros and cons with each one? Stay open-minded. Frustrated people sometimes shut down so make sure this is an open brainstorming session. New ideas might come up that have not been thought of before
- Take disciplined action. Simply put. Have a plan – in writing. Who, what, when, how, how much and so on. Create the plan, circulate it, and hold people accountable.
When things have gone off track as you outline, it’s imperative to pull people together in a more formalized, planning way and get them back on track. This process will serve as a great framework for doing just that.
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.