Dealing With a Team Member Who Refuses to Listen
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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What do you do with an intractable advisor? I was brought into a larger advisory firm where we are trying to make some changes and have our previously siloed advisors work more closely with others in the firm. We have missed opportunities because of breakdowns in communication. We are solving a bit of it through a newly installed CRM, but we need a human effort.
“Larry”, one of the advisors I’ve inherited, is an “It’s not my job” type of guy. He has told me everything from “I don’t like working with them,” to “Clients don’t care about what we care about,” to “I am not getting paid to do more, why should I do more?”
It’s infuriating because to me it is very clear. We are doing a disservice to our clients when we don’t communicate internally. We miss chances to support them in broader ways and we leave them vulnerable to getting help from our competitors. Larry doesn’t see this or doesn’t care to see it.
I could ignore Larry if he were not so important to our efforts. Because he has been around for a while, he has a following. He is also a loud person so can be heard having discussions in meetings and in our coffee room about what he considers “the nonsense” we are bringing into the organization.
How do I get someone like this on my side?
This is a timely question because I ran a training this week on coaching advisors to make behavior change. We spoke quite a bit about intractable team members. Keep in mind a couple of key things when you’re asking someone to make a shift:
1. People generally don’t like change. Change is worrisome because we don’t know what’s on the other side of it. If someone, like Larry, is successful, the fear and concern of not being successful with whatever shifts he is being asked to make can block acceptance of trying something new.
2. You did hire Larry into a different role. There is a big shift going on in our industry in most of the organizations whereby financially oriented people who enjoy helping are now also being asked to grow the business too. They are shifting responsibilities and areas of measurement and focus. This is not necessarily bad; it just needs be considered. The same person might not have taken the original role, so you want to consider how to make sure they are trained and coached on moving into different areas of responsibility.
You can ask someone like Larry to change. But consider whether big things are circulating in the background that could be causing him to appear difficult but that are realities too. Sometimes we see the negative behavior, but we don’t realize other factors that are contributing to this behavior.
What do you do to work with someone who is fearful, resistant, angry and has a following with capability to rally the troops against what you are trying to accomplish?
1. Meet him where he is. Instead of seeing him as a problem, make him an ally. This often looks like asking someone for advice – “Larry, it’s hard to move a ship that has been headed in a great direction for so long but needs to shift with the changes in the industry. I know you’ve been very successful here, what do we need to do to engage people differently?” It can be very disarming for someone who is pushing against you to find you approaching them in a collaborative manner. I’d try this first and see how he responds.
2. Work to reframe Larry’s concerns. Many advisors do not like the idea of pushing clients, being aggressive or trying to get clients to buy more. I once did a presentation to a room of 1,000 advisors asking them what they thought about being asked to sell. The responses were stunning. The words they used were the most negative imaginable. Reframe and help him understand no one needs to push or be aggressive. They need to listen to clients and be interested enough in helping that client to introduce them to others within the organization. You don’t want to spend a lot of time telling him sales is a good thing, rather show him how much the clients benefit from this approach, and you are doing them a disservice not to be considerate of their needs.
3. Approach Larry when you overhear him being negative in a public way with team members. You can’t let this go unaddressed. I don’t know your style or his, but I’d likely consider some sort of humorous way. “Larry, don’t tell me you are still stuck in the old ways of doing things! Our competitors are stepping up and we have to do the same!” You might be able to present a contrary view that shows everyone this isn’t your idea alone but rather an industry shift that is happening. I’d be careful of course; you would not want to embarrass him, but you can’t let him say his piece without giving a counter view.
This is hard because of these factors and more. But it can be managed. Unfortunately, in some cases, the Larry’s of the organization may leave or you might have to manage them out. The world is changing, and no one has the luxury of sitting still while it does.
Is it common to be dealing with bullies and resistance from the next generation? We have someone, a mid-20s advisor, who came from a larger organization and has several credentials and some good experience and as a result seems to think he should be running everything.
Is this the younger generation in general? How do we put someone like this in his place, so we’re not confronted about every move we need to make?
I sense your frustration through your words but I’m wondering if you aren’t applying a too broad-based filter based on one experience? I’m also wondering whether your colleague might have some good ideas and is becoming frustrated because no one is listening and therefore gets angry and turns into a “bully” as a result?
I teach graduate school and most of my students are between 21-25 years old. My experience every semester is very different. I find the next generation of this age range to be open, professional and very respectful. They enjoy learning.
It’s not just because I am the professor. I also employ 20-somethings in my firm and work with many from a coaching or training perspective. I am most always very impressed with their ideas, their willingness to apply experiences yet learn, and their hunger to make things better. I can’t agree with the broad statement about the entire generation at all, at least from my own experiences.
Change your approach with this advisor and ask for input and his ideas. Let him know you can’t implement everything he wants to do. But you are open to hear and to consider. If you don’t see him as threatening and aggressive, and you change your approach, he likely will calm down and change in response. If not, and he is a bully and causing disruption in the firm, then perhaps the cultural fit is not there, and you need to consider managing him out.
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.