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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We lost our operations manager (“Debbie”) last fall. Her partner got COVID and ended up dying from it. She was naturally very traumatized and decided she no longer wanted to deal with clients and advisors complaining all the time (those were her departing words). We honored her wishes, gave her a nice transition plan and threw a big going-away party.
We have been looking for someone to fill her shoes for almost six months. But we keep hitting a wall because our team is concerned about the attitude problem and that we find someone who is overjoyed to work with us and our clients. I have read enough of your work on behavioral style that I don’t think we are going to find a cheerleader who is also good with detail and process, which is what we need for our operations role.
Debbie was in a very bad way when she left. She had lost her partner, was worried about her own health (there were a number of other things going on) and couldn’t wait to leave. After 17 years with us and after all she had been through with her personal life, she was in a bad place. I don’t know that she would have said prior to this that she wanted to get away from us and our clients. You don’t stay somewhere 17 years if it is that terrible.
I am stuck with how to move forward. Do we revise the role? Do I take someone who is upbeat and cheery but maybe isn’t so attentive to the details of our day to day? We have someone filling the seat on an interim basis. But I know he wants to go back to focusing solely on his compliance responsibilities. It is stressful for him and for us.
Should I let my partners know they are making mountains out of molehills? I believe they are, but having Debbie be so direct and negative put them out. We must put someone who is qualified in the role and work with them the best we can. How do I convince them of this?
You have several questions and concerns embedded in your note. Let me parse them out and address each one. I wonder what I am missing and what other dynamics might be going on at your firm. Forgive me for suspecting a level of trouble, but it doesn’t make sense that you are attracting cheerleader-type people for an operations role! In addition, it doesn’t make sense your partners would be content to let over a half year go by without taking steps to fill this role and putting up resistance based on what a departing employee (albeit a long-time, likely highly trusted one) had to say.
I will outline my recommendations based on what you have written and you can apply the ones that are pertinent to your situation.
- Write a clear job description without Debbie in mind. Ideally what do you need this person to do? What are the circumstances under which they will work? How will you measure success in this role? What qualities do you need? What experience must they have? Your partners need to get in a room and whiteboard all of this. Don’t stop just at the duties in a job description. Be clear and expansive about your needs, wants and desires for this person and this role. Put Debbie and her comments to the side and start with a blank slate.
- Talk with the person filling in this role now. How is he finding the work? What qualities does he deem most important? How much interaction and upbeat communication does he believe is required? You’ve had someone in Debbie’s shoes, even temporarily, for half a year. Get the data from him you need on what’s required.
- Have a clear interview process with organized questions in advance. Give the questions to each advisor and have them ask the same things in a different way to each candidate. Compare notes. Have a checklist you are using (based on #1 and #2 above) to be more objective together about the candidate and where they fit and where they don’t.
- If it is appropriate and someone has a connection to Debbie, reach out to her to get more clarity on her statement. With this much time passed, she might have an entirely different view which could obviate the whole problem!
We onboarded several new people during COVID. We were planning a big event, outdoors, to introduce everyone and allow spouses/partners to join. Three of our advisors went to meet with a client recently who later called and said she had been diagnosed with COVID. The advisors feel fine and still want to go on with the event. My HR person is adamantly against it. How are firms solving for this issue now that we are not really back and still getting sick?
My inclination was to not touch this question. This has become such a polarized issue I’m afraid whatever I say will be misconstrued. Recently one of my partners and I traveled to see an advisor client in the Midwest. Both my partner and I were feeling fine, and all was well until we got back. After delivering a day and a half of training, and my partner called the next morning to say she had been diagnosed with COVID. We let the client know. They had protocols in place to deal with it. We were bothered we had to disrupt their process. But this is the world we live in! We had no idea there was a problem and thankfully no one else (including me, who sat next to her on the plane) got sick.
That said, there are immune-compromised people and your firm might not even know who they are. You might inadvertently put someone in a bad position should you insist they attend the event.
The safest thing is to delay it until you are sure the advisors who have it are fully cleared. Make attendance outdoors and optional once you do hold the event. Ask people to self-test just before the event. I’m not an HR expert and don’t want to overrule what they are suggesting. But businesses benefit from getting their team members together, especially when many new members have joined who have never met other team members.
Poll your firm and see what people are comfortable with if you’ve not done that already. I’m interested in what other firms are doing on this topic. Let me know your views by commenting on this article!
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.