Our Meetings are Useless
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 have a very good relationship with a senior leader (“Joe”) in the advisory profession who I have known for many years. We work in different firms, but once worked together and came to like and respect one another. Joe and I have another mutual friend (“Anne”) who works for a third firm. At one point we all worked together. Joe and I have stayed very close. I’m not as close with Anne but I respect her capabilities and always enjoyed working with her.
Joe is now running the operational area within a very large advisory firm. He is well-known, well-liked and has a lot of contacts he has developed over his 23-year career in the profession. His head of operations recently walked out and he has been struggling to replace her. He contacted Anne asking her if she would consider the role.
Anne then called me to let me know about this connection. She had several disparaging things to say about Joe and his leadership style. She told me she has stayed in contact with him largely because he is so connected in the profession. But she would never want to work for him. In our old lives they were peers; none of us were senior to the other.
I would like this role. I’ve been in operations, technology and compliance for almost three decades and I am getting tired of my current employer. I want a place to retire from and this isn’t it. However, I’m uncomfortable approaching Joe because he knows my background and he didn’t ask me about this the same way he asked Anne. Joe and I have what I thought was a good friendship but now I’m not so sure.
The kicker is that when Anne called me, it occurred to me that Joe might have a perspective about my work and my talent. Maybe he doesn’t want to work with me again or doesn’t believe I can do a good job. This would mean someone who is well connected in the industry could be disparaging me! How do I handle this with Joe? I don’t want to reveal that Anne called me because of what she said. But Joe hasn’t told me directly he is trying to hire for this role.
I know this sounds like some junior high school stuff but the stakes are high and it is a small profession and I don’t want to “burn bridges.”
Your dilemma points out an important fact of communication and human relationships: honesty is not always the best policy.
I’m not advocating for lying, but it could be the easy thing to say, “Just be honest with Joe and tell him what’s happening.” However, you rightly point out the many flaws in that simplistic approach: Anne potentially loses face and does not trust you, Joe has a perception of you that might be negative and could prompt him to speak to others in a disparaging manner, and you have absolutely no idea why Joe would not have contacted you. Ultimately, you would be going into the discussion blind to his thoughts. These are all legitimate concerns, and I can see why this isn’t an easy answer.
Here are a few options depending on the nature of your relationship with Anne and then also with Joe. You have told me a great deal, but human relationships are deep and complex and there are about a dozen other questions I would want to ask you before I would recommend anything:
- Consider calling Anne back and saying to her “I know you expressed negativity about working for Joe and I honor that. I also honor our confidential discussion. I might like the role working for Joe myself. Would you be willing to call him and put in a good word and suggest talking to me?”
- Invite Joe out for coffee or lunch and generally ask him about what’s going on at his firm and what he is working on. Tell him you noticed he no longer has a director of operations – the profession is small and this wouldn’t be secret information if the person has been gone for a bit. Tell him you don’t know what he is doing next to fill the role, but you’d like to put your name in the running if it was appropriate to do so.
- If appropriate, send a resume along to Joe generally letting him know you are looking for your next stop and have decided you want to move on from where you are. Ask him to keep his eyes open about any roles, such as operations, that might be suited to you.
- Whatever you do, don’t let Joe know Anne’s feelings about him and working for him. This isn’t your story to tell. Sometimes we want to engage people and align with them by sharing the secrets of others. This is never a good strategy and more often backfires.
My recommendations are a bit more stealth than I would usually be. That’s deliberate. You don’t have enough information here to know what Joe is thinking and how he will react. While you have developed a good relationship with him and kept it over time, there is something in the way here or likely Joe would have reached out to you or at minimum talked to Anne about you too. Something is blocking open communication and while I could advocate for you to be the one to open it up, I don’t want to set you up to encounter a problem, so I am hedging a bit more than I might normally.
We have a terrible time with internal meetings. They don’t happen. They happen but there is no agenda. There are arguments during the meetings about what we should be focusing on. They end with no next steps.
I’m junior to most of the team so I don’t know how to bring this up. I find myself getting more and more disillusioned with the firm and losing respect for our leadership. It’s become a joke amongst those of us who support the leaders, “Another day of useless meetings – or not – on deck.”
Can I tell someone this in a way that could be more productive?
The “someone” is always the key question. Is there a leader or senior person in the organization you trust and have a good relationship with such that you could approach them in a casual fashion and ask to talk about the meeting structure within the firm? This would be a good place to start. You want to be sure your emotional intelligence (EQ) is high, and you are self-regulating when you do it so you don’t get emotional and say something that comes across as overly negative. Ask if they are open to some feedback and say you aren’t sure how to raise the issue so you’d like to get some advice.
If you don’t have a person like this, send an email (if your culture would allow for this) to all of the leaders with suggestions about how you see these meetings and asking if there is openness to change some of the approaches to make them more productive and useful for the team. Again, you have to approach them in a softer manner and see if they are willing to consider new information and ideas. Most leaders will appreciate someone who cares enough to have a nicely formulated and professional opinion, but some find it offensive that an employee would tell them what to do.
Offer to run a meeting or take over management of the meetings. It is very possible the leaders get busy, have not assigned this to anyone and get frustrated themselves because they realize they are not as productive as they could be. They might welcome the help and allow you to make the changes you see as necessary.
I would not allow this to go unaddressed indefinitely. When you talk about losing respect and considering leaving your firm because of this issue, your leaders deserve a chance to respond and address it. They might not take it, in which case you would then know what kind of culture they want to embrace. But they might see you as being helpful and effective for them, in which case you could have an illustrious career ahead of you there!
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.