When Politics and Business Clash
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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Have you dealt much with families in advisory firms? I work for a small firm, six of us in total. The founder is in his 70s and very vibrant, but not so involved in the day-to-day operations. His daughter is our COO, his son our CFO and legal and his former son-in-law our CIO (the CIO and the COO were divorced about 3.5 years ago). We now have his grandson who just graduated from college with his degree in English doing marketing and client communications. I’m the client service person but also the office manager. I have been here seven years and when the daughter, “Sue,” and her former husband, “John,” were divorced it was very acrimonious. Our founder, “Paul,” let us all know that John was the brains behind our very successful investment strategies and so if it came to it, Sue would leave before John would. Since then they have worked relatively peacefully together and stayed away from each other as much as possible.
The issue is that John is very involved in politics in our community and his political leanings are the total opposite of the rest of the family and of mine. I suspect it is some of what went wrong in the marriage, although no one has voiced this.
John wants to have client webinars and do some local speaking to tie the market conditions to failures of one of the current or past political parties (I don’t want to get into his leanings because it will distract from my question). I am adamantly opposed to doing this. We don’t select our clients based on their political affiliation. We have no idea who we will insult and what the fallout will be. The grandson (who is not a child of the family members at the firm) is not in a position to speak up. He is forging ahead and planning these with John, creating the slides and the storyline. I know Sue won’t say anything and Paul is out of the picture so much he wouldn’t even realize what was going on until we get nasty notes from upset clients.
I have tried to appeal to John, saying I respect his point of view, which I do although I don’t agree with it. He just calls me some impolite things in response and tries to sideline my view because it doesn’t jive with his.
Do I let him go forward with this? Do I beg Paul to intervene? Do I separately try and get the grandson to see the danger here? My husband says I should quit the job and find someplace else. But I’ve been here so long and in general I enjoy my job; I love the clients and I haven’t had any other issues.
When I used to teach an undergraduate class in small business management, we had an entire track on family business because the dynamics are much more complicated here than in a regular business— even with all of the human dynamics one encounters there. I’ve worked with many family-owned and operated advisory firms and I have seen all iterations of family interactions. I have a sensitivity to the concerns you are raising and the difficulties in dealing with them effectively.
There may not be much you can do in your role without creating disruption within the firm. If you haven’t already taken these steps, some ideas include:
- Try to appeal to Sue and explain you do not want to create a rift between her and John, but you are concerned about how these sessions are going to be received by the clients. Explain that while you value education and updates and likely the clients do too, you’d prefer to see it delivered in a more objective manner. First ask if she could just give you guidance in how to deal with it rather than asking her directly to intervene.
- Ask John to sit down and review the presentation together. Rather than show him how offensive it is, ask him how he thinks certain slides could be received by someone who doesn’t share the same viewpoints? Ask him what his goal really is – is it to change the minds of people who have a different political leaning, is it to share important information about the market and trend, is it to let clients know his own political preferences? If you help someone view the end goal – or desired outcome – and then work backwards, at times you can help them see how the steps they are taking won’t lead them to what they eventually want to accomplish.
- Offer alternative approaches. John is a CIO with a strong viewpoint, while the grandson in this picture is a young guy who hasn’t had much experience. You might be able to play a role in providing new ideas or ways to get the same information across by sharing it differently. Perhaps give a couple of options so John could choose which approach he likes best. This could be a default setting for him, and he doesn’t know what else to do to share this important information.
If you have done all of these things and John is still adamant he is going ahead then you will be faced with a choice. You can either set expectations with your clients to let them know they may hear some great information with a tint of political reference, or you can simply let the presentation happen and deal with any fallout. The only good news in these politically charged times is that many people are so used to strong opinions from both sides of the aisle they may not even pick up on the nuances you are noticing.
And then, as your husband is coaching you, as with any situation where the culture does not support your beliefs or you are embarrassed to go to work or cannot do your job effectively when you do go, finding another opportunity is certainly a reasonable option.
What do you do when you work in a large organization that is undergoing change, you are three years into the same role with your fifth boss, and you find yourself trying to prove your worth over and over and over again? Is this going on in all large financial organizations? I have devoted 20+ years of my career to this company. I am not inclined to quit but it gets tiresome to prove again and again that I can do the same job I have been doing now successfully for three years.
This latest boss is a lovely person and I like her a lot, but she has no experience in our aspect of the business. She spends hours asking me questions about things she is responsible for. It distracts me from my work, and I still feel like she is judging whether I am qualified to be doing this job. It is very stressful. But I don’t want to jump and find myself in a worse situation elsewhere. At least here I have a lot of friends and contacts and I could probably find myself another place to go within the firm if I had to. But the whole thing is exhausting.
“Exhausting” is a word I am hearing lately from many of my clients. It is a tough time for everyone coming off (hopefully) 2+ years of pandemic, dealing with economic considerations, inflation and with market vagaries. Everyday seems to serve up something new to manage and deal with.
The short answer is “yes.” Most large and even smaller organizations I am working with are dealing with significant change. Many people are concerned about what’s next. It’s unfortunately not uncommon right now for people to change leaders, positions and job responsibilities and not know how long-lasting any of the changes will be.
Your best bet in times of turmoil is two-fold – keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities in the market. I have found when we remind ourselves there is a world outside, it helps to manage the conditions we’re in. You are not this job, or this employer. Your life is bigger than this. Talk to others, investigate the job situation outside of the company, talk to other people – not for the purposes of jumping to another job, but to remind yourself there is a big world out there. In parallel, see what you can do to be helpful to your boss. With all the changes, she might not last very long anyway and if you show yourself to be a “go-to” person she might remember you wherever she goes next.
At a point in my career when we were undergoing tremendous change, someone coined the term “bungee boss” because people were coming in and out of management roles faster than we could digest. Some of these people became good friends and colleagues of mine – to this day. Just because you have someone you believe should not be in charge, doesn’t mean it is a relationship you should ignore and discard. Try and view everything as an opportunity for learning, and for developing. It is challenging and stressful but you can manage to find opportunities in the midst of what you are going through. Sometimes it is about the attitude. While I never recommend rose-colored glasses that pretend all is well when it is not, I do recommend trying to find silver linings wherever you can. It is all transitional and if you become too connected to what’s happening today, you will lose sight of the opportunities that might come tomorrow.
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.