“I’m tired of working so hard for my boss, who is never here, so they can drive a Tesla!”
We heard this recently from an employee at an advisory firm. It certainly isn’t the first time we have heard of employees resenting their bosses, but it is seemingly becoming more common. In this case it wasn't really about the Tesla, it usually isn't - it was mounting frustration driven by several underlying issues. Keep in mind at the end of the day it is your firm and you can drive whatever you want. However, not addressing the underlying root causes can be very damaging to a firm’s culture, and derail any momentum you have worked hard to build.
Here are some insights as to what can cause resentment, and how to turn it into contentment instead.
- Poor Delegation and Communication - Many times firm owners are not clear enough in communicating what is urgent and important, because we tend to think everything is always important and urgent!
- What to do instead - Consider fully utilizing your CRM and/or project management software when delegating, and be prepared to follow up via phone to provide further clarity. Plus assign each task a level of criticalness like the Defense Department and their DEFCON warning system. DEFCON 1- I need daily updates until completion and DEFCON 5- here is the task and only report back when it is complete no updates necessary.
- Don’t Hold Themselves to Team Standards - The old adage of doing what I say and not what I do does not go over well with your team. Many firm owners relocated and/or started working virtually during the pandemic, but did not provide this flexibility to their team when lockouts ended. Some other examples are failure to follow processes and procedures, and blaming others for mistakes or incorrect decisions. I have learned that it is incredibly powerful when the leader falls on the sword when warranted just as long as it isn't too frequent 🙂
- What to do instead - Leaders need to strive to set good examples for people to follow. If working virtually is the new norm for you, afford the same flexibility to your team. Acknowledge when you make a mistake, what you learned from it, and move on. I’ve found this to be much more powerful in creating camaraderie and team-building than not addressing it or implying it was someone else’s fault. When your team thinks the rules don't apply to you, it can be tough to shift the tide back in your favor.
- Showing Favoritism - As tempting as it may be for you to let things slide for certain people, such as someone on your team that you have identified as a potential partner/successor, or a teammate who might be exceptionally skilled at business development and generates a lot of revenue for the firm, it reduces your credibility with everyone else.
- What to do instead - It is difficult at times, but strive to treat everyone as equally as possible. Stick to the pre-existing policies and procedures when assigning clients/workflow so all of the ‘good’ clients and assignments are spread around versus going to one person. Give everyone (ops, client service and advisory team) the opportunity to learn, further develop their career, and attend conferences.
- Micromanaging - Constantly checking, even if not your intent, comes across as a lack of trust for your team members. If your team is making a larger number of mistakes than usual, it is probably a symptom of a larger issue such as being stretched too thin, burned out from workload, personal life distractions, etc. Sometimes this stems from poor communication and delegation as mentioned above, but also from “absent owners” who aren't around for long periods of time, then upon their return expect everyone to give detailed reports without much notice.
- What to do instead - From our internal research and anecdotally, employees are much more content and loyal to leaders whom they see as ‘in the trenches with them.’ That does not necessarily mean you cannot have a business that you have worked years to build so you can live the life you want which may mean being out of the office for extended periods if that is your goal. You either need to hire additional people who will have a boots-on-the-ground presence that can be front-line managers, and/or more clearly communicate what your expectations are for reporting when you are away and return. It is also helpful to provide each one of your team members with the history of your firm when they first sign on, and insights into your goals going forward. It is very likely the people you have on your team were not with you or even alive when you were first starting out and, in a reasonable context, it is helpful for them to know where you/the firm started and how it has grown and what it took to get the business to where it is today. Hopefully, your team is somewhat familiar with this from your marketing materials, but if not consider working this in during your next performance review. Put it in the context of their career - something like: here is where I started, here is where we are now, and here is where we are going and we need your help to get there. Assuming you have hired the right people, most should not resent the fact that you may not want to keep the same pace as you did when you first started and they are thankful for the opportunities you have created for them.
We hope these were helpful and remember, you can be a great leader and manager and do everything right and still have someone who resents you, it comes with the territory of being the business owner. Remember, too, as your firm grows, your role must adapt to most likely shifting from technician to leader and manager unless you want to hire outside professional management. These skills may not come naturally, and you might have to work to develop them as you did with your technical and client relationship skills earlier in your career, but if you can maybe you can help shift the mindset of a resentful team member to this:
‘…It's no secret that [Firm Owners] put their heart into starting [Firm Name], and they continue to pour into their team. To commemorate the company's anniversary of operating as an independent firm and as a way to say "thank you" for all of the hard work and support we each have encountered, I would love to give [Firm Owners] a gift to help them celebrate 15 years in business…’
This is an email I recently received from an employee in a firm we work with that I have lightly edited to uphold anonymity. It isn't every day that an employee wants to celebrate their firm owner's longevity, success, and achievements, and it says a lot about the culture of respect, loyalty, and professionalism at this firm and that can be achieved within your own team.