Dealing With Bad Decisions In A Big Company

October 12, 2015

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

I have a question that I haven’t seen asked in this column before. I work for a large financial services firm. There are a number of divisions selling products and services, and, supposedly, there is market segregation. In some cases it’s real, but in many cases our own groups actually compete with one another for the business. Even worse, in my opinion, the leaders of these divisions are rewarded for practices that don’t really help the company. Sometimes they get “credit” and payment for business that isn’t even good business for us to take. I work in a compliance capacity, and I see the problems that arise when we take this bad business. Most of the time, it is obvious from the outset that it will cause us trouble, but everyone is trying to meet the numbers. They don’t want to hear about the problems. I realize that people will do what they are rewarded for, but why don’t the leaders of our company see the problems that these divisions cause? Why don’t they want people working together and toward a common goal that is good for the clients and good for the company? I don’t know how much I can influence anything from my role, but I would like to hear your thoughts on what I could do.

Victor R.

Dear Victor,

I have seen this happen many times in our industry. I don’t know whether the people at the top don’t know this is going on, don’t care or don’t have the capacity to address it, but I do see the stress it causes at the employee level while people in middle management and “on the street” have to figure out how to deal with the competing priorities. There is so much time and energy wasted, and I have witnessed many situations like the one you refer to where the company pays dearly for the bad business.

All that said, you and I are not going to turn the tide on this issue. I’m a believer in identifying obstacles and categorizing them: those you can control, those you can influence and those out of your control. This issue falls into the obstacles you probably can’t control from the position and level you are in. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality.

Remember that people like to make money and get paid very well in our industry. Ideas that mean they might earn less are never well received. If someone thinks they will lose something by a change that might be made they will fight that change either explicitly or by sabotaging and then you will be seen as the problem for raising “issues.”

However, there are always some steps you can take in the hopes of influencing change or just managing your own stress levels. First of all, remember you are not in charge and cannot control the decisions being made at this level. Take charge of all that you can control, and do your best with the area that belongs to you. Go home at night feeling like you have done the very best job you can do for the paycheck you are receiving.

In addition, perhaps you can find ways to show those in senior management the connection between the bad business that is written at the outset and the “cost” of undoing or dealing with compliance fallouts from this business. Sometimes numbers and impact on the bottom line make the difference.

You can also provide support to your colleagues who are in these competing positions. I have found that just acknowledging the difficulty in working in this type of environment can be helpful. At least they know that you see it and understand it.

There is so much opportunity left behind when companies operate with this dysfunction, but again you can only focus on what’s yours to solve.

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Dealing With Bad Decisions In A Big Company