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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Motivating Team Members
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Dear Bev,

Recently we hired a consultant to help us decide whether we needed to change our organizational structure. We have been hearing grumblings that some of our longer term people believe they are being overlooked. All of these staff members are in the operations side of our firm. They get generous bonuses at the end of each year when they reach the quantitative and qualitative goals that have been established. But as far as career pathing there aren’t many other places they can go.

The consultant devised a synthetic structure. There are artificial layers of “senior” and “associate” titles and these would be based on tenure. Is it important for us to institute something like this? I had asked him what happens when someone gets to “senior” and stays there for a few years – what next? Are we setting expectations that this continues? Am I being old school? I believe we could have people who excel at their roles and stay in those roles for many years being rewarded in many other ways.

The consultant proposed this but we have not socialized it with our team to determine if they believe it would resolve the issue.

Pete V.

Dear Pete,

You are facing what I find to be an increasingly difficult dilemma. The scenario: Dedicated team members who are giving it their all, and (in your case) being recognized for their contributions in a monetary fashion but seeming to be stuck professionally with nowhere else to move up in the organization. This can happen in even the largest of organizations but it is a real dilemma for smaller firms who can’t afford to create layers, and organizational hierarchy for the sake of doing so.

I wonder if the consultant explored other options to reward these folks and have them “move up” in ways other than job title and hierarchy. People are motivated for all sorts of things and could feel recognized if they were to achieve a level where they could (as an example) avail themselves, at the firm’s cost, of training opportunities such as achieving a degree or certification, or just to honing a skill. Is it possible to add layers of benefits – additional vacation time or earned personal days for achieving a certain level? In my corporate days in life insurance, people “earned” a better office, or a plant, or the ability to purchase pictures depending on their level. I’m not saying to go this far, but these were ways the company could acknowledge and reward seniority and level, without giving people a lot of extra money or even a bigger title!

I recommend you take the time to explore what your operations folks are actually asking about. It might be that they are offering significant levels of client service and interaction but they are the only ones left out of some bonus pool based on client AUM. Sometimes the back office is disgruntled because they perceive themselves to be keeping the clients happy and holding things together, but not monetarily recognized the way the advisors or business development people may be. Have you done an employee survey? Where are these comments coming from? Is it one person or many? What words do they use to describe their frustration?

If I were the consultant I would want to probe into these issues – I call it “solving the right problem” and staying focused on what matters and what’s going to result in a win for you and your team.

To directly answer your question, I agree with you that the proposal of these new levels seems fake and artificial and meant to provide a salve for their wounded egos. I’m just not sure it is a real enough solution to have your team believing you heard their concern and you are addressing it.

One last thing: I would talk with each individual personally to ascertain, for each of them, what’s really important to them. When you hear complaints like this, take it as a chance to learn more about what motivates each person and what they care about.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.