The Role Of The Human-Touch In A Numbers Business


The Role Of The Human-Touch In A Numbers Business

June 16, 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,

Our numbers are really strong this year. We’ve made many modifications to our portfolio management process, and it is paying off. One of our clients is getting great returns but complaining more than ever. How do we get him to see the benefit of what we are doing? I think the numbers speak for themselves, but I know I am missing something. In every conversation he brings up something new that he thinks we should be doing.

Pat O.

Dear Pat,

There is a misconception in the investment and financial services business that the numbers tell all. But the numbers aren’t the whole story; they connect (on both sides of the equation) to human beings. Even in a business-to-business setting, it’s human beings making the decisions. One thing we know about humans – they are often irrational. Most people make decisions and react to things from an emotional – not a logical — perspective.

In your case, you have a client that “should be” happy with his results. However, his behavior tells you that he is not. There are two reasons this might be happening:

  1. Behaviorally you may have someone who is more comfortable complaining than complimenting. Some people are wired to find problems, so they’ll overlook the good stuff in search of the things to be fixed. He might be more comfortable in critic mode than in compliment mode. If this is the case, you may never get the satisfaction of hearing him say, “Great job!” If he is staying with you and is otherwise engaged, it might not be a problem. The problem could be that you want his validation. Realize you might not get it.
  2. You might be overlooking warning signs. He may not value strong performance alone. He might be looking for other variables such as response time, education or market insights. It could be that you believe you should be measured on performance but that’s your value structure. If he hasn’t given you that as a “success indicator,” you might be missing some other things that he cares about. His complaints could be his way of trying to bring you back to his priorities.

On one side, you could be dealing with a behavioral expectation you have that he can meet because of the way he is wired. On the other side, you could be getting cues from him about what matters and you are ignoring them in favor of focusing on what you care about instead.

The important point to recognize is that even though the numbers don’t lie, most people don’t separate their money from the rest of their lives and what they care about. You may keep trying to make this a logical, rational discussion, and he may be reacting from a more emotional, personal space.

Try to understand what’s happening. Instead of working to find the secret to proving your value or to get him to realize how well you’ve performed, be curious about his behavior. You see it as a disconnection from the facts, so treat his behavior the same you might research a number that doesn’t make sense in your performance reports, Try and drop the defensive posture in favor of learning more about why he is acting this way.

It can be challenging to do this, but the insights will often be very valuable.

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