Being the ‘Boss’ of an Advisory Firm Is Harder Than You Think

I got a fair number of comments on my column in the September issue of Investment Advisor, called “Six Ways to Identify Unhappy Employees.” I greatly appreciate the comments which, I believe, help advance the discussion. One in particular—from a person identified as ‘Swinta’—caught my attention, both because it focuses on a key problem and because the solution to that problem is not as obvious as it might seem. 

Swinta wrote:

I think you're missing a big reason employees become unhappy:  the boss/owner/manager/Dear Leader. The boss could be the problem if:

  • Most, if not all, new hires are generally positive and motivated, then in three to six months are exhibiting symptoms of unhappiness;
  • There's high turnover;
  • Nobody smiles;
  • And, when asked directly by the boss, employees say it's not the boss, it's them…. 

If you're the boss and you frequently have unhappy employees, it's your fault.  Quit making people sad.” 

Swinta is right, of course; Unhappy employees are almost always the result of something “the boss” is either doing or not doing. But to find a workable solution, it’s also very important to realize that it’s way easier to identify this problem than it is to fix it. 

For one thing, as I write in my October Investment Advisor column, determining the source of employee unhappiness usually isn’t as easy as it sounds, in large part because the reason(s) that employees give

for their unhappiness is rarely the real cause. So finding the right solution usually entails some tactful digging on the part of the owner/advisor to find the real source of the problem. Unfortunately, in my experience, most owner/advisors are inclined to simply give disgruntled employees whatever they ask for, which in many cases makes things worse.

Like many people, Swinta is overlooking an important reality: Being “the boss” isn't as easy as one might think—especially if you’ve never in that position. For owner/advisors, it’s particularly difficult. Not only are they typically not trained to manage people, they also have more than full time jobs being advisors, and trying to run a business. Balancing the needs of each of their employees with the needs of the other employees, the needs of the business, and with their own needs, is no small task, even for full-time managers. 

Over the years, I’ve found in my work with, and research on, business owners, that the most effective way for owner/advisors to create happy, super-productive employees is to focus on providing their employees with the support and tools they need to excel at their jobs. 

Whether they know it or not, all employees want to be good at their jobs, and to make an important—and recognized—contribution to the success of a very successful firm. If an owner helps them to be that employee, and recognize them for it, they’ll have great employees—and very successful business.

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