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The Consequences of Apathy

Minneapolis—“Well, we’re into that time of year where everyone’s focus is getting out on the lakes,” Ken said. “My challenge is getting everyone, especially my partner, focused on their job while they’re in the office—I don’t care what they do on the lake, but when they’re at work, I need them to work.”

Ouch! In listening to Ken vent, it was easy for me picture the scene. Everyone gets along, his partner is not as driven, and the rest of the team takes its cue from his apathetic partner. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the business is in which one plies his or her trade; there is no place for apathy at any level. And when it surfaces, as Ken is discovering, it has consequences.

You don’t need to be involved in a Harvard Business Review case study to predict the consequences; none is positive. Ken’s immediate concern is getting everyone to perform during the dog days of summer. However there could be many more serious consequences lurking on the horizon—and they involve his relationship with his partner.

Granted, this is the time of year when it is easy for people to get a bit lax toward work. After all, the reasoning goes, everybody’s on vacation and not much gets done anyway. Well, that might be true for financial advisors, but the last time I checked, the financial crisis hasn’t taken the summer off, nor have personal health issues. (My cycling partner, a cardiologist, couldn’t go on a long ride because he was on call this past weekend.)

A recent HBR article, “Building a Collaborative Enterprise,” by Paul Adler, Charles Heckscher, and Laurence Prusak in the July-August 2011 issue, discusses “four
keys to creating a culture of trust and teamwork.” Although this excellent article wasn’t directed toward financial advisors, its message was all about collaboration, and it was obvious that the basic principles could be used to address potential apathy within any team. In Ken’s case, it will either help them get back on track or create a confrontation with his partner.

However, before I share these four keys, you should take a quick apathy assessment of your players. The following are a handful of signals:

• Work not getting completed on time.
• Mistakes and sloppy work.
• Present in body but not in mind.
• More impromptu (unscheduled) out-of-office activities.
• Less goal focus.
• Too much chatter during working hours.
• Increased personal communication (texts, personal calls, etc.).
• More excuses.
• Ineffective or skipped team meetings.

The list is endless. My intention is simply to get your antenna tuned into recognizing apathy so you can deal with it. What’s so dangerous about apathy within a team is that it’s contagious. And it doesn’t have to be a partner who’s the initial carrier.

The four keys outlined by Adler, Heckscher and Prusak can serve as an antidote to apathy, especially if it’s seasonal in nature. I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing these four keys into advisor-speak.

1. Define and build a shared purpose. Whenever apathy manifests itself, the team leader would be well-advised to call a team meeting or a summer group offsite to reinforce the team vision, make certain it’s clearly linked to the annual goals, and that everyone is fully committed to reaching these targets.

2. Develop an atmosphere of contribution. The authors write, “The collaborative view rejects the notion of merely ‘doing a good job,’ unless that actually makes a contribution.” How does this translate? Everybody needs to pitch in whenever necessary. This can be facilitated by including a portion of each weekly team meeting to recognizing individual contributions to the team’s goals. The idea is to get people to think beyond their specific role.

3. Develop processes that facilitate collaboration. For instance, if one person is responsible for putting together financial organizers, another team member’s role includes reviewing the organizer. Then both sign off on it as “approved,” to be delivered to the client. Now ownership is shared.

4. Creating a collaborative environment. As the authors write, “We do not wish to downplay the undeniable challenge of building collaborative communities.” Your community is your team/practice; by developing the processes that promote collaboration, this is a realistic goal. However, this requires good leadership, as collaboration must become part of the culture within the team/practice.

As you can see, properly applied, this type of collaboration is an antidote to apathy. But it will not occur by itself—this is a leadership issue. However, if you’re burdened with an apathetic team leader, good luck in applying the aforementioned.

Team leaders must be able to recognize apathy wherever (even in themselves) and whenever it appears, and eliminate it. My guess is that Ken had noticed his partner’s apathy some time ago, and the summer simply brought it to a head. Recognition without action breeds contempt, which is not a good consequence.

Whether or not you recognize any form of summertime apathy in your practice, applying your version of these four keys should improve performance at all levels. The idea is to think in terms of making a point this summer to reinforce your team’s goals and emphasize the importance of contribution and collaboration. This will steer you clear of any of the consequences of apathy.
Summer is the perfect time for social prospecting. If you would like a FREE version of our social prospecting webinar, please visit our download center by clicking here. Enjoy!

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Once again, we want to thank all of you who have e-mailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trusts & Estates magazines, at [email protected].

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