Navigating the gray zone


For years, I’ve championed practice management best practices — those processes and procedures accepted as being the “best” or most effective way to do business. For example, creating a written business plan and embracing strategic marketing that encompasses everything from branding to social media are both tried-and-true activities that can generate positive business results.

There are times, though, when what you know you should do is overruled by your feelings. Let’s consider a few examples.

That new employee who’s struggling

You hire a new employee — let’s call her Sally. You’re excited by the prospect of transferring work off your plate to hers. But within weeks of starting her job, even before she’s fully trained, Sally starts coming in late and taking sick days, and then she asks for a week off the following month.

She has a great attitude, and you want to be a flexible boss, so you acquiesce. By the end of the second month, though, the situation has worsened. You’ve already met with Sally to review her job description and discuss expectations. Now you’re ready to revisit and document that conversation. During your meeting, Sally reveals that her mother has been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis doesn’t look good.  

The gray zone: Employees are paid to do a job. If they don’t do the job, they don’t get to be an employee. Best practice says to cut the cord when an arrangement isn’t working out. On the other hand, Sally’s situation is a difficult one that speaks to your personal value system. How could you possibly fire someone who’s going through such a tough time?

Naming your successor

You’re coming up on your 70th birthday. The other advisers in your firm have been harping on you for years to articulate your succession plan. But the thought of letting go, giving up control and sharing your precious client relationships with someone else isoverwhelming. Who are you if you’re not your clients’ financial adviser? You’re procrastinating, of course, because you haven’t defined your next chapter.  

The gray zone: Best practice says that successors should be named from the outset, no matter how old you are, and that multi-adviser firms should have an internal succession policy. But times have changed — 70 is the new 50, right? If you’ve still got it, why make retirement an age-related issue? The individual who values innovation may look to redefine what it means to retire, while the best practice identifies succession planning as a critical component of risk management.

Understanding what makes you tick

Regardless of where you are in your career, you’re likely to find yourself dealing with situations like these. How will you navigate the gray zone between the decision to follow a best practice and your personal values?

Self-awareness and honesty are key to this understanding. And with that knowledge, you can more quickly identify where the conflict lies and make the choices that will allow you to see progress in your business and still abide by your personal value system.

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Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at

Written by Investors Wallets

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