Irrational Fear Holding Your Team Back? Here’s How To Move Forward

Matthew Jarvis shares his strategy for addressing his team’s fear of change and how to overcome that fear to earn their commitment to his next big idea.

5 min read

Matthew Jarvis
Financial Planner, CFP®

Yes, your name is on the wall, and you write the paychecks. But there’s more to getting your team to follow your lead than simply being the big guy in charge.

If your team isn’t committed to following a strategic change, that lack of commitment will show in their client interactions, making significant changes like a fee increase, a hard sell for your clients.

Being a leader isn’t about giving your team the ultimatum on things by being the dictator of your office. You can’t force your team to buy into your next big idea. Instead, as the leader, you’re guiding them to see things from a different perspective, giving the big picture view and allowing them to see their place in it.

When you feel it’s time to make a significant strategy change, such as new technology, a new process, system, or even a fee increase, you’re not going to force the new thing on them but rather take their input to help you devise the best way to do it.

The last thing you want is for them to think, “Oh no, Matthew gave us this crazy initiative, laughed, and then left on vacation. He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on!”

Empowering your team is a critical function of the Perfect RIA, and here’s how you do it.


A lesson in leadership

I decided it was time to raise my fees a few years ago. I wanted to take my thirty clients who had under one million dollars in assets managed from a 1% AUM fee to 1.5% AUM. I had put this fee increase off for several years because I was afraid of the fallout. I thought I would lose all my clients, lose my business, and go bankrupt over it.

I let fear take control of my decision-making. It wasn’t until I had a Mastermind with Micah Shilanksi that I decided to be proactive about this and raise my fees.

After I had planned how to roll out the new fee structure, I intentionally gathered my staff to introduce my plan to increase fees. As I explained the fee increase, I noticed the room became hushed, and everyone was somewhat reserved.

After some prodding, my team expressed the same fears that kept me from raising my fees for so long: they were afraid we’d lose all of our clients, their jobs, and their homes and go bankrupt.

I could have said, “It’s my name on the wall, and you’ll do as I say—increase the fees by next week!”

But when you use the dictator’s approach, you lose your team’s commitment to the new thing you’re trying to implement; in this case, that was a drastic fee increase. And a lack of commitment will come through in client interactions, dooming the fee increase to fail.

As the leader of my practice, I decided to use advice from Tim Ferriss and have a fear-setting session with my team. You must not dismiss their fears when you’re fear-setting with your team. Fear in and of itself is irrational; you don’t need to point that out.

Instead, take time to acknowledge their fears and echo them right back so your team can feel heard and understood. Then walk them through your solutions and guide them to the big picture.

The big picture of our fee increase was that even if we lost ten clients, we’d gain more revenue than we had before. We would keep our fee loss.

If the worst-case scenario were to happen, I reassured my team that I would take the financial hit, as this was my business decision and my risk. My team members would still have jobs, and the firm could keep the lights on.

Once they understood that I had put much thought into this drastic change and that I had solutions for their worst-case scenarios, they felt much better about the new fee.

In the end, I placed our fee increase on hold for one quarter. I wasn’t being altruistic or wanting to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I was looking for the best outcome for my firm, which means having full buy-in from my team.

To ease the transition in the meantime, I worked with my team to create a safety net they could fall back on if upset clients called the office. Together, we worked on scripts that they could use. Our scripts gave them an out so they could pass the client on to me and avoid the client’s furry.

Knowing they weren’t on the hook for my business decision, my team was much more comfortable with the new fee rollout, and the whole thing went off without a single hitch. In fact, we didn’t lose a single client over the new fees. Their worst case-scenarios never played out.

When you’re implementing a significant change, here are some things you should remember about handling your team’s fears:

  • Understand that fear is irrational and outlandish what-ifs are a reality in their world. Give them space to express those fears—don’t dismiss them!
  • Develop a process to handle worst-case scenarios—even the least likely outcomes. Your team will feel better knowing there’s a process they can follow. 
  • Set a mutually agreed safety net: if the new billing tech isn’t ready to roll out two weeks before billing is due, use the old tech and implement the new stuff on the next cycle. 
  • Reassure your team that you’ll take the brunt of your business decisions: they won’t be left on the hook to deal with angry clients and won’t lose their employment or get yelled at by following the outlined process.

Now, this doesn’t mean you’re relinquishing control of your office to your team’s irrational fears. You’re working together and guiding your team through their fears to see the big picture (and bigger reward) on the other side of that fear. 

Happy Planning!

Action Item

Is there an essential change in your practice that you’ve been putting off? Let’s implement it! 

1. Take some time to work through possible pushback and fears your team could have about this new thing. 

2. Write yourself scripts to rehearse so that when you intentionally meet with your team to discuss the new thing—you’re not stuck like a deer in headlights unprepared. 

3. Address your team’s fears and together create a safety net for moving forward.

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