It may not surprise you to read that social behavior can have an effect on productivity in the workplace. But it may surprise you to learn that not all social behavior leads to a negative impact on productivity. There are numerous examples where certain types of social behavior can contribute to a financial advisor’s team-related productivity as well as personal productivity.

In a study conducted last September by the George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development, Charles Kurose wrote about two theories, “goal setting theory” and “social cognitive theory.” According to Kurose, “Goal-setting theory is a framework for understanding the relationships among motivation, behavior and performance. The basic idea behind goal-setting theory is that humans translate motivational forces into observable behavior through the process of setting and pursuing goals. Goals are thus the mechanism that operationalizes motivation by using it to shape and drive behavior—without such a mechanism, motivation would simply be a collection of unrealized, internal forces of little consequence.”

“Social cognitive theory,” says Kurose, “sees motivation and behavior as resulting from an ongoing, dynamic interaction among cognitive, social and environmental variables. Cognitive factors such as goals, values and efficacy beliefs all influence motivation and the decisions people make about how to act.

Translating these two theories into practical application in an office environment is often a difficult process, especially in a busy office environment. But with some effort it can be done.

To begin, the financial advisor (or office manager) should construct an employee manual that spells out in detail the rules of the office. These can be things such as appropriate attire, breaks, the opening and closing of the office and other aspects of daily office operations.

A second step might be to construct an employee position description with specific, detailed and objective criteria that form the basis of that employee’s evaluation of performance and behavior. This is not some simple one- or two-paragraph description. Rather, it should be a detailed list of criteria that are communicated clearly to the employee. It could be divided into different sections such as position specific criteria or general standards for the office, for example. Then, the management of employees is standardized and made objective. The process might look like this:

Then wage adjustments, bonuses and other incentives can be scaled to the performance and behavior criteria. Bonuses should be tied not only to individual performance but, where applicable, to team-related performance. And while we are on the subject, paying a single bonus once per year (such as a Christmas or year-end bonus) is generally not a motivating factor. Adjusting bonuses that are paid according to measurable criteria—for example, by considering net profitability during a specific period of time, during a quarter perhaps, in tandem with individual and/or team performance—is far more likely to motivate people since employees will see their compensation directly tied to the success of the firm.

You can also give employees incentives for uncovering new ways to save money, increasing efficiency or improving time management in the office. If finding ways to increase net profitability is not a concern (as in the case of a senior firm that has consciously decided not to grow the client count), then using operational incentives that improve client service or other stated goals could be employed in the measuring of employee bonuses, etc.

It is still not enough to just provide measuring tools and incentives for employees. While these are necessary elements, the office environment needs to be considered as well. For example, if an advisor’s office has a cubicle arrangement with walls that are not high enough, the workers will interfere with each other, say if one employee is talking loudly on the phone and the person in the next cubicle is attempting to do analytical work. Studies have shown that once somebody is interrupted, it can take him or her 10 to 20 minutes to mentally get back on track with that analytical task. Multiply this times the number of interruptions per day times the number of affected employees times the number of work days in a given year and you have a serious (and potentially expensive) roadblock to productivity and efficiency. This is an environmental issue as much as a social behavior issue and could be solved quickly and efficiently. For instance, employers could raise the cubicle walls, add sound-reflecting elements such as hanging plants or add ambient sound elements such as a bubbling water fountain. The point is to diffuse the sound interference and decrease the possibility of distracting that employee who is deep in the middle of an analytical task.

Employers must also deal with visual distractions in their office. For instance, what if an employee’s desk is aligned so that he or she can easily see everyone who walks by? This might not distract a receptionist, whose job is to greet visitors and interact with them. But it could be distracting for employees charged with analytical tasks, and seriously inhibit their productivity and efficiency.

Yet another distraction could be social behavior—when one or more employees spend an inordinate amount of time talking with other employees on non-office-related topics (what used to be called the water cooler talk). This type of distraction could significantly impact overall office productivity.

Therefore, it is a good practice to periodically review the office environment as well as the employees’ social behavior on the job to uncover subtle issues like these. Perhaps, by realigning where employees sit and reducing the potential for distractions, the employer could avoid some of these issues and ultimately create an office environment that promotes higher levels of employee productivity and efficiency. 

David L. Lawrence is founder and president of, a consulting firm that provides financial practices, broker-dealers and independent firms with comprehensive, profit-driven efficiency consulting and resources. He is also the author of The Efficient Practice: Transform and Optimize Your Financial Practice for Greater Profits and Success, available at and other book retailers.