Part I of this series of posts addressed the first 3 ‘nanny commandments’ modified from the Nanny 911 website. This series of posts was inspired by Adam Hanft’s back page Grist column in the March issue of Inc. Magazine.
For a quick recap, the first three commandments are:
1. Be consistent: No means no. Yes means yes.
2. Actions have consequences: Good behavior is rewarded. Bad behavior comes with penalties.
3. Say what you mean and mean it: Think before you speak, or you’ll pay the price.
Now we’re ready to move on to:
4. Partners Work Together As A Team - If you can’t be on the same page, your associates and staff are not going to know who to listen to – and they’ll end up not listening to anyone.
In my original post, I talked about a firm that tried to create teams, but the team system didn't work. One of the reasons why it never worked was that the partners weren’t on the same page – they didn’t all believe in the team system and they hadn't each committed to making it happen. Failure to gain consensus among partners about how a firm is run or what should be done in response to a specific issue is an all too common problem with law firms, whether the firm consists of two partners or dozens of partners.
Partners can, and will, often disagree about an approach, an initiative, taking on new clients or new practice areas, or any of a host of other issues. Disagreement is good in that it fosters new ideas and innovation. But what many firms forget, including many of the firms I’ve worked with and for, is that once a consensus is reached and a decision is made, everyone must ‘buy in’ to that decision and adopt it as their own, even if they originally disagreed with that decision. Failure to do so can be fatal. Without the partners’ commitment to the firm’s initiatives, nothing can ever be accomplished.
When partners are divided about a particular issue and that division is apparent to associates and other staff, it creates even more division within the firm, which can lead to factions and, ultimately, chaos.
Build consensus within yor firm, an dmake sure all of the partners are on th same page so that you present a united front to the rest of the firm.
5. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep - If you tell them you’re giving them bonuses, you better have the cash in the bank.
One firm I worked with was constantly promising things that they never got around to implementing. From telling the associates that the firm was going to staff a second office location to promising new partners better offices, they set themselves up for trouble by not following through. You’re much better off not making the promises in the first place, rather than setting up expectations that can’t be met. Most associates and staff have long memories when they’ve been disappointed, and it can poison what would otherwise be a great employer-employee relationship.
Failing to follow through with what you say sends a signal to people that they don’t have to listen to you or that they can’t trust you. Very often, promises are made to candidates during the interview process, or to associates or staff during performance evaluations. More than any other time, those two events are likely to be remembered and relied upon. But even during your day to day communications and interactions, remember that your employees are always watching what you do to see whether you’ve got credibility and integrity – even if you’re not speaking directly to them.
The next time you speak, make sure you're committed to following through on your word.
6. Listen To Your Employees - Acknowledge their concerns. Be open to their input. Then take the time to listen and to understand.
Partners, particularly managing or other executive level partners, often fall into the trap of thinking that they have all the answers. They forget that their employees are the ones on the ‘front lines’ doing the work every day. They overlook the fact that those employees are freequently on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, and that those who are immersed in the process on a daily basis are often the best equipped to see problems and suggest improvements.
One law firm I worked with was reluctant to encourage feedback from associates and staff, assuming that the only responses they would receive were negative or trivial responses. What they didn’t realize was that the ‘trivial’ complaints commonly masked something deeper that, if explored, would lead to huge benefits for the firm. Encouraging feedback provides opportunities for education and communication, and for building relationships within the firm. Listening, making sure employees know that they’re a valued and valuable part of the firm and its operations reaps great rewards in loyalty and motivation. And often it reaps significant returns in productivity and efficiency as well.
Even ‘petty’ responses or communications provide an opportunity to educate the rest of the firm about how the firm's behavioral standards, and about what the firm values and responds to. Soon enough, even the truly insignificant complaints fade away in favor of more meaningful contributions from employees who feel as if their input matters, which fosters increased loyalty from associates and staff who know they have an important role to play in the firm’s work. That’s exactly what happened at the firm I mentioned above. Once the associates and staff realized that their opinions were being taken into consideration, they made suggestions which often translated into greater efficiency and increased profits for the firm.
To be an effective leader and communicator, one must learn to listen.
7. Establish a Routine - Routines make people feel safe and give structure to their time.
The best way to apply this principle to your law practice is by establishing specific procedures for the accomplishment of certain tasks. Whether these procedures address the way in which files are opened, court conferences are handled, mail is distributed, files are organized in the file room, or the telephone is answered, establishing a routine ensures consistency and helps build confidence in lawyers and staff alike.
Establishing routines or procedures also makes a smoother transition for new employees, and ensures consistency. If procedures are written down, when one staff member is sick or on vacation, it makes coverage of that position much easier. Providing new employees with step by step instructions for particular tasks decreases training time.
Make things as easy as possible, both for the individual performing the task, and for those who receive the benefit of that task by creating routines and procedures. When everyone knows where things are kept and how they are done, the practice runs more smoothly.
8. Respect is a Two Way Street - If you don’t respect your partners, associates, and staff, they are not going to respect you.
Treating others with respect means showing them honor, deference, thoughtfulness, consideration and appreciation. In short, it means showing them that, no matter what their position within the firm, they are valued.
One dictionary offers a secondary definition of respect as follows: “to avoid violation of or interference with.” I once worked with an attorney who was known for his bad behavior. When he was upset, he’d scream, yell and curse at other associates, at the staff, and at opposing counsel. I’ve also worked with lawyers who micromanage every single thing junior lawyers and staff do, to the point where the junior doesn’t learn anything and has no confidence in their own abilities. It’s no mystery why, despite their expertise as attorneys, neither the angry bully nor the micromanager is respected by the people with whom they work.
I’ve worked at firms in which it was understood that every single person in the firm deserved the same level of respect, regardless of their position. The part time file clerk was treated with the same respect as the senior partner. In those same firms, appreciation was expressed often, and in various ways. It’s also no mystery why the partners in those firms are well respected.
Many law firms not only fail to show appreciation to their associates and staff on a regular basis, but they also fail to share the firm’s successes with the very people that helped bring it about. A frequent complaint among associates is that they work on a project, a brief, a motion, etc. for a partner and yet never learn of the outcome. Not only do they not receive adequate feedback about their performance or acknowledgement for a job well done, but they don’t learn how their efforts have contributed to the whole - how their piece completes the puzzle. This is just another failure to show respect – by failing to acknowledge the contribution of every person on the team.
The best way to earn respect is by showing it.