In speaking with lawyers and law firm managers, I often hear complaints that employees and/or young associates aren't putting forth the effort the firm expects, or fail entirely to engage in certain behaviors or activities that the senior partners in the firm consider to be essential for the job or for that individual's career advancement. Is it that today's employees expect more for less? Are they all unwilling to invest in their own careers? Are young lawyers totally disengaged? Or does the firm play a role in these problems as well?
One way law firms might be contributing to these problems is by failing to be clear about their expectations with employees. This process should start in general terms during the interview phase even before an employee is hired, but once hired, should be discussed in more detail.
In addition, many law firms still manage and evaluate employees using yearly performance reviews, but law firm associates and employees I have spoken with frequently tell me that they aren't even sure what will be covered in the performance review. And what is said during the performance review seems to stay there - no follow up or further action is taken on either side; sometimes, the issues discussed during the previous year's review are not even brought up again in the current review.
Many law firm employers fail to provide any additional feedback outside of the formal performance evaluation process. And too much of the process is focused on billable hours and compensation, rather than on other things employees care about learning, growth and opportunities for advancement.
While your employees have obligations to the firm that need to be met, as the employer, you have obligations to your employees, too. One of these obligations is to be clear about your expectations, whether you think those expectations "should" go without saying or not. A second is to provide your employees with the resources and support they need to make it possible for them to meet those expectations. A third is to make your employees feel that they are important contributors to the firm and to the work you do for clients.
For example, has your firm:
- Outlined the skills and competencies required to perform the various jobs and functions in your office, and the different levels (ex: beginner, advanced, master) that should be attained before employees can be promoted?
- Performed skills assessments of your employees to determine what level of mastery they have achieved within their job function?
- Outlined the necessary steps that each employee should take in order to move to the next level?
- Been explicit about your expectations with each employee?
- Provided your employees with the tools and training required to meet those expectations?
- Given constant feedback - both good and bad - about their performance throughout the year - not just at the time performance evaluations are conducted?
- Asked your employees what their expectations are?
- Asked employees what their career goals are?
- Supported your employees in reaching their individual career goals?
- Provided opportunities for training and advancement - and made your employees aware of them?
- Communicated the importance of each individual’s job to the success of the firm and to individual client matters?
- Shared the outcome of individual client matters with the employees who worked on those matters and discussed what went right or wrong in each engagement and what could be improved in the future?
- Provided recognition oustide of financial rewards?
- Celebrated successes?
- Reviewed the work each employee is doing to ensure that they are being challenged?
The next time you or someone else in your firm complains about the performance or lack of motivation of employees in your firm, ask yourself these questions and see if improvements in these areas on the part of your firm improve the situation.
For more on how to motivate your employees and improve performance, check out the links in this post and Jack Welch's recent LinkedIn post, "Four Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your People, And Dinner with You Isn't One of Them."