A Practice Smart(TM) Feature
By Michael Blum, Esq.
Numerous law firm employees have reported what motivates them to work harder and go the extra mile for their firm. These are not simply a list of “nice things” to do for one’s employees; they are actually strategies which will get employees to work harder and better for you—and to make your firm more profitable.
WHAT YOUR STAFF DOESN’T WANT
1-Working in Crisis Mode
Chronic Poor Planning. Poor planning in any phase of office or practice management results in a stressed staff, demoralization, chaos and mistakes at deadlines. Poor financial management leads to a sense of constant financial crisis and office turmoil. Poor case management, such as failing to assign specific staff with tasks and deadlines, leads to panicky mistakes at deadlines.
Disorganized. Set a time limit for a meeting and limit the number of topics. Prioritize the topics and don’t get distracted by digressions. If the meeting goes too long, schedule another to cover the remaining topics. Sticking to an agreed upon time builds trust with your staff and reduces resentment.
Multitasking. Make eye contact when speaking to your staff at meetings-just like you would when speaking to a jury. Your staff will feel like they mean something to you. Only take emergency telephone calls. Don’t let cell phones distract anyone in a meeting. Everyone, including you, should turn off your cell phones.
Lecturing. Don’t create a meeting environment where no one else is really permitted to contribute. Feeling respected and valued are the most important motivational qualities for an employee to stay with a job. When one employee makes a contribution, others will begin expressing their ideas. And don’t take credit for their ideas. If you let your employees contribute in some way to the success of the firm, they will feel valued and the firm will matter more to them.
3-Failing to Prioritize
Everything is Critical. When everything’s a priority, your staff is constantly overwhelmed and confused. Your staff needs to have focused goals and to know that you’re behind them. Creating targets creates a sense of purpose and adds meaning to even the most repetitive tasks. Prioritization lets your staff know that a completed the task will have some value and not be dismissed as meaningless busy work.
You offered benefits so your employees would want to work for you. Don’t make them regret it. You’ll be surprised by how many little mistakes (costly mistakes) are really resentments that could have been avoided if you just gave employees a break when they needed it. If someone takes a vacation, let them rest. Don’t call them, don’t make them check-in and don’t “suggest” that they take a computer with them, “just in case.”
5-Disregarding common courtesies such as saying good morning, please and thank you—failing to give praise when deserved and not voicing complaints in private
You’ll be amazed how much difference a good atmosphere in your office has on work quality. People need to connect on a personal level. Simple pleasantries and genuine thank-you’s for jobs well done can make a team loyal to you and feel respected. And of course, everyone wants to do well—so voice complaints in private and don’t over shower praise in public for fear some think that you are playing favorites.
WHAT YOUR STAFF REALLY WANTS
1-Appreciate your employees for what each brings to the work team.
Study after study shows that feeling respected and valued are the most important motivational qualities for an employee to stay with a job. While salaries often define the ability to take a job, they don’t determine the desire to excel in a job workplace. When you value your employees — through actions you take — you send a strong message that they matter, which in turn is reflected in how hard they are willing to work. If in fact they are not of value, they should be replaced with someone who is.
Valued employees do not need to be micro-managed. Independence and freedom breed engagement and satisfaction. Whenever possible let your employees work the way they work best.
2-Treat Your Staff Fairly and respectfully at all times.
This is a broader application of common courtesies. Treat your employees fairly, which is not to say equally. When staff members see that you treat them fairly, respectfully and consistently, whether it’s a rough day or a day of celebration, they focus on doing their jobs, not on interpreting your mood. Respected employees feel valued. And respect begets respect.
3-Make the time to organize work flow and clearly express priorities and expectations.
The essence here is making the time and communicating. While giving latitude is one thing, basic priorities and expectations regarding how specific situations are to be handled are also important. Not knowing what your boss expects from one situation to the next is stressful to say the least. When changes are necessary, explain why one situation differs from another and communicate why changes were made. Have guidelines and give direction, but don’t have dumb rules that get in the way of getting of employees doing the jobs.
4-Be open to staff’s input, new ideas and feedback.
Your staff may have insights to the practice and operations which will contribute to the success of the firm for areas that you don’t see regularly. They should be a form of intellectual and management capital that you can tap. And when you do, you develop a team who creates solutions before they become problems. When you don’t you create uninvolved robots. Find a way to let everyone in the office earn credit for something. Your strokes will pay off in productivity and profits.
Evaluate your employees periodically, and together with an expression of the need to improve in certain areas, set goals and develop a plan for improvement. Look for and acknowledge the potential in your employees, and help them to create a plan to achieve it. If you show you care about them, they will care about you and your firm.
Provide a mechanism [anonymously, of course] for employees to ask the questions: what do they like and don’t like about working in the firm [or for you] and what suggestions do they have to improve the negatives?
Dealing with employees of varied attitudes, abilities and work habits can be a big challenge. But, your employees will care about your business when you care about them. Pay raises don’t automatically result in better performance, nor do the trappings of a partnership. Commitment, motivation and effort are not based solely on pay.
Ultimately, a more stable and productive work environment and a better managed and profitable firm will come about if you can create an environment where people are exposed to interesting work and are valued for their contributions; a place where people feel needed and are allowed to contribute to something they think is important. It’s not all about money, but about relationships and the office culture you create. It’s like trying a case. You’ve got to relate.
Michael Blum is a trial attorney and CEO of Appeal Funding Partners, LLC with over 20 years experience providing risk mitigation services and non-recourse funding to attorneys and plaintiffs with money judgments on appeal. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Consumer Attorneys of California and of the Marin Trial Lawyers Association and regularly speaks to trial-lawyer groups and has written for TLA magazines on the financial management of a contingency-fee law firm. He may be contacted at 415-729-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.appealfundingpartners.com
Practice Smart(TM) Features are a service of Michael Blum and Appeal Funding Partners, LLC. The Features are thoughts from a variety of sources on our practices, on being trial lawyers and things of importance to trial lawyers and their clients.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional advice or services. The discussion is not intended be relied on for any purpose; seek the services of a qualified professional.
© copyright 2014 Michael Blum
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