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Recruiting Top Talent and Practice Group Leadership

Legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the longest-serving coach in the NBA. Under his leadership, the Spurs have won five national titles, and hold the record for the longest streak of consecutive winning seasons in NBA history. Coach Pop’s leadership, and his team-oriented approach to basketball, is the secret to the Spurs’ success. 

Thanks to having the right leader, the Spurs organization has consistently demonstrated strong management, a clear vision, and a winning record.  Good players know that the Spurs are able to foster both team and individual success. Success breeds success, water seeks its own level, birds of a feather flock together. Are law firms subject to the same phenomena?  Do lawyers seek the best team?  

With global firms getting larger and opening more regional offices around the country, an ever increasing number of niche boutiques with successful lawyers who want a different lifestyle, as well as all the traditional mid-sized firms, top talent is in demand.  But top legal talent (associates and partners) are free agents. They get to choose where they want to practice. Like athletes, they want to join a team with successful players, good management and strong leadership. Importantly, this includes within practice groups.  Strong leadership at the practice group level is a key differentiator for a law firm’s continued success. Because law firms compete primarily at the practice group level and outstanding law firm performance is driven by outstanding practice group performance, it is a business imperative for firms to improve the performance of their group leaders if they want to attract top talent.

Three Steps to More Effective Practice Group Leadership

  1.  Get the Right People in the Leadership Seats 

Gregg Popovich does not start the game with second-string players.  Logically, this is obviously not a winning strategy. Yet, historically, too many firms select or appoint practice group leaders for the wrong reasons, namely: 

  • Seniority or end of career   
  • Book of business/rainmaker   
  • Not enough to do/underperforming   
  • Ego need  

Wrong leadership won’t generate the right results. Practice group leaders should be selected based on ability to do the job. Put your best leaders in the practice group leader role.  

Examples of Right Criteria for Practice Group Leader Selection

  • Enthusiasm and vision
  • “Gets things done” – makes decisions
  • Leadership/management skills 
  • Gets along with people – likable
  • Excellent lawyer – technically skilled
  • Delegation skills – makes use of, and advances, all players’ skills 
  • Communication skills – calls the plays

The critical role of the practice group leader is to provide active and rigorous leadership of the group, helping it to achieve a higher level of competitiveness and market position or presence. 

  1.  Provide Continued Coaching 

Both All Star athletes and All Star lawyers need ongoing coaching.  Once you identify your practice group leaders, support them. Give them the training and the tools necessary to continually improve their game and the team’s game. Most practice group leaders have never received formal management training, have never operated a business, and have not read a leadership book.  Law school trained them to be lawyers, not practice group leaders. There is no reasonable expectation that they should walk into the job knowing how to do it. You must equip them to be successful. Examples include:

  • Regular group training on planning and implementation, business development, pricing and profitability strategies, evaluating associates, and motivating underproductive partners
  • Individual coaching to assess and improve strengths, weaknesses, and leadership styles
  • Regular meetings of firm practice group leaders to share experiences, best practices and seek advice

If you want practice groups to improve, you must take time away from billable hours to invest in developing the leadership capability of your leaders. Firms with the most effective practice group leadership invest the time and money necessary for continuous leadership improvement.

  1.  Expect Real Accountability

In a basketball game, statistics are kept both on the team and the individual. In this way, the players, the coaches, the fans all know who is performing well, and who is not. This information can be used to improve individual and team performance. Similarly, to get optimal performance from your practice leaders, firm management must communicate clear performance expectations and put accountability mechanisms in place.  Practice leaders must understand that their performance, and their team’s performance, will be evaluated, and how it will be evaluated. Firms must provide a clear job description with priorities indicated and regular performance reviews. Reviews can be periodic check-ins with the Managing Partner, Executive Committee, or Board to discuss progress against plan, resource needs, business development targets, recruiting needs, etc. The goals of these meetings should be:

  • To make sure progress is being made
  • To discuss resources needed to support the group’s efforts
  • To encourage (not punish) the group leader

The approach should always be, “How can we help you be more successful?” By fostering a spirit of collaboration and excellence – not by reprimanding – firms can empower their practice group leaders to raise the bar for their team’s performance. 

Conclusion

In free agency, the best players seek successful teams. Successful teams then put their best players in key positions and give them the tools and coaching necessary for further success. The same holds true in the legal field – the best are attracted to the best. Practice group leadership can help attract the best legal talent. If your firm follows these three steps (pick good people, provide continuous coaching, and ongoing accountability) the result will be more competitive, higher producing practice groups that attract more top legal talent to your firm.

Career Navigation: three common traps at all levels of success

Ronald Heifetz, the father of adaptive leadership, made the observation that organizations and their leaders “feel pressure to solve problems quickly, to move to action.” We live and work in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world that demands our quick response. Additionally, our culture is driven by winning and achieving financial success. It is easy to see how we often find ourselves perpetually rushed and in a hurry to get to the next thing—there’s always something demanding our attention just around the corner.

The consequence of this constant going and doing is that we don’t stop and think. We get caught up in the action and rarely do we take a step back and examine our situation and diagnose where we are and what we need to focus on. This limits our ability to spend time on what matters most to us as leaders: driving better results in a fulfilling way.  

There are common challenges that I have observed in my work with leaders across a variety of different industries. Overwhelmingly, three themes emerged: Leaders are frequently unclear on strategy, victims of the superhero syndrome, and drifting into isolation. Let me explain…

Unclear on Strategy
Don’t we all just love the word strategy? Corporate strategy. Strategic thinking. Strategic planning. Adding the word strategic to any topic adds gravitas. And it should. Strategic generally means differential importance. However, “strategy” and “strategic” have become so commonplace for most of us, that they have become void of meaning. As it turns out, most people in organizations are unclear what the strategy is. This is partly because the leaders themselves are unclear.

In many cases, there is a lack of alignment around strategy because there is no strategy. Or, if there is, it is understood by a select few leaders at the top of the organization. Most leaders I encounter desperately want to know what the strategy is—it would drastically improve their engagement and performance. Others have very little concern or are even apathetic to strategy because they haven’t seen it impact their role.

There is much to discuss and uncover amid the whirlwind of uncertainty when it comes to strategy. Suffice it to say that many people are unclear on the strategic direction of their organizations. And, the overwhelming feeling and perception is that the leaders at the top of the house are just as unclear.

The Superhero Syndrome
Leaders have unrealistic expectations for themselves—and other leaders. We (and by “we” I mean the collective majority in today’s society) expect our leaders to be superheroes. We each have a unique set of strengths, what some call our “super powers,” but we often fail to remember that we also have weak spots. We have constraints—we are not limitless

When we are able to identify where we stop, it opens the possibility and clarifies where others start. We cannot rest in the false belief that leaders are capable of solving all problems at all times in the best way. We tend to set unrealistic expectations for our leaders—and in turn, for our organizations. And it doesn’t stop there. We are quick to say “yes, I can do that” to clients and prospects without stopping to think if we have the capability and resources to deliver on the promises we make. We fall into the trap of trying to become all things to all people. This inevitably leads to mediocre quality, disappointed customers, and compromised integrity.

Drifting into Isolation
The pressure for leaders to show up and prove their value comes with added pressure and responsibility. I have seen this lead to a tendency for many leaders to go rogue. We don’t want anyone to see our flaws or mistakes because, as leaders, we are more visible and we feel more vulnerable to scrutiny and judgment.

Emerging talent is given the okay to make mistakes. Trial and error is a part of the learning process on the way to becoming a leader. However, there is an unspoken assumption that plagues many of us: once you become a leader, learning ends and you are expected to have all of the answers. We often trap ourselves into thinking: I should be able to do whatever is asked of me. These are the very assumptions that begin to shut down our communication with others and drive us into isolation…and often into unnecessary failure. Over time, this cuts us off from learning, collective wisdom, and the very talent that we work so tirelessly to surround ourselves with, and we become susceptible to making even bigger mistakes.

We can each benefit from having our own “board of advisers”—others who help us check our thinking and assumptions and balance our behaviors and decisions. You’ve heard it said “it takes a village to raise a child.” The same goes for leaders—it takes a village to support and raise good leaders.

The challenges that I have outlined here are not mutually exclusive, and they tend to have a compounding effect on one another. Chances are, if you are struggling in any one of these areas, you are also struggling in others. Conversely, as you begin to improve in one area, you generally begin to see progress in the other areas as well.

As you kick off 2020, do you find yourself thinking about any one or all of these areas? Have you stopped to think how you might jump off the carousel of going and doing and invest in yourself to figure out how to navigate these challenges?

Law Firm Leaders – Effective Leadership Through Crisis

Leaders of every business, including general counsel, are focused on mitigating business disruption and economic impact, all while navigating unchartered territory during the current pandemic.  Law firms and lawyers can differentiate themselves right now, and this is how. 

At the end of Q1 of 2020, lawyers and firms are most likely thinking about their individual numbers and goals.  Under normal circumstances, that would be encouraged.  During this pandemic, however, it is short-term thinking and could hold long term consequences.  Don’t make the mistake of only thinking about how you can benefit due to increased client demands or needs.  You will lose that valuable relationship.

Business leaders and general counsel are looking to trusted advisors.  They need to act quickly with good information.  Their workload has not decreased; more than likely, it has increased as they find themselves short-staffed and with fewer resources.  Their focus now has shifted to essential urgencies often involving supply chains, cybersecurity and their workforce.  As a firm, or as an individual, how can you help your clients right now?  How can you be a resource to them?  Not by billing more hours and increasing your rates. Rather, think about what value you can offer to the person and to the business – working out the hours or the money secondarily.    

For example, how can you help them shift their non-critical work out further down the line without putting them at a disadvantage?  And, can you do this proactively before they reach out to you?  So, instead of reacting to their call or requests, reach out to them with the situation, the suggestion, and your advice or counsel.  This is the time to demonstrate your core values, to be of service and to build relationships for the long haul. 

Although there will be many unexpected needs in a variety of practices, we can anticipate increased demands in the following practice areas:

  • Labor & Employment
  • Bankruptcy
  • Insurance
  • Litigation

Law firm lawyers – don’t make the mistake of seeing this pandemic as a short-term opportunity.  Instead, invest in the long-term relationships in a thoughtful and helpful way.  Put yourself in the shoes of your in-house counsel: be proactive with your clients, take something off of their plate, maybe it makes sense to proactively offer rate discounts.  Don’t think about your own hours and numbers.  Instead, think about investing in the long-term relationship you are building with  your client.  People will remember the law firms and the lawyers who helped them in a critical time of need.

Jodi Standke is the CEO of Talon Performance Group, Inc., a comprehensive talent alignment firm that provides leadership development, communication effectiveness, presentation coaching, business development training, executive search services, and project staffing. She can be reached at 612-827-5165 or at jstandke@talonperformancegroup.com.

Resignation Basics: The Professional Way 

For many professionals the resignation process is a time of great distress as they dread having to tell their current employer, their peers, their partners that they have decided to part ways.  This is especially true when one has worked with and at the same organization for a substantial period of time or when a lawyer leaves one type of organization for the same type of organization.  i.e. law firm to law firm or in-house to in-house. Even when you know the career choice you are making is the best decision for you, human nature can cause emotion on both sides of the table whenever a relationship ends.

How does one part ways appropriately, professionally and efficiently?  Many people approach this critical career juncture flying by the seat of their pants and mimicking what they have seen others do incorrectly. Never use the resignation process as an opportunity to “get back at” or “let them know” all that is wrong. It just doesn’t matter, and your reputation is far too valuable to risk for the one moment of satisfaction in bringing up all the seeming injustices you suffered.  

Giving your resignation should be simple, thoughtful and carefully planned. This will reduce your stress and cause you to focus on the one and only thing that is really critical: Making the transition of your departure as smooth as possible for everyone involved.  Your only focus should be leaving your old organization in the best position you can while you mentally begin to focus on your new organization.

Before exploring best practices in resigning and transitioning, one helpful fact to remember is that people and organizations tend to follow a predictable, three-stage pattern when faced with a resignation:

1. They’ll be in shock. This can often take the form of surprise and anger.

2. They’ll start to probe. “Who; What; Where; Why” 

3. They’ll make you an offer to try and keep you from leaving. 

It may take various amounts of time for the three stages to run their course, but most of the time; these steps will run their course.  Knowing this pattern can help one prepare for effectively handling the resignation process.

What Must Be Considered?

The Counter Offer.

First, remember that giving notice means you are crossing a point of no return. Your decision should be final and non-negotiable if you want to maintain your credibility.  Whatever reasons had you explore opportunities outside your organization in the first place still and will exist during and after your departure. Don’t waste your or their time by giving false hope that they can do something to get you to stay.  Once you give your notice, the relationship dynamic has shifted and trust is lost.  

Timing.

When do you give notice?  The general answer is as soon as possible after you have tendered an official acceptance of a new offer of employment.  It is worth strategically considering the timing of your resignation. You may consider: What matters are you involved in that need transitioning?  What events are happening at the new organization? What is happening with your clients? What is the time of year? Make sure your resignation properly coincides with your start date at the new organization and allows time for you to take a break in between positions should that be desired.

Whatever the timing factors, follow your organization’s exit protocol.  This is true no matter how close you are to some of your co-workers, peers, subordinates; Don’t leave a bad impression by ignoring this rule and talking with people out of turn.  Be prepared to be exited out of the building upon tendering your notice.  

Presenting the Resignation. 

With few exceptions, you should do this in a face-to-face meeting. Thus it is your responsibility to arrange a meeting, and if you arrange the meeting, it is your responsibility to have an agenda for it. Short and sweet messaging at this point is appropriate.  “I appreciate the opportunity I have had here. I have made a commitment to join another organization and will begin working with them in three weeks. Let’s discuss how we can make my transition as smooth as possible.” It is beneficial if you have created an agenda which outlines 3-8 items that need to be wrapped up during your transition and your plan to get them done.  

Exit Interviews.

For some, it may be tempting  to lay it all on the line as they have long dreamed of doing.  Should you be asked to do an exit interview, be polite and answer the questions in a simple, fair and true manner with short answers.  After all, what is in it for you if you air your grievances?  

Additional Tips  to Support you during Your Transition

  • Call a close friend and let him or her know you gave notice. It is often beneficial to talk to a welcoming voice after this stressful interaction. Don’t talk about your resignation with peers.
  • Consider the timing of removing your personal items.  It is much easier to remove your personal items early in the process, rather than leave this task to the last minute.
  • Make sure that you have ALREADY removed any personal items from your laptop or PC, and have taken home those files in some manner – remember copies of all your reviews, testimonials and recommendations. Only take what is rightfully yours.
  • Focus on legitimately wrapping up your business and/or transferring your projects or responsibilities to your co-workers or replacement as assigned. Even if you don’t get much direction, at least write it all up and document your work so that it can easily be understood once you are gone. 

Do not change your professional manners as you transition.  Think about your future network, references, and what people will say about you.  For the experienced professional, the last impression can be more important than the first impression.  

*Note:  Group and portable practice moves may require exception to the timing aspects of a transition.

The Lawyer Plateau

In volatile situations, size and strength are not advantages – speed and agility are. As globalization and uncertain economics continue, law firms and law departments must develop highly nimble operating models that enable them to respond to new opportunities and new competition. Firms that try to maintain “status quo” will be on the plateau and then left behind.

A key ingredient in any model is the talent; both the “seats” in the firm/department and the talent in those seats. One of the most obvious places to see the lawyer plateau in our current day is in the partnership ranks – partner plateau. The partners who rose to partnership via academic year, supporting the firm’s rainmakers, are now, suddenly, expected to have their own clientele. A common firm point of view is that these lawyers are taking up expensive production seats and limiting the firm’s ability to recognize high producing associates via partnership. Often, the partner’s point of view is “What happened? – the game has changed.” Just as an organization must change to meet demands, so too, must the individual lawyer.

Survival of the fittest is happening in our legal profession. Action, training, and tools can alter organizations and individuals at the DNA level. Talon has measured results of lawyer plateau clients over the years and we have seen acceleration like these examples:

1) A partner client with $200k in portable business moved to a firm where it was a culture fit and went through client builder training to triple her practice in 18 months.

2) A law firm client, selecting a specific person in a specific practice area to be the succession leader of the practice area that lost the confidence of the partnership, clients were be referred out of the firm – turned the practice around and brought current client business back to the firm, making the practice one of the top profit areas of the firm.

3) A corporate legal department client: constant, yearly, turnover in one AGC position was blamed internally and externally on bad leadership from the GC. Hiring the right person for their seat at the culture fit level had the CEO praising the GC for the hire that has now been there three years.

An organism must adapt to be able to fulfill the needs of an ever-changing environment. Until recently the legal profession has been fairly sheltered from this requirement. Now the economy is forcing the profession to change and adapt.

Signs of being on the plateau:

• Attrition of associates is par for the course

• We have always done it this way

• I figured it out and look at me, they can figure it out like I did

• Just ignore them, they will figure out they don’t belong any more

• Th is origination is mine and I am not sharing credit

• The only measure of success that counts is the billable hour – that’s 2200 by the way

• They have been here for 20 years, we can’t let them go now

• Every law firm is the same, my only option is to go in house

• I don’t like sitting in front of the computer, that is not what I signed up for as a lawyer

• I want to collaborate instead of fighting to win

• I don’t trust my partners

Solutions to evolution, moving beyond the plateau and continuing to advance:

• Organizational transformation at the DNA level – hard examine of what is working

• Measures of success include more than billable hours

• Origination is shared when earned, promote development of the next generation and collaboration

• Diversity is practiced organization wide, not just discussed at the diversity meetings

• Professional development training is a recognition for high potential performers

• Emerging leaders get training on emotional intelligence and practical leadership readiness

• Communication effectiveness training is conducted regularly and used to attract and retain

• Client support via collaborative teams, expectations on roles, rewards and consequences

Now is the time to look for ways to leave your comfort zone and confront these new challenges in your practice – this leads to invigoration, renewal, energy, reward and intrigue. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will guarantee success. What is certain is that in 2020 and beyond, old models must make way for new solutions.

Talent Management/ Team Effectiveness

Creating a high-impact team (practice group): the perfect storm? 

As human beings it is almost impossible to exist without operating as part of a team, whether it is within the community, family, sport or work. Indeed, organizations are increasingly using team-based structures to increase organizational performance.  The following definition of ‘teams’ highlights the common understanding across all teams: 

“A collective of two or more individuals who possess a common identity, have consensus on a shared purpose, share a common fate, exhibit structured patterns of interaction and communication, hold common perceptions about group structure, are personally and instrumentally interdependent, reciprocate interpersonal attraction, and consider themselves to be a group.” (Carron, Hausenblas, & Eys, 2005) 

The ultimate question is ‘what makes a team effective?’, or as is more commonly used within organizations, ‘how can we develop a high impact team?’ This term refers to teams who are highly focused and outperform in anticipated productivity or describe teams where the members also have high skill sets. It is implicitly acknowledged that this is not the case for all teams, however most teams have the potential to adopt ‘high impact’ qualities and perform better. 

What makes a high impact team? 

There are numerous factors required for a team to evolve from just performing, to hitting peak performance, these key factors are:  

  1. Team goals 
  • Specific goals lead to higher performance than ‘do your best’  
  • Difficult goals lead to higher performance than easy goals  
  • In order for goals to be effective they need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, recorded and temporal. 
  • Goals are most effective when they are group-centric, i.e. they are designed to maximize each individual’s contribution to the group and have been shown to increase team performance
  1.  Team diversity 

Although teams consisting of similar individuals may appear harmonious, this homogeneity can stifle creativity and idea generation. After all, people who think the same tend to have similar ideas and approaches to problems or opportunities. 

  • Diverse teams were found to have higher team performance than those who were not. 
  • Diversity was related to increased adaptiveness and change effectiveness. 
  • Diverse teams more often avoid groupthink. Groupthink is a deterioration of thinking capacity, reality testing and moral judgements within a group. It is caused by in-group pressures for unanimity and tends to occur in cohesive groups. It is a trap teams who have worked together for a long time can fall into. 
  • Ultimately our physical diversity, be it ethnicity, gender, disability or age, are all only indicators for the diversity that is of real importance – and that is diversity of thought. If we do not have a physically diverse team, that is a surface level indicator that we may not have diversity of thought and perspective. 
  1. Team size 

There is a consistency in thought amongst experts that a team should not be too large. The arguments for small teams are that people can interact frequently, which leads to a natural flow of information. On the other hand, large teams have more resources and are more likely to operate in a more structured fashion. Research has shown the ideal team size is between 6-10 members.

  1.  Team climate 

Within any team, people tend to engage in one of two main undertakings: the maintenance of the tasks or the maintenance of the social unit. How much effort goes into this maintenance depends on ‘group cohesiveness’. Cohesion is essential for helping teams to achieve their common goal. T Cohesiveness can be created by equipping team members with a greater understanding of each other.

  1.  Role clarity 

Role ambiguity occurs when people do not know their role in terms of duties, responsibilities or authority. This is something which can have a detrimental effect on individual effort and performance. Power can be distributed throughout the team or it may lie with the team leader. Ultimately individuals need to know what level of authority they have, and the authority that others have. Sometimes it can be the case that authority levels have not been established and no one knows. This should be addressed directly and swiftly.

  1.  Leadership 

Leadership in a team has an impact on team effectiveness. The two most widely acknowledged approaches to leadership are transactional and transformational. 

  • Transactional leaders focus on enhancements and contingent rewards and punishments, to impact upon team members’ behaviors. They also manage by exception, therefore only take action when something is going wrong. 
  • Transformational leadership on the other hand, involves influencing team behavior through charisma and vision. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic and stimulate new perspectives and ideas, continually motivating their team. They also manage at an individual level, coaching and listening to individual team members in a style that works for each person. 
  1. Team composition / training

The composition of the team is a mix of capabilities, skills, backgrounds, personalities, technical skills, levels of experience and interpersonal skills such as communication and conflict resolution.  The risk of employing the wrong person for the job in terms of capabilities can be minimized through recruitment strategies. Selection procedures, training needs analysis and then training and coaching are all essential to ensure that members have the skills and support required to undertake the role. 

Conclusion 

Organizations cannot afford to not examine, identify and address team structures and the blockers to high impact.  Realistically, there are too many variables that can go wrong to take the success of any team for granted. High impact teams are those which are aligned, optimizing team performance. Some high impact teams may occur naturally, although in many respects this is like the perfect storm – a rare coming together of the perfect conditions. 

Ongoing training is only one way to keep your employees ready for what’s coming next

Employee commitment, productivity, and retention are emerging as the most critical workplace challenges of the immediate future. For many organizations, “surprise” employee departures can significantly affect the execution of business plans and may eventually cause an unexpected decline in productivity. This is especially true during a time of economic uncertainty and related organizational downsizings when the impact of losing key talent increases exponentially.

Consider that:

•    The most difficult time to retain and motivate employees is during organizational change.  

•    Highly engaged and motivated employees can increase the performance and productivity of an organization by as much as 400 percent.

•    Losing and replacing an employee may cost up to 2.4 times an annual salary.

•    The largest factor in retaining and motivating employees is not money, but the relationship with their immediate supervisors.

So, what can you do today to overcome or avoid these critical challenges and be the “employer of choice” for tomorrow? Wherever your organization is now, you can take steps to attract, inspire, and retain top talent. The organization must address five key performance elements: change, listening, traction, investing, and communicating.

Change.

To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear of change.” Change is constant; embrace it. Fear of change is no longer an excuse to avoid exercising strong leadership, making tough decisions, or implementing ideas. The members of your organization are counting on you to lead, direct, and manage effective change. Change today usually means transitioning to a new role, taking on greater responsibility, or leaving the organization. Support change with encouragement and reassurance. It is an opportunity to embrace individual growth and development while strengthening the team and the organization.

Listen.

Listen to what you are not hearing—those quiet voices of the introverts, of the newer generations, of your most seasoned, of your diverse employees, of your staff, and of your clients. Are you hearing their ideas, questions, concerns, and solutions? They will tell you exactly where you are doing things right, what’s not working well, and what you need to do to keep them. Listening also strengthens your internal relationships with colleagues and teams. Identify the strengths your organization has and leverage your talent for individual development and strengthening client service. Now is the time to set up lunch-and-learns, roundtables, and team-building exercises. Creating a community within your firm begins with listening.

Traction.

The strength of an organization is based on sharing a vision. Has your leadership taken the time to establish the organization’s purpose, values, and goals, and make them known to everyone in the firm, and to your clients? Are key business decisions being driven by them? Are you hiring, promoting, transitioning, and business developing according to the organization’s values, goals, and purpose? Loyalty, commitment, and accountability start with the building blocks of the organization—who and what you are now and where you are going. It is only with this foundation in place that you will attract, retain, and maximize the performance of top talent that is right for your organization.  

Invest.

Are you offering training and development to your leaders, management, and staff?  The firm next door is. Most C-level executives have worked with a professional coach. The days of “figure it out on your own, I did” are gone. Organizations today cannot afford to wait for employees to figure it out on their own, and the new generations will not support this old model. They expect training, mentoring, and guidance from their leaders and they will not hesitate to go where their friends are finding exactly that. It is important to provide quality training beginning early in the career to grow and develop your new leaders. New hires are trained on interpersonal skills such as professional dress, presence, a successful handshake, and client communications. Emerging leaders are coached on business development, presentations, effective delivery of tough messages, and expectation setting. Highly effective professionals need to know much more than simply the tasks associated with their positions. Don’t rely on skill development programs to be the extent of your professional and leadership training.

Communicate.

Is your communication system clear, simple, and consistent? Do people know what is expected of them? Current research indicates that the supervisor most influences a person to depart from an organization. Other reasons, in order of frequency, are inability to use core skills, not being able to affect an organization’s goals, and inability to grow and develop within the organization. An effective communication system can bridge the gap between supervisor and employee. Enhanced communication helps supervisors better understand the motivational drives and interests of each individual, provides feedback on performance and style, and highlights development opportunities. Managing and measuring the needs of employees or teams helps them build productive relationships with their co-workers, supervisors, and clients. People who feel engaged will put in the extra effort to get a job done and do it well. Instead of catching the 5:00 bus, they won’t mind catching the 6:00 bus to support the team and the client.

Successful organizations realize retention and talent management are integral to sustaining leadership and growth in today’s marketplace. In fact, a stable workforce becomes a significant competitive advantage. An organization with unstable conditions is forced to invest thousands of dollars in recruiting, orientation, training, overtime, and supervision. Organizations without continuity don’t have ongoing close relationships with customers. Loyalty is fragile, stress is high, conflict is more likely, and efficiency is hampered. These challenges make it difficult for an organization to compete.

Support change, listen to your talent, know and share your organization’s vision and core values, and provide development opportunities so people are engaged and know they make a difference. You will then be an “employer of choice.”

CAREER NAVIGATION: Effective Tips on Strategic Connecting at Events

Whether we seek out events to attend or try to avoid them, they are part of our lives in one way or another.  Events can be for business development, or they can be for social or professional reasons. Regardless of your position, you are taking your time to attend, so use the time wisely and enjoy yourself.  Here are some tips to help you build relationships and gain real results from your next event.

BE A CONNECTOR

Are you known as a “connector”? When you attend events, who do you like to be around?  Is it the stick-in-the-mud who obviously does not want to be there? Chances are no, you enjoy being around someone who is interested.  No matter the event; whether you are trying to gain support with your board, your executive team, among your staff, persuade a prospect or customer to make a purchase, or deliver an A+ presentation, the starting point is always connecting with the individual.  

Here are five key ways to connect:  

1.  Project a positive presence.   

A smile and an upbeat comment can make all the difference in those first few seconds. When someone asks how you’re doing, do you simply say, “fine” or do you say, “Excellent!” Even a one word response sets a tone or makes the difference.  

2. Be the first to reach out.

Rather than waiting for others to take the initiative, YOU be the first to reach out. When you walk into a room of strangers, pretend you’re the host. Greet people, introduce yourself and introduce people to each other.

3. Communicate with care.

Keep other’s feelings in mind when you’re making a comment that they might take personally. 

4. Hear people out. 

Remember, the key conversational skill is not talking…but asking questions and listening to the answers.

5. Eliminate your need to be right. 

It’s not a contest. You don’t win points for always being right.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Once you have made an initial connection, the next step is to build a relationship.  Look for a couple of people who you want to get to know a bit more. Stay open and curious as to whom you may build that relationship with as you might be surprised to discover it is not with whom you first expect.  

Here are a few tips on how to find and build relationships at an event.

1. Set a goal.

Like every business effort, you should have a goal. For example: You’re going to meet five new people and invite them to coffee. Identify your goal before you arrive at your event.  You can do this for every event including friend and family events.

2. Arrive early and think of yourself as the host.

Greet people when they arrive. They will have more energy at this point and be more likely to remember you.  

3. Work the room.

Although it might be more fun and comfortable to hang out with those you already know, don’t spend all your time with friends or with any single individual. Move around and see who is in the room.

4. Ask questions of value.

 If you don’t know what to talk about or how to enter a conversation, you can ask: “What brings you to this event?” And “What is a good contact for you?” Questions such as this can help you figure out how you or if you can help them – even if it is by introducing them to someone else in the room.

5.  Bring your business cards.

Don’t ever be caught saying, “I’m out of cards.” You never know when you’ll meet the next breakthrough prospect for your business.  And, it goes to your demonstrating preparedness, interest and the expectation to engage. Make it easy for people to be in touch with you after the event.

FOLLOW UP

Finally, there is no point in attending a social or networking event unless you’ve got a plan to follow up and implement that plan almost immediately after the event. It’s better to go to one event a month and really follow up on the new individuals you met, then to attend ten events without any follow up.  

Here are five ways to create great results by following up to events.

1. Follow up quickly.

Don’t bother going to an event if you’re not going to follow up quickly. A good rule of thumb is to enter their contact info into your system and send them a LinkedIn connection, an email, or a handwritten note, within 24 hours of the original event. 

2. Connect through social media.

Be sure to personalize the invitation reminding them that, “I enjoyed meeting you last night at the ABC event and sent you an email about the coffee we wanted to schedule.”

3. Follow up coffee or lunch.

Set it up vs. just talking about it.  And, remember, if you invite them to coffee or lunch, you should pick up the tab.

4. Schedule next actions before you leave the table.

Regardless of what the next action is, see if you can get your calendars out and schedule it before you conclude your coffee or lunch.

5. Create follow-up time on your weekly calendar.

Use your running list or calendaring plan of key individuals you’ve met and schedule them for follow up in the appropriate time frame.  Depending on the conversation, you may follow up weekly or annually. Scheduling it into your system immediately will help you stay on top of actions while freeing your head space for current activities.   

Talent Management

It is the Right Time to Focus on the Right Talent in the Right Seat

Ask a CEO, a General Counsel, a Managing Partner about the number one thing that keeps them up at night and you might be surprised by the answer.  For many executives, the biggest cause for concern is talent management. Executives polled in surveys overwhelmingly named talent management as a top priority for their organizations.

Upgrading Talent

There are always plenty of lawyers willing to consider new opportunities. However, decision makers must be disciplined in their hiring efforts.  They must not fall victim to the “shiny penny syndrome,” and should refrain from making hires based on what and how they have done it in the past and by impressive credentials alone.  

Needs Assessment

Many organizations react rather than making strategic hiring decisions.  Developing and implementing a strategic hiring plan is a key step. A company’s leadership team should conduct an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current management team and the organization or partnership as a whole.  During difficult financial times, many companies manage headcount to save expenses in the short term and do not make more strategic long term decisions. First and foremost, the executive leadership of a company must set goals and develop a clear vision of where the organization is headed.  Decision makers should understand the skills and attributes that each member of the team or firm must possess in order for the company to reach its goals and make the strategic vision a reality.  Then, the current management team should be evaluated using those criteria.  If there are gaps or weaknesses, the company should make strategic hires that will fill those gaps and strengthen the management team or partnership.  The leadership team should recognize that staff attorneys or project lawyers may be the strategic answer to filling those gaps. Or, in this assessment, the leadership team may recognize that a lawyer position should be replaced by a paralegal.  Whether it is a full time hire, a project hire or a staff hire, in evaluating a particular candidate, decision makers must keep the overall goals of the company in mind and determine whether that candidate has the right skills to ensure that the company meets or exceeds those goals.

Culture Fit

The importance of culture fit is often times ignored by companies when conducting a search.  It is a costly mistake that can be avoided. The decision makes involved in the hiring process should have a deep understanding of the real culture of their organization; they should understand the values that are actually lived by people in the organization day-to-day, the way decisions are made, the expectations around work styles, etc.  The more you know about the subtleties of your own organization, the more you can communicate its shortcomings, potential, differentiators to candidates in the interview process. And the more able you will be to identify the kind of people who are successful in your environment and they are you seeking.  

Decision makers must also try to learn as much as possible about each candidate’s work and management styles, personality, strengths and weaknesses.  Just because a candidate had success in a previous position does not mean that he will enjoy the same type of success in a different setting.  Interviewers involved in the process should be trained to ask follow up questions that will require a candidate to provide more details and insight about themselves.  Involving more of the management team in the hiring process will provide different perspectives and more valuable insight regarding the fit of prospective candidates. Many companies also use psychometric assessments and third party consultants to objectively learn more about a candidate’s personality and leadership traits.  Whatever methods are used, decision makers must ultimately try to evaluate the short and long term fit as well as anticipate whether a particular candidate will thrive or flounder in their company’s culture and environment.

Attracting Talent and Employer Brand

A company’s “employer brand” in the marketplace can dramatically affect the results of a search.  How will the organization be perceived by candidates? What will current employees say to potential candidates regarding the working environment?  Those involved in the hiring process must be prepared to address any issues with potential candidates and alleviate their concerns. First impressions are lasting impressions and perception is reality hold true in our world today.  With the proliferation of blogs, social networking and our 24/7 media coverage, a candidate has a lot of information to form an opinion before they begin the interview process. Leadership at companies who are not proactive in identifying potential issues will be left wondering why they are unable to attract top level talent.   

Retention Efforts

Identifying key members of the management team and hiring new talent are only part of the process.  A company must also retain its talent. Many organizations cut or eliminated professional development programs during the recent downturn.  This in combination with eliminated headcount has decreased employee satisfaction dramatically. Companies that do not address retention issues or develop long term strategies will find themselves in a precarious position as the baby-boomers begin to retire and top talent leaves to hang their own shingle with their friends.  Not only will these companies lose their existing talent, they will be unable to attract new talent.  The next crop of leaders are coming from Generation X and Generation Y whose members 1) have different motivators, 2) have members leaving the profession at record numbers, 3) have not had the leadership training to successfully transition and lead the organization.  The resulting shortage in leadership will make talent management and retention even more critical over the next five to ten years.

Implementing the Plan

Those companies that take a strategic, reasoned and long term approach to talent management will attract and retain the right people for the right positions at the right time.  Talon works closely with their clients in assessing, designing and implementing their talent plans. Our Talon Alignment Process aligns the leadership in the culture of the organization, matches the client expectations for the initiatives of a position with the right candidate, develops leadership skills in selected talent and assists with individual talent retention programs.

Attrition vs. Retention

6 Steps Law Firms Can Take to Secure Their People Assets

Historically, law firms have accepted attrition as a normal cost of doing business.  Organizations hired attorneys, paralegals and staff, expecting people to come and go and hoping those who stayed would add value to the firm.  Firms assumed attrition was somewhat costly, but generally placed no monetary value on the loss. However, attrition can actually cost up to 400 percent of a base salary for specialized hires.  This means for an attorney making a base salary of $120,000, the possible cost of losing that attorney is $480,000.

Although the actual dollars lost vary by firm, the costs of attrition are significant and often unnecessary.  For some perspective on costs associated to your organization, consider the following:

  • Time lost due to the interview process, training, and new-hire administrative details
  • Hiring costs of advertising, search fees, résumé review, interviewing, and reference checking
  • Base salary
  • Loss of productivity
  • The managing attorney’s time lost in adjusting workflow
  • Loss of the employee’s knowledge
  • Loss of client relationships
  • Added stress to team members due to increased workload or morale drop
  • Negative impact to the firm’s reputation
  • Reduced ability to attract top talent

Attrition costs in many instances can be avoided completely by smart hiring practices in the law firm at every level.  Firms often spend little time identifying long-term needs and goals when they are busy and in short-term need of help. Firms who think about retention at the beginning of the hiring process can focus on the revenue generated because of the hire, rather than on the cost of the hire.

Six Smart Hiring Strategies

Harvard University studies show that 80 percent of employee turnover is the result of missteps in the hiring process.  Even a small change in hiring practices can have a dramatic effect on employee retention. These six strategies can help firms stay competitive with clients, attract top talent to the organization and identify a “right fit” when making a hire.

1. Know Thyself.

It is critical to identify and evaluate through your leadership “who you are” as an organization or legal department.  What is the philosophy of your management team? What are your expectations regarding client service? How do your practice groups operate to support the firm vision?

Knowing who you are fundamentally as an organization provides needed insight in assessing who will be sincerely committed to your organization, motivated to join your team, and likely contribute the most.

2. Align on the Need.

The next step is to create a position profile, or ”job description.”  Important to the position profile is the identification of what work needs to be done in the short term and long term. Key stakeholders, those who have direct impact on and the most to gain or lose from the success of the new hire, should be involved in creating the position profile.

These stakeholders sometimes begin the hiring process without clear agreement on their expectations for the position.  Job analysis tools can help key stakeholders identify values and behaviors that are expected of the new hire and critical in the position, based on the current and desired make up of the firm and practice group.

3. Champion the Process.

Assigning a “champion” to the position — a person who has much to lose or gain with the success of the new hire — can help to strengthen and streamline the hiring process.  The champion shepherds the candidates through the interview process, and identifies concerns, questions, and irresolvable issues early on. The champion gathers interest, generates enthusiasm from leadership, and supports the strong candidates as they go through the interview process.

4. Maintain Momentum.

A strategic interview process can differentiate your organization and appeal to the top talent now in high demand throughout the industry.  The candidate’s first impression is of a well run organization with actively engaged leadership.

Begin by identifying who will be part of the interview team, with a reason and purpose for each interviewer.  Pulling in whoever is available at the time the candidate comes into the firm, for example, can waste the candidate’s time and does not create the impression of a well run organization.

Consider creating a criteria sheet for each interviewer to follow, including both a set of established questions that every interviewer asks, for comparison of answers, and a mix of skill- and trait-related questions that differ among interviewers and help the firm narrow the candidates to those who fit well in the organization.

5. Make a Decision.

Top talent will not wait long for an organization to make a decision.  When the economy and market is good, business thriving, and talent in abundance, firms could often get away with sloppy hiring practices.  They could be ill-prepared to adequately evaluate candidates, put the process on hold to identify and interview additional people, and take their time in replying to candidates.

But that isn’t always the case.  Top talent have many options in today’s market and will evaluate an organization on the interest being shown and the expediency of the process.

6. Integrate, Integrate and Integrate.

Effective integration programs can help decrease attrition, particularly in lateral associates and partners or experienced professionals.  NALP statistics show that lateral associates are seven times more likely than entry-level associates to depart a firm within the first year of hire, and twice as likely as entry-level associates to leave within the first two years.  In exit interviews, an often cited reason for leaving is lack of “culture fit.”

Law firms and law departments have strong, unique cultures.  Experienced professionals often are expected to figure out the new organization and its culture on their own.  Programs that help new hires assimilate can prevent such attrition. Integration can begin before the new hire’s first day, as you begin to build the relationship as you would with a client.  Integration evolves into professional development training, to continually engage and develop professionals and to affirm the commitment the firm has to its employees.

Retention Strengthens the Whole Team

The team as a whole does not perform at its best when a talented member of the group leaves.  The result is often a reputation hit in the legal market, or diminished clout within the company.  These less quantifiable costs, added to the very real monetary losses resulting from attrition, underscore the importance of smart hiring strategies.