10/7/10

Elephant Post: How Do You Build Upon the Strengths of Your Firm's Administrative Staff?

How do you build upon the strengths of the administrative people within your law firm – from the mail room to the C-level? We thought of this question after we read a Hildebrandt Baker Robbins blog post called "One Word For Talent." In that post, Mark Sirkin brings up the fact that firms tend to divide the firm into "lawyers" and "non-lawyers," with the focus primarily on the lawyers when it comes to managing talent. We thought we'd expand the idea and give you a chance to talk about opportunities that firms have regarding those "non-lawyers" (some of whom are actually lawyers, just not practicing). This week we have the admin perspectives coming in from the IT Help Desk, IT, and Internet Marketing. Don't forget to take a peek at next week's Elephant Post question (it's a good one!!) at the bottom of this post, and send me your thoughts to share with everyone!!
IT Help Desk Perspective Three Steps to Build That Relationship Gene Hamilton First – learn to observe. I am frequently outdoors, and I also conduct many training sessions for volunteer leaders of the Boy Scouts of America. One training is designed to ensure that these adult volunteers can safely and effectively function in an outdoor setting, including rudimentary skills of plant and animal identification. We try to take some time just to do some undirected observation, after which we come back together and discuss what we observed. Watching, listening, smelling, touching and (occasionally) tasting are encouraged, within limits of safety. Invariably, there’s a whole new level of excitement in the room about things they just discovered, which have been hidden in plain sight until they learned to observe. Law firm application: Do you actually know the names and faces of employees in your firm, much less what they’re doing each day? Take the time to know and be known, and you’ll begin to see the abilities and strengths of people. Once you’ve established a relationship, others are more comfortable showing you what really happens in their area, and are willing to share their ideas and pent-up potential. Second – make sense of what you see. Back to the outdoors. Did you know that plants in the mint family have square stems? That one piece of knowledge can tell you whether that pretty plant in the nursery is one you want to plant in the middle of your garden. Hint: you probably don’t, without containment measures. Mint can be terribly invasive. Law firm application: Lots of things “just happen” within our firms each day. Learn about the larger context of job functions of your fellow employees. Third – encourage the wings, remove the anchors One more time, back outside. If you want the best vegetables, it’s not enough to provide sunlight, water and dirt. You’ll also need to keep the pest population under control. Law firm application: You, the trusted and increasingly knowledgeable partner (see what I did there?) have not only the ability to encourage effectiveness and efficiency, but the responsibility to remove the outdated and ill-suited. Sometimes those are processes, sometimes those are people. Eliminate a weakness along with building a strength, and you significantly multiply the potential effect of the positive change.
Information Technology Perspective Two-tiers is one too many Scott Preston I agree with Mark Sirkin’s point that law firms would do well to adopt a competency model that is inclusive of both practicing lawyers and those supporting the practice of law. If you examine companies that deliver impeccable service, you will find companies that have all employees taking ownership of the company. Employees who take pride in their work and are motivated, continue to improve processes and find efficiencies. Building upon employee strengths first requires that you recognize the strengths of individuals. It requires that you devise a plan to make the most of those strengths and that you execute that plan. Find what motivates the employee and make sure to incorporate that motivation into your reward system. Law firms typically use remuneration as their main source of motivation. The reason we are working is money, but is money the top motivator? Experts say: Feeling that your ideas are being heard, considered and valued is the top motivator. Feeling you are included in the decision making process or informed about what is happening and why is the next highest motivator. Feeling you are adequately rewarded (salary, continuing education, etc.) is the third highest motivator. Law firms that leverage one competency model, instead of the current two-tier system, will be able to deliver better service and become more efficient. And they will do it more quickly, because everyone is working toward a common goal, everyone feels included and everyone feels empowered to improve processes.
Internet Marketing Perspective Everybody Knows a Lawyer Lisa Salazar Get to know your people. Developing relationships with everyone from the file room to the C-level suite is not only good for morale, it can also be good for business. I recall an incident in which I was having one of the IT guys work on my computer for me. We were chatting while we were waiting for software to upload. Turns out that his daughter was in-house counsel for one of the biggest whales in an ongoing debacle. Needless to say, he became very popular over the course of the next few days. Another time, I was the recipient of that attention. Because one of the lawyers had befriended me, he learned that I had family that worked in legal for a large Fortune 500 company. When he needed access, he just called me. Yet another instance arose when I was chatting to our security guard. Turns out his daughter just graduated with her MBA and is now working for one of the largest media companies in the world and is on the fast track to upper-management. Don't you know I tucked that factoid into the back of my brain! So don't be so foolish to think that only lawyers spawn lawyers. In this day and age, everyone knows a lawyer …
Next week's Elephant Post Question: Consultants say that your job should be outsourced because of __________. Are they wrong?? This one is interesting because it gives you a chance to share why your department, practice or skill set is still an asset to the firm. Quite frankly, if you can't justify your own position, who do you think is going to do that for you?? If you have some ideas or suggestions and want to contribute to next week's Elephant Post, then send me an e-mail to discuss.

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