In our report we asked 336 UK lawyers what they most wanted from their careers. In common with most professional knowledge workers they consistently indicated that they wanted:
- to be fairly paid
- to be valued and recognised for their contribution and value
- to have interesting, meaningful and challenging work to do
- a degree of autonomy and control over what they do and how they do it
- development opportunities
Where these indicators were perceived to be lacking, the reported intention to stay was correspondingly reduced (e.g. 50% of lawyers describing their work as "not challenging" intended to leave their firm within one year). It is to be expected that work performance was also impacted. Most people simply do not want to turn in sub-optimal performance. Enabling performance requires action from both line managers and each individual.
For line managers (and these may be team leaders, partners, etc) much of this focuses on clarity of thought and effective communication:
- Role and goal clarity. How clear is each team member on their specific accountabilities, role boundaries, expectations, delivery targets? In our experience it is not uncommon that team members are not clear about these things to a sufficient degree - and sometimes their line managers aren't either.
- Alignment with team plans and overall firm strategy. Each team member's efforts must be directed to the wider strategy if it is to be commercially successful and personally satisfying. This is self-evident but it doesn't always happen: there need to be team plans, goals and strategies in existence to begin with, and they should be clear, comprehensible and well communicated. In our survey just 36% of non-partners reported that they understood their firm's strategic direction very well (and within that group one-quarter considered that they didn't understand the firm's strategic direction "very well" or "at all"). How well-directed and purposeful could their efforts be?
- The psychological mindset to perform well. In other words to feel sufficiently skilled, confident, valued and supported. In our experience many companies do not look to assess these features and yet if we prefix "un-" to each of those attributes we would all readily accept that this would be problematic. As before, much of this centres on the line manager's focus, intent and communication. Many line managers in our experience are not engaging with these areas at all and are not having these conversations with their teams. We can all understand a situation where our time, effort and contribution goes unnoticed, is taken for granted and is under valued, and how that would make us feel. Very few people would continue to perform highly in such circumstances. In our survey, 22% of men and 50% of female lawyers considered that they felt "poorly" valued by their firm.
For team members there is a clear need for them to be accountable and responsible for their own performance. This requires a level of development, maturity and "rounded-ness".
The potential to be able to develop these attributes should be assessed during the initial selection and recruitment process. In our experience, robust methods to assess these attributes (including through the use of psychometric assessment and assessment centres) is often not consistently applied, if at all.
Once recruited, the development of these attributes should be an ongoing partnership between each person and the firm. Filtering out those applicants for example with a poor work ethic, with exceptionally low self-esteem, high 'needy-ness' or with aggressive behaviour traits, is significantly easier and less impactful at the selection stage than when they are in the role.
For both managers and team members to perform optimally they must be suitably developed and supported. For line managers this requires having:
- the appropriate skills (e.g. in managing people, communication, goal setting, giving feedback, etc)
- the aptitude to do it (many senior managers and partners firmly resist line management responsibility preferring to focus instead on their legal work)
- the capacity - the time - to carry this out. A consistent theme in our development programmes in law firms of all sizes is the simple lack of time that well skilled, engaged and committed line managers have available to carry out their people management responsibilities. For many we speak to, this is a constant cause of frustration and dissatisfaction.
We provide organisational consultancy and development expertise to help our clients make effective selection decisions, and develop their people at all seniority levels to perform at their best. If you'd like to discuss how we can help you, do get in touch. e: firstname.lastname@example.org t: 01223 655667