Monday, May 28, 2012

What Do You Want Out of Life (and Work)?

In March, I wrote a post on Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge, by Geoffrey M. Bellman.  I want to return to Bellman’s message today, as we head into the summer months.

In many organizations, work slows just a little through the summer as employees take vacations. My favorite time of year when I worked in a corporate setting was when my boss was on vacation.  I could catch up on existing projects before I got hit with new ones.

1.  Explore Your Life Goals: This summer, I encourage each of you to think about what you want out of your life. You will need some time for reflection. So as you

           walk the beach,
           or hit some golf balls,
           or hike the mountain,
           or simply try to keep the kids from killing each other,


And ask yourself: What do I want out of life?

Write down your answer. It can be as long or as short as you want, but you’ll probably be able to fit it on one sheet of paper.  Come back to this paper at least three times during the next few weeks.  Add to it, edit it, make it yours.

2.  Explore Your Work Goals:  And then, ask yourself: What do I want out of work?

For most of us, work is a huge part of our lives.  If your work goals do not align with your life goals, you will be unhappy, both with work and with your life.  Where do you see disconnects between your life goals and work goals? What do you want more of? Less of?

Only you know what you want, out of life and out of work.  There is no right answer or wrong answer.  There is simply what you want.

Once you know what you want, you can seek to get it.  But first you have to be able to articulate what you want.

You are responsible for aligning your life and your work with your life goals. Now, take charge of yourself.

3.  Explore Your Staff Members' Goals:  Chapter 4 of Bellman’s book outlines how you can ask your staff to explore their wants at work also.  Once you are comfortable with your own wants and goals, you might follow Bellman’s example.

Leading change requires that you know where all your constituents are coming from. Work with your staff to see how you can get your work done while satisfying everyone’s wants.

I'd love to know what you learn from this exercise. Please leave a comment.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Key Issues to Consider in Succession Planning

The novel I am writing centers on a family-owned business in which the CEO is suddenly injured and unavailable. He had not developed a succession plan for himself prior to becoming incapacitated.  And the business depended on him to resolve the conflicts between his warring staff members.

I’m sure the existence of conflicts between members of a CEO’s staff doesn’t surprise anyone who has worked in any corporate culture for more than a few months. What would happen in your organization if the person responsible for resolving disputes and making decisions were suddenly unavailable?

Conflict management is only one reason for a good succession plan. Succession planning is essential for insuring the continuation of the enterprise – making sure that the right people are ready for critical positions at the right time.

Here are some questions to answer as you consider the succession plan in your organization:

  • What are your organization’s strategic goals for the future? How will your workforce need to change to get you there?
  • Have you identified the key positions in your company for today and for the foreseeable future? (Needs may change, and your succession plan should anticipate future organizational needs.)
  • Have you identified the competencies future leaders will need to have? (What educational, technical, and leadership skills and attributes will be important five years from now?)
  • What training and developmental activities will your current staff need to ready them for the leadership roles of the future?
  • How will you transition from your current organization to the structure and roles you envision down the road?
  • While succession planning is necessary at the top of the organization, how far down should your plan go? Often there are critical technical positions that should be considered as well.

HR and key line officers should discuss these succession issues regularly, and keep the succession plan evolving. Otherwise, your organization will end up as dysfunctional as the company I describe in my novel.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Law Firm Management: An Oxymoron?

I’ve seen the workings of several law firms over the past thirty years, either through my own experience or that of friends and relatives. In most cases, law firm management is an oxymoron.

Everyone is dissatisfied – support staff, new lawyers, senior associates, junior partners, rainmakers, and senior counsel. While dissatisfaction is rampant in any work environment, lawyers tend not to understand management and even to scoff at its importance. Except when it comes to billing and collections.

There are some law firms on the 100 Best Places to Work lists, but they usually make these lists because of the perks they offer – such as working from home or on-site day care – that don’t require strong people management skills.

Here are some of the horror stories I’ve heard in recent years:

  • Firms tell new law school graduates they will have jobs, but don't give the new attorneys any idea when their start date will be.  The prospective associates then fret over whether to commit to another job, and wonder whether they will be able to make the transition when the firm is ready for them. Firms are also slow to inform new associates about signing bonuses, salary and benefits.
  • Managing partners and mentors leave senior associates in the dark about how partnership decisions are made.  In most firms, these decisions are highly subjective. Associates never know who blackballed them, and they might linger in limbo for years, thinking next year they’ll grab the golden ring for sure.
  • Attorneys at all levels treat support staff as drudges, subject to verbal abuse and unreasonable deadlines. No judge would put up with this behavior from attorneys in the courtroom, but lawyers feel free to scream at their secretaries and paralegals in the office.
  • The management committee sets partners’ compensation in secrecy, on the theory that if nobody knows what anybody else makes, no one will be jealous. But somehow the information gets out, or the speculation is worse than the truth. 
  • Partners don't know whether they are truly “partners” under the law, or “employees” of a corporation. The firm's deductions from partner compensation may not match how the firm is structured on paper or how it operates in practice. Partners and employees have different rights under the law -- many employment laws, such as Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, don't protect partners, yet how many partners in today’s mega-firms truly influence the firm as owners?
  • Senior attorneys feel shunted aside after thirty years or more of contributions to the firm. Many firms have no graceful way to ease an attorney’s route to retirement. Some old lawyers shuffle in to empty offices to read their mail; others leave disgruntled taking decades of experience that could help new lawyers in the firm.
  • Even the partners with large books of business who bring in the most income to the firm feel under-appreciated. Firms don't know how to balance recognition of the relationships that brought in the clients and the work that keeps them.
  • And even the firms’ Employment Practices groups treat employees poorly. You’d think this group would know to avoid sexual harassment, but unfortunately, harassers seem to be spread equally across the workforce.

Legal conferences these days are full of sessions about “practice management” and “project management.” But law firms would do better to add “people management” to their vocabulary and legal education programs.  Unfortunately, lawyers seem to think they are too smart for that “people stuff.”

Large firms usually have HR departments, but HR gets no more respect than the secretaries. When an employee problem develops, the attorneys have no patience, and ask HR to “deal with it,” meaning “Get rid of the person. Yesterday.”

Certainly not all firms fit the picture I’ve created. But many do. Do you recognize your firm in one or more points of what I’ve described? If so, what are you doing about it?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Contented Cows: Leaders’ Accountability Keeps Employees Engaged

One newsletter I have followed for many years is Contented Cow Partners: Connecting people and profit, by Bill Catlette and Richard Haddon.  The name of their blog comes from the saying “Contented cows give more milk” . . . which they use as a metaphor meaning “engaged employees are more productive.” Bill and Richard write about leadership and employee engagement, and they provide thoughtful commentary on today’s workplaces.

Recently they have posted two articles with important points about leadership accountability.

Accountability for Terminations:  On April 25, 2012, Bill Catlette wrote about employee terminations – the tough side of being a leader. After my recent piece on “favorite firings,” I found Bill’s comments thought-provoking.

He described the circumstances when employee terminations are necessary: Leaders get paid to fire people whose performance or behavior either persistently or grossly fails to meet expectations.

But “in too many cases, managers duck the issue because it’s hard, because it can damage your popularity for a while, [or] you don’t want the hassle of . . . lengthy termination procedures. . . . “  Also, he said, the problem might get deferred to a new manager in the next reorganization.

My “favorite firing” posts are designed to point out when managers need to take accountability for terminating certain employees (and when they shouldn’t).  But we should always remember that the goal is to preserve the engagement of the workforce as a whole, not to belittle or take revenge on a particular employee.

Accountability for Mistakes:  Then on May 2, 2012, Richard Haddon posted about how good leaders take accountability for their mistakes.   We’ve all made mistakes.  But leaders own up, they don’t make others pay for their mistakes.

We’ve all heard the story of how Eisenhower wrote a memo in advance of D-Day in which he said that he was responsible if the invasion was a disaster.  But when the invasion was a success, he gave the credit to the fighting troops, as he should have.  Leaders give credit; they don’t take it.

When leaders take accountability for their mistakes, Richard’s post says to

1. Apologize quickly and without excuses or weasel words.
2. Clean up the mess you made.
3. Ask for your people’s help to fix the problem.
4. Thank them when they come through for you.

We’ve all been there at some point.

When have you had to own up to a mistake? Did you follow Richard’s four steps?