Monday, February 19, 2007

Managing People: Taking a Close Look at Yourself!

As our firm is growing fast, there is a critical need to make sure that measures are in place to ensure that we are being good managers, not just that our new team members are performing. Why is it so important? (Other than the obvious). Well, if you think of it . . . it is the same reason that the logic for starting a firm like Exemplar is so compelling. How do you know there is a compelling problem that needs to be solved? Look around at what everyone in the marketplace is complaining about and writing about. As for Exemplar, you need only Google the words "billable hour" and see pages upon pages of clients and lawyers alike complaining about how it is the bane of their existence. Problem? Clearly! Solution? Exemplar. So by this time you are asking yourself what all of this has to do with managing people, right? It has EVERYTHING to do with managing people. The next time you go to the book store take a stroll down the business section and take a look at how many books are out there on managing people. Book after book (and, not surprising, person after person that I know) complains about how bad managers tend to be at managing people. Problem? Clearly! Solution? Well, here is what I propose:

1) We need to have an open and candid environment among our managers to talk about our strengths and weaknesses in our own management process and "look in the mirror" every once in awhile so that we can improve our management process.

2) We need to not only make sure that direct reports are empowered and performing, but also that our managers are not just managers because they stuck around long enough, but because they are GOOD MANAGERS. To me, this means trusting them and treating them like partners from the START rather than being skeptical and treating them like they are on trial. . . you have to be in idiot to think that your people can't feel the difference. The rules of psychology apply!Make success a self-fulfilling prophecy for your people. This is not a chicken or egg theory problem. Believe in your people FIRST and you get performance. If you don't, then at least you will know for sure that you got a dud! :-)

3) We need to sit down with each new person and set goals together with them. Then, we need to do everything we can do empower them, position them to stretch and leverage talents, and get the heck out of the way. At the end of the day, we want our people to have every reason to perform (and the only way to do that is to ask ourselves the tough questions . . NOT to look at them and wonder why they are not performing. . . I guarantee you, much of the time the answers become clear by taking a critical look at the management process) It is only when we do everything that we can that we can then look to our direct reports for accountability!

4) We need to pay close attention to each new person in order to identify the difference between each member's strengths, non-talents, and weaknesses. Do you know the difference?
-- Strengths: You are great at these. It may not be as obvious as it sounds, because someone who is not performing may be non-performing because they are not positioned by their employer to leverage their strengths. Are you? After all, I think it is our job as employers to make sure we position our people to leverage their strength before we can hold them accountable for performance. You can't expect better performance out of someone who sucks at something. With talents, it is our job as employers to look at each person and find out just how much we can get them to focus on these strengths, create stretch goals that are dependent on leveraging them, and doing what we can to support them

-- Non-talents: Often confused with weaknesses, these are areas where there is no natural talent or significant skill development, but where performance is average at best. If the skills need to be developed, this is where we set goals with them to work on the skills that they need to perform in a well-rounded job.

-- Weaknesses: You suck at these. The worse companies with the worse managers in the country have managers that always focus on people's weaknesses. They get you on these stupid "weakness improvement programs" which the employees absolutely dead. After all, most people NEVER want to be good at a weakness! This is a symptom of 1) POOR MANAGEMENT, and 2) an organization that is destined for mediocrity, because winning organizations focus on people with leveraged strength, not strong weaknesses. What kind of company do you work for?

5) We need to do everything we can to educate our organization that being a manager is a job unto itself, and that it comes with responsibilities, accountability, and tremendous power to influence the future of the organization. The largest Gallup study of profit centers ever showed that people do not leave companies, they leave managers!!! Does this surprise you? It shouldn't'! In big law firms, every time an associate walks out the door it costs them more than $250,000! On the other hand, the best companies in the world use good management as a tool to develop the future of the company in a way that makes them millions of dollars each year.

6) Finally, at the end of each day, we need to take a close look at ourselves, ask ourselves "did we do the best we can to position our people? How can we communicate better with our people? What can we do better to inspire each other to greatness? As managers, we have more power than we understand. Most have no clue what to do with it.

Those are the human capital goals to which I aspire. Ambitious? Certainly! Nonetheless, you never go higher than you aim. As Excellence is a core value that must never ring hollow in the halls of Exemplar, I will certainly do my part and expect our great people to to aspire to the same level of Excellence in management . . . a standard that, if set, will define the future of law practice as we know it.

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