A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

The imperfect performance appraisal

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

By Janice Duncan, Principal, GM Outsource

End of financial year is approaching and so are three little words that often hold a level of dread for many; Annual Performance Appraisal.

It can feel overwhelming if you are required to manage one or more performance appraisals.  Particularly if you didn’t get around to setting KPI’s or clearly defining expectations.  Before you spiral down the path of appraisal despair consider the alternative, conducting an ‘Imperfect Appraisal’. 

Your starting point has to be authenticity so, if you don’t have all your measurement ‘ducks in a row’ don’t fake it.  The most important contribution you make to your team members appraisal is your time and genuine interest.

If you have been bogged down in one or more matters for so long you haven’t seen daylight for months, your team will know and their appreciation of you creating time to focus on their contribution and how they can improve and progress will be elevated.

So go with what you know.  Identify categories that are part of day-to-day life in a law firm and draw on your own experience to guide your team members.

Some things change, some things stay the same.

No Lawyer enjoys recording time, yet most firms still operate on a billable hour system, so recording time, billable and non-billable is a good habit for a lawyer to develop.  Junior lawyers need to account for their time. Partners and Management need to know where their lawyers are spending their time. 

Consider where your lawyers are in their career path and experience? What is the quality and volume of work they have delivered over the last 12 months?

  • Highlight 2 or 3 things the individual excels at
  • Highlight 2 or 3 things that need refining and will accelerate the individuals career

See the work from your team members perspective;

  • Ask them which matter or what type of work they most enjoyed working on over the last 12 months and why?
  • Ask them what is holding them back? 
  • The answer to this question may require you to hold your breath, and your tongue, but better to know, than not know. At the least the response should be insightful.

Replicate the above for your admin and support staff.

Attending a performance appraisal with a raft of reports and loads of detail looks impressive, and it may well be very helpful, but the real driver of performance is how the individuals in your team connect with you and take on your guidance and instructions.   We humans will work hard for, and follow a good leader, above and beyond all else.

Your team members need to know you have their development at heart. The appraisal is about them, and how you can guide them to be hugely successful.  After all, creating a win win scenario has to be the ideal outcome.

Want to avoid the annual appraisal and be more informed about the drivers, skill and aspirations of your team members?

Then you need to be interested and connected.  Try catching up with each team member once every 4 to 6 weeks for a 30-minute one on one. This can be in your office or outside, over a coffee. Be clear about the purpose of the one on one;

  • Discuss what they are currently working on.
  • What challenges are they experiencing and what do they see as the potential solutions.  This could apply to matters, business development/marketing, studying etc.
  • Give real and timely feedback on events or actions you have observed over the last month.
  • Clarify and reiterate your expectations
  • Ensure these chats are in confidence, held with integrity and the purpose being to support the recipient in achieving their goals.
  • Ask the individual to email you a few bullet points regarding what was discussed and what they are going to focus on for the next month straight after your chat. They can build on that document each month. (You have just created your running appraisal document).

You may be thinking you don’t have time, but the value in maintaining short, regular, structured catch ups happening can eliminate the need for a formal annual appraisal, however if you need to conduct an annual appraisal, or are required to do so, your monthly one on one approach may just lead to the perfect appraisal and a more productive and rewarding outcome for all.

About our Guest Blogger

Janice Duncan is an accomplished business leader with 20 years’ experience running successful businesses in multiple industries, including the legal profession and corporate travel.

GM Outsource is an innovative solution when a business requires additional management support.

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