Staffing is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of running any type of business, but can be especially crucial in a small business like your law office where every person’s impact is critical. I had a conversation about this topic last week with Dr. Richard Gooding adjunct professor at Michigan State University and founder of Strategic Advantage. Doc generously agreed to allow us to publish his insights here on our blog:
Doc: While you might look at this from a manager's perspective, I would also encourage your readers to look in the mirror. My experience suggests that often people seem unaware of why their boss is unhappy with them...everyone else may understand the issue but not the person who is the issue.
People can be classified into four levels of performance in an organization: A, B, C, and D.
- A Players: They do their job but are also pro-active in bringing new ideas, processes and initiatives to the team. They tell you stuff you didn't even know you needed to be doing. They teach you as a manager. They fill in your blind spots...turn your unknowns into knowns. When they face a problem, they figure out how to solve it and take the initiative to fix what is broke. They are an all too rare but beautiful asset.
- B Players: They do their job but are not proactive in bringing new ideas to the team. If prodded, they will learn new things and solve problems, but they won't do it on their own accord.
- C Players: They do their job but are resistant to doing anything more than their job. If given a new assignment, they will not embrace it. They will drag their feet and find all sorts of reasons why not to do it.
- D Players: They don't do their job.
Q. So, Doc, what do you do to manage each type?
Doc: With D Players, it’s easy. Replace them ASAP. They are sucking up more time and energy than you can afford.
C Players: Get them to move to a least being B players. If not, you will (1) end up hiring their boss above them or (2) letting them go if you don't need someone at the higher level. I have seen this happen time and time again. The company grows but the people don't. If you are a C Player, it's not the end of the world having your boss hired over you, but you are still in a tenuous position.
B Players: I’m still not really sure what to do with B players. I'm not sure you can turn them into A players, but you certainly need to keep them from slipping into becoming C players. They do their job and don't do any damage, but they also don't bring the added value A players do.
A Players: Nurture them and recognize them for what they bring to the team and company. They are a rare breed.
Most of my clients seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with C players. They do their job but that is all. You tell them to do something new, they'll nod their head but do nothing. I wish I could figure out some way to turn C players into A players but it just doesn't seem possible. Part of the issue is the C players don't think of themselves as C players. They always seem to say, “Hey, I'm doing MY job...”
Doc also mentioned something that is especially important if you do the hiring for your firm. There is something called “escalating commitment,” that causes us to keep trying to justify a bad decision. You’ve heard the phrase, “throwing good money after bad.” Well, that’s layman’s terms for “escalating commitment.” It applies if you are the one who hired that person who just is not performing above the C-level. Because it can be so painful to admit we made a bad decision, we keep trying to help turn this person around. While everyone else on your staff knew within 90 days that this person was not going to work out, it takes the manager who hired them, on average, two years to finally let them go. That’s two years of wasted opportunities and increased investment in a person who just isn’t right for the job.
So, how do you start building an A-Team at your law firm? The first step is to value your team. Recognize that a highly effective team will always outperform a highly effective individual. Surrounding yourself with A-players is the first step toward outstanding results.
Too often I see attorneys searching for the cheapest help they can find – whether that’s the front office receptionist, a paralegal, or a marketing team. If that is your starting point, then your results are self-limiting. You may think you can’t afford to hire the best, when the truth is, you can’t afford not to!