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In your law firm, nothing costs as much as your team — not the building, not the furnishings, not the marketing budget. But all these pale in comparison to the cost of a bad employee. Over time, a bad employee can drive away marketing contacts, clients, and even the good people on your staff, damaging your reputation, your success, and your bottom line.

Too often, an employee like this hasn’t been hired, they’ve been adopted. Unless you’re a litigator who loves the challenge of contentious court cases argued before a judge and jury, confrontation likely doesn’t come naturally or easily to you. With that in mind, the following are some signs that you’ve adopted an employee:

  • If you’re afraid to confront or correct the employee with constructive criticism.
  • You have no performance reviews because you don’t have the stomach to be critical in the face of your employees.
  • You’ve complained to a spouse or partner about the thing you’re afraid to confront the employee about (and probably never will).
  • Or worse, you’ve complained to your other staff members about this employee.

Because we’re generally nice people, it’s easy to use a family or friendship model to manage. The danger is, once you use this template, your relationship with this employee becomes a social contract, not a business contract.

When you recognize the problem, you can try to rehabilitate an adopted employee. Have an open and frank conversation with this person with an ultimatum to improve or be fired. If the plan is to improve, follow up with an accountability list. Don’t put off these conversations and document them so there’s no room for misunderstanding later.

If the rest of your staff sees that you have one set of rules for them and different rules for the other employee, it will breed discontent and resentment. Your practice will suffer.

To make sure all employees are on the same page, manage your staff to meet your expectations. Put on paper your expectations and consistent times for performance reviews and make sure every employee has a copy.

List the three most important things they do for your firm. Measure performance objectively, not subjectively. If you were reporting to a boss, what are the performance indicators you would use to measure employees’ performance?

In the final analysis, you need employees who share your values of integrity, accountability, strong work ethics, and positive thinking. If your adopted employees don’t share these and live up to them, remove them — and see the value of addition by subtraction.

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