Posts tagged - employee issues

To get the story you have to ask questions

We are all good at telling a story, especially our own story. We are not as good at actively listening to others tell a story. This is true even when we are being paid to listen.

This is why it is important to remember how important it is to listen, which also means asking questions, especially asking the right questions. What the right questions are will depend on the situation.

If it is in a personal setting, you should view the person across from you as wearing a hat that says “make me interesting.” If it is in a business setting, you need to look at the person across from you and visualize them wearing a hat that says “I have an important story to tell you.”

For instance, as an attorney, the story and facts I am learning from a client, especially a new client, are integral to my ability to be able to properly advise and represent their interests. If I don’t ask the right questions or actively listen, I will miss important facts I need to do my job, and to do the best job for the client. These types of issues exist no matter what your line of work or profession is.

The next time you are dealing with someone new, whether a client, a sales opportunity, interviewing a new hire, or meeting someone personally, make sure you ask more questions than they do, and let them talk more than you do. Make sure you actively listen so that you can ask necessary follow-up questions and see where it gets you. My guess is it will lead to better business and personal relationships, and, in business, it will help you make sure you have the information you need to do your job.

 

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Criticize constructively and not in front of others

I always hope to learn from my mistakes. Similarly, anything I count as a failure in my career has been a great learning experience. There also have been moments where I have received constructive criticism, which helped me in the long run, because I was open to hearing it. I feel lucky that the people who provided this type of feedback to me did so in a professional and meaningful way.

In doing so, they both complimented me and criticized me because it is important to provide positive feedback if you are going to provide negative feedback. They also do this in private, i.e. not in front of others or in manner meant to embarrass someone. This is important.

I have worked at firms during my career where partners thought young associate attorneys would be motivated by providing negative feedback in group settings. It came across as “so and so did ________, and you should too if you want to have problems too.” Of course it had the opposite effect, scaring other associates and, at one firm I worked for, caused a number of the associates to look for and find positions with other firms. I am not saying the feedback was wrong, but criticizing someone in front of others is harmful to that person and negatively affects other similarly situated employees.

The next time you need to provide criticism to an employee or someone you manage, do it in private, as well as in a constructive manner. I would never think to broadcast an issue to others instead of directly and privately with someone I work with or who works under me. The goal is to help the person improve and succeed, but how you deliver the message may or may not have your hoped for and intended results. You need to think through how you constructively criticize people because it can help your people and your business improve.

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Turn on, tune in and drop out on your vacation: vacation ≠ work

Do you vacation at least once or twice a year? You should. Your body and brain need a break. Most of us work hard, but are not built to work every single day without a some downtime. If you have a family, they may even want to spend some time with you!

I was speaking with another attorney recently who was lamenting an upcoming vacation with his wife and kids. He was complaining about what he had to get done before his vacation, making sure things were covered while he was gone and the catching up he was sure he would have to do upon returning. I understand what he was saying because all of us face the same issues when we go out of town. Plus we live in a time when everyone – clients, opposing counsel, co-workers – expect immediate responses.

But you still have to make time to take a break, stringing together a number of days when you can focus on friends or family and activities you don’t get to do all the time. Taking yourself out of the grind, even for short periods of time, can help your mindset and motivation when you return. Of course, this assumes you actually take a real break when away, i.e. not checking email, voicemail or otherwise working. This includes the “excuse” of making your inevitable return easier by checking your email to weed out spam and unimportant emails, which I admit I have done. If you do this, you will see the more important emails and then feel you have to review and respond, and then you are sucked right out of vacation and relaxation mode into work mode.

To avoid this, you have to address your availability, or lack thereof, prior to leaving your office for vacation. You can try to do this by setting expectations on your availability and response time for clients, co-workers and others you deal with. Do this before leaving. The idea is to put yourself in the best place to have a break and enjoy yourself.

As I am writing this I also am remembering the attorney who complained to me about going vacation mentioning he knew he would be working while he was away if I needed to call or email him. No shock.

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Be nice

Life seems to be made up of many rules, written and unwritten. Most are a matter of common sense, like just being nice to people you meet and deal with. It sounds so obvious you may be asking yourself why I would spend time even mentioning it. Despite being obvious, I’ll bet someone just came to mind who you dealt with recently and the dealings were unpleasant because the other person just wasn’t nice.

I know who that person is for me. It was an opposing attorney on a litigation matter. I know this can go with the territory, but most litigators actually are good to deal with and range from professional to really nice. It’s what makes the people who aren’t nice stand out. I have been known to say that it seems easier to remember nasty or obnoxious opposing attorneys more than those who are nice.

In my case, the issue being discussed seemed pretty obvious to me. It was procedural, dictated by rules, and is something that has to be done in every lawsuit. Even though it seems like that should make it an easy matter to deal with, it resulted in opposing counsel raising his voice with me and arguing with me despite me not arguing back. It also caused multiple conversations and emails on what shouldn’t have been a big deal. This wasted my time and increased the fees incurred by both of our clients.  Importantly, it didn’t advance any agenda he may have had or put his client in a better position legally.

In a different context, someone I have known for years and who always has been exceedingly nice to me, is not to everyone.  An example is that these person is very nice to people who he thinks can help him in some way or are “on his level.”  This manifests itself by him not always treating those he views as below him with courtesy or respect. I think it is so ingrained he really doesn’t know how he comes across and would be shocked if someone said something to him.

On the other hand, out of law school I worked for a gentleman named Jim Marlar. He later became a federal judge and is just a really nice guy. When he took me to the federal courthouse in Phoenix for the first time, when I was still in law school and serving as a law clerk for his firm, he introduced me to federal judges, but also to the court librarian and to courthouse janitors. Really. He treated all of them the same, knew their names, about them and had a real connection forged by years of simply being nice and treating people with respect. It was a great lesson I have never forgotten.

I know it can be easier said than done to be nice to everyone. It is even harder when they are not being nice to you. With the attorney I mentioned, I do my best not to raise my voice, get sucked into an unnecessary argument and remain professional. It hasn’t changed his behavior, but maybe if I continue to do the same he will realize his rudeness and posturing don’t help him and our dealings will be better. At least I am trying to be nice and not make the situation worse.

The next time someone is not nice to you or you encounter someone you don’t necessarily want to engage with, just be nice because it may help, and certainly won’t harm your reputation like sinking to their level or ignoring someone. It’s your reputation. What do you want it to be?

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Change is an opportunity

I met up with an attorney I know recently. She had switched firms, going back to one she had worked for previously. I was surprised because she seemed happy at her last firm. It turns out she was generally happy, but some colleagues she liked were changing firms and a call came at the right time to get her to consider leaving. She did, and seems invigorated from the change of scenery.

Now this attorney may be in the honeymoon phase of working for a new firm. However this seems unlikely for an experienced attorney who already spent a number of years at the “new” firm.

The point is that change in what you do or where you do it creates new energy and new opportunity. It can have an incredibly positive impact on you professionally if you recognize this and act on it. Change can breed excitement, even in the case I mentioned above where the attorney liked the last place she worked.

This type of opportunity can come from other types of change too. I know a different attorney who lost a client that was a large percentage of the work he brought in and worked on. This could have been a demotivating event or even a career killer. Instead, he looked at it as opportunity and redoubled his marketing efforts to create a broader practice less reliant on a single client. In doing so, he created opportunity where many people would have been left floundering. Over time this attorney ended up with larger and more diverse practice, and became much more successful.

There are many examples of this, but you don’t need significant change like the ones described above to have opportunity. You can create your own opportunities at any time by making changes or tweaks to what you are doing. In either scenario, there is no time like the present to spend some time thinking about what changes may benefit you and your business, and create new opportunities.

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Perfection breeds insanity

No one is perfect. We hear this all of the time, which is why it has become a cliché. It is true, but many people strive to be perfect. It simply is not possible, and is your idea of perfection the same as mine? I guarantee you it isn’t.

I know an attorney at another firm who is a perfectionist regarding the pleadings researched and drafted. By this I mean the number of times a draft pleading is revised is almost endless. By working this way, the attorney spends an immense amount of time on whatever pleading is being drafted. This ends up being bad on two levels. One, this attorney self-edits time, meaning that the entire time spent is not billed to the client, i.e. the client never will know how much work was done on the case. Second, all of us have important things to do, whether business or with family, that get lost in the shuffle when “extra” work is done that the client doesn’t know about and isn’t billed for. The idea of the perfect pleading also ignores the client’s budget because legal work, like many products or service, isn’t one size fits all.

What happens in the reality I just described is the attorney loses time for other work and activities, thereby billing less, making less money and having less time for outside activities. At the same time, the client likely is billed more than they can afford. These types of issues are problematic. The time issue is obvious, but time also is impacted by the money issue.

Attorneys don’t like dealing with billing issues generally. True statement. Plus, any time spent dealing with billings issues, whether with a client or your partners, is more time spent not getting work done for paying clients. The client wants to know why the pleading cost so much and your partners want to know why the pleading cost so much. Your partners also will want to know the client’s expectations of cost and why isn’t the client paying for the work. Despite these issues, many attorneys do this over and over, and have done so for years.

This is an example of how perfection breeds insanity in the legal profession. The definition of insanity I am thinking of is: doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or maybe they don’t expect different results, and don’t know how to stop working in that manner. Either way it’s insanity.

Whatever type of job, profession or industry you work in has an equivalent to this. Instead of perfection, try to deliver the best possible service or experience to achieve the client or customer’s objections while keeping their ability to pay and any budget in mind. Do this and you have the best chance to meet their expectations, get paid and not waste time dealing with the issues that come with doing too much. You will save yourself headaches and brain damage by keeping these types of objectives in mind in your day-to-day work.

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Disagree and commit

Some of you may be aware of the letter to shareholders by Jeff Bezos of Amazon where he explains his process and the benefit of disagreeing and committing. A co-worker just told me about the phrase “disagree and commit” and it spoke to me. Whether you like Bezos or not, he clearly is a successful business person and his ideas are an example of why.

He encourages his employees to “disagree and commit” and does so himself. I found this to be great advice because most of us work in teams, which can consist of employees, owners or a combination of the two. In these work environments, it is disingenuous to think that every big decision will have 100% support.

Bezos explains that his teams don’t have to fully convince him on a particular project or idea. Instead they have to convince him just enough that he is willing to let them move forward. But once he agrees they can move forward, even if he doesn’t support their vision, he is willing to commit to their vision because to do otherwise would sabotage the team, wasting time and money.

The same should hold true for your business or team. If three out of five of you vote to go a certain direction, those who were against it need to work with the others to be cheerleaders for the plan. If not, the implications for your team or business are not good. If that team is five owners, what is the message being sent to employees if two are publicly not supporting the decision? Of course, the answer is “nothing good” – the team will have greater challenges than already exist to reach the approved goals and it will harm the culture of the business, which likely isn’t too good in the first place. This would be a company most of us never would want to work for.

So the next time you are outvoted on an important strategic decision, agree to disagree and commit to implementing the approved plan or strategy. Your team and business will be better for it.

 

 

 

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Confidence is important in life and success

Winners have confidence. They know they won’t always win.  They realize risk is part of the equation. But they realize we’re all human, all equal, someone has to take the lead, and it might as well be them.

It’s up to you to be confident or not, because confidence cannot be instilled by others. Confidence is something you create within yourself by believing in who you are.

The people who put on a show are insecure. You know these people – if you look at their social media accounts or speak with them it looks and sounds like their lives are perfect – all sunshine and rainbows. But no one’s life is perfect, even those with confidence or a level of success. Confident people don’t curate a life, they live it.

Most people who are successful play it down. They don’t need to talk about themselves and their “accomplishments” to make themselves feel better. They can be themselves because they are comfortable in their own skin.

There is a reason the person this post reminds you of is successful. They believe in themselves. Most of these people also know connections and relationships are everything. These are the people who are fun to hang out with because they are not trying to tell you how great they are, even though they know.

If this is you, keep on doing what you are doing. If it is not, what are you going to do about it?

 

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Meeting expectations shows clients you care

I previously have mentioned that my firm has 21 fundamentals that are the foundation of our culture. We call it the JW Way (http://www.jaburgwilk.com/mission-statement). JW Way #3 is Be Passionate About the Client Experience. Without clients or customers none of us would have a job.

We all have them. Whoever you work for is your “client.” For me, I have clients. You may have customers. If you work at a company and report to an internal higher up, that is your client – if this is you, you may be thinking “Manager Jones isn’t my customer or client,” but if that is who oversees what you do and provides feedback on whether you have met required goals or expectations, they are your “client.”

I am big on meeting or exceeding my client’s expectations. I do this a number of ways, with the focus always being on delivering outstanding legal advice, which happens to be JW Way #1. The day to day situations where expectations come in for me is on deliverables, such as draft letters, agreements or pleadings. If I tell a client I will have a draft letter for their review on Wednesday and I email it on Wednesday, I meet the expectation I set for them. If I send it on Tuesday, I have exceeded the expectation. But if I get it there on Thursday or Friday, I have failed. I would much rather under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

Even if you under-promise to make sure you can meet a deadline or expectation, it doesn’t mean you always will be able to do so. When that happens, you know in advance you need more time. So pick up the phone, let your client know and set a new deadline you believe you can meet. Things happen. Of course, if you reset deadlines all of the time, the client will think you either over-promise consistently, don’t manage your time well, always move this client’s work to the bottom of the pile or all of the above. If you do this often to enough clients, you won’t have to worry about time because you likely will be working for fewer clients.

Meeting expectations is an important facet of being passionate about the client experience. When you do this, it shows you care about what you do and your clients. This is the image you should want to project. And, if you are honest with yourself, you know it is what you expect when you are the customer.

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How to have difficult conversations

Things that are hard to say usually are the most important. Because of this many people avoid the difficult conversations in business and their personal lives. To effectively manage people in business or personal relationships you need to be able to speak about important matters. Letting import matters go unspoken is problematic for numerous reasons.

The problems include the potential for people you manage to continue to take actions or work in ways you think need to be tweaked or changed. If you don’t have these conversations timely, they only can result in continuing issues in the future, making for even harder conversations and a lot of wasted time. It also includes the likelihood of a wedge being driven between you and whoever the other person is because, even though unspoken, these issues usually are apparent from body language and other indirect feedback. This can result in strained relations and passive aggressive behavior related to all things unsaid.

If you are uncomfortable having difficult conversations, there are ways to try and ease your discomfort. You can outline the points you want to get across and practice your side of the conversation. This can include what you want to say depending on the response your receive. As with preparation for a presentation, knowing your talking points will help. I usually am not a fan of spending time on a “hypothetical conversation,” but with difficult conversations, preparation can help. Plus, what occurs in most situations is that even though the conversation may be uncomfortable, it is not as bad as you anticipated.

Another idea is to work on your talking points and the conversation by practicing with someone else you trust. This can help to hone your points or how you will respond to various responses, questions or defensiveness during the real conversation.

The point is to prepare then take hard conversations head on. If honest, most people will tell you they really want to know where they stand and what others are thinking, whether it is with a peer, a superior or a significant other. So don’t let the import subjects that need to be discussed fester and turn into a real negative by having difficult conversation timely and in a manner to allow them to be as non-adversarial and productive as possible. For instance, if you have feedback on this or any of my blog posts, whether positive or negative – read: constructive criticism – I always am open to hear it.

I hope you will take the next difficult conversation you need to have head on and figure out what works best for you to prepare and participate in these types of conversations.

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