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Melissa Shanahan

#184: A Process for Employee Performance Improvement

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What is that one thing in your organization that is consistently frustrating or that you wish was different? How can you implement a process to help shift change in that area as a leader?

The truth is if you have a problem you’re facing in your firm, you need to apply a process to create the outcome you want. Instead of addressing issues in a one-off scenario, or making decisions that ultimately aren’t best for the health of your business, a clear process helps you develop something meaningful and sustainable while building accountability into the DNA of your organization.

Listen in this week as Melissa offers inspiration for you to form a process around something that currently feels a little sticky, and ideas for tweaking current processes that might not be producing a win-win-win scenario for you, your team, and your clients.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• Why you need to apply a process for creating the outcomes you want when you’re facing a problem.

• The process Melissa mapped out for a client who was having issues with billable hours.

• How to create a system that builds accountability into the DNA of your organization.

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast, Episode #184.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work. For owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week's episode. As you can probably tell, I've been under the weather. My voice is going day-by-day. I've been leading retreats and showing up. This is it. This is when clients are coming to the office, so I've been keeping my distance. And yeah, we're still having great days. I'm definitely hopped up on medicine. But it's all good. ‘Tis the season, right?

Man, this is the first season in a long time, I've realized how much I take my health for granted. It's just been one thing after the next for this household; mostly me and Lachlan. Which, like why am I the frail one, between my husband and I? I mean, he's felt it some, but my son and I have just been down for the count consistently, over the last six weeks.

So, hoping that this is it. I'm like, there's like nothing else to get. I feel like I've gotten everything in the last six weeks, so as he. So now, does that mean the immune system is bolstered, and we're ready to go and we can handle anything? We'll see. But wishing all of you just a healthy, healthy season.

This is definitely having me evaluate how I take care of myself. Because you know, day to day, I think I take my health for granted. And yeah, this has been a really good wakeup call that… Although you know and you understand intellectually that if you don't have your health, then everything else is just for naught. But this has been a big showcase of that. The last six weeks, I'm like, “Okay, okay, health needs to be valued in a way that maybe I haven't valued it before.” So anyway, that's where I am.

Well, okay, we are digging into a topic today, that I hope will be really useful for you all. It's probably going to be a pretty short episode. That's why I'm presenting it today, because it is a shorter topic and my voice is going. But it's been really useful for those that we've shared it with.

We lead a retreat for a firm who had several associates, and they were having a problem with culture of accountability. And so, that was one of the things that was covered in the retreat. Their hourly billing goal, for their associates, is 100 hours a month. There were associates that weren't even close to that. So, long story short, this was an issue, billable hours was an issue, and the goals weren't that high.

I can understand if someone's got a really high hourly billing goal, then it's going to take a lot more, in many instances, coaching and pushing, and helping and supporting, and making sure that there is accountability for hitting those numbers. I mean, those numbers are probably there for a reason, if the business has set them that high. That's how they roll. And if someone's not going to hit them, they're probably gonna get rid of them really quickly.

But that's not who I work with. I don't work with anyone who has a billing goal that is too high. It's not the kind of people that are drawn to me. And quite frankly, I think that's why many law lawyers leave to go out on their own. It's because they're sick of that culture with big law, or even midsize firms that have really high demands.

So, we helped them with their low goals. Like, they took pride, they wanted this firm to be focused on lifestyle. I’m like, “Okay, focus on lifestyle. But not at the expense of the firm. Like, you guys are going broke here.” So, we set some new goals. They put together a plan that they were going to roll out. And we talked through how this was going to look, how this is going to work, how the accountability would be injected into the firm.

Now, mind you, 100 hours a month was the goal; that's 4.65 hours, on average, a day; a working day. That is doable, if the sole role of that lawyer is to lawyer, and not to be managing other things. Are you kidding me? Like, that's definitely doable. And so, we came up with a plan.

There were going to be people that they knew were going to struggle with this, for one reason or another. So, they put into place a process that everyone would be led through, if they weren't hitting their numbers. And so, that is what this is about.

The reason we put this process into place is because, if you have a problem, you need to apply a process to the problem, to create the outcome that you want. That is the way to go. That's the way to think about this. Because it removes human emotion out of it. It removes all the muck.

If you have a process or a system that you follow to get X result, and then of course, maybe the process, your system, needs to be tweaked after it's tested. But you have to have a process, instead of just kind of going at things in one-off scenarios. That is not a way to build something, and build something meaningful and sustainable. And, it's not a way to have accountability built into the DNA of an organization.

So, you have to have a process. I am going to share with you the process we mapped out with them, for them. Many people that I've showed this to afterwards, really liked it and they wanted to adopt it, as well. I'm going to share the nuts and bolts of that, with you.

Every month, they were gonna start having monthly one-on-ones and check-ins with their associates; a partner paired with an associate. They're gonna cover certain things in there, but what I'm going to cover today, is what those meetings look like when the numbers are down.

So, imagine anyone in your firm that has a KPI, or has a number, that's expected for them. I highly recommend that you do give a number to your employees, that they have something to shoot for and work for. It allows you and them to measure success.

It's not about perfection and always hitting the number perfectly. It's about setting goals and meeting goals, and putting in the effort to meet the goal. And if you fall short of the goal, but the effort was there, what's the learning? What do we need to do? What do we need to adjust, etcetera?

Now, when the numbers are down, here is an example of how this can look when you have the one-on-one. The process that you can use to address the underperformance, so to speak. And one more thing before I dig into this, remember, this is always done from a place of authority. Not authority like, I have authority over you. But authority, meaning professionalism.

You have to cut out… If there is a sense of friendliness, if you tend to be a friend more than a sense of authority, or a sense of professionalism, in the workplace, you have to cut that. That's not going to give you what you want. So, this is all meant to be coming from a place of authority, and compassion and support. That is a blend of things. It can come across warm and supportive and helpful, but clear, very clear on that this is facts, not feelings, right?

Okay, so with that said, every monthly one-on-one, the employee brings to the meeting their numbers, their data, for the month previous. For an associate, if we're talking about the number of billable hours posted, then that's what they'll bring to the meeting.

Now, if it's down, this is the process that you go over: You want to let the associate or the employee talk about the barriers that they're experiencing to hitting that number. Give them space. Ask them questions. Get curious about their situation and why, because there may be something that's easy to fix together. Or, you may be able to make a decision that fixes something, that's no big deal, and removes a barrier for them.

So, discuss the barriers. Really listen to them and spend time here. Now, once you've really allowed the employee to talk, then it's your job to create, together, a plan to overcome those barriers. Now, this should be documented. You should have a forum, for these one-on-ones when the numbers are down, that is used. And so, there should be a forum for meeting number one, of the numbers being down.

Now, in this form, you write out the plan; what is the plan? What are the action steps that are going to be taken, in an effort to overcome those barriers. And this is, again, this is done together; you outline, it could just be bullets. And then again, on the forum, this is documented; you discuss and document action taken, if this number is not reached by the next one-on-one meeting.

So, the next 30 days, if it's not fixed… Okay, so let's say they come back the next 30 days, the next one-on-one, and the number still isn't being hit. Then, the meeting has the same cadence as it did last time. So, you look at the numbers together. And then, you allow them to talk through the barriers, and what's changed in the last month, what was helpful, what's still in the way; really let them voice their barriers.

And then this time, you do still come up with a plan to overcome those barriers so that they can hit their goals. And, you know, that could be around time management, it could be around another employee that for some reason is in their way or holding them up. You know, it doesn't matter what the barriers are, but let them talk. And then, you can work on a plan together to overcome those things.

Now, the only part that's different, for this team, what they decided on, was that in this action, when you discuss and document action, if the number still isn't hit again, it's already set in stone. And so, in this case, the second time around that the numbers aren't hit in a row, then the action to be taken at the next 30-day meeting, is either a salary adjustment or termination.

This is certainly up to the owners discretion on what makes the most sense, and what you want to offer them. Also, I think it depends on, you know, where you live, and what makes sense legally. So, you need to check into all this, but you do need to plan for this.

What this firm decided was, okay, the third month in a row that the numbers aren't being hit, because these numbers are so reasonable, at that point, it's not a fit, or their lifestyle isn't such that they want to work this much. And so, we can maybe bump them down, if that's a need that our company has.

So, here's the truth, you have to keep this in mind. If you do not make decisions that are best for the health of the business, your business will suffer. And it will happen quietly, behind the scenes.

Because what I've seen people do, is that they will morph a role, then do like a part-time role for this person, because they just can't quite hit their hours. And so, then they reduce their pay. Maybe, it's just that it changes the position. The firm doesn't need that. The firm needs a full-time lawyer, that's why you had this person on. So, if it's not a fit for your firm, don't even entertain it.

When you're making your action plan for what happens, if the third month in a row these goals aren't being hit and aren't being met, then at that point, for many firms, it will be this isn't a good fit. The writing's on the wall. We've been working together on this, and these goals are reasonable. They're very doable if you focus, and they're still not being hit.

So, this isn't a good fit. And, that's when termination would happen. All along the way you have documentation. You have the numbers to back it up. And, that is the process for them.

So, let's recap. They have a sheet that what they decided to do, this is their process. They have a sheet for meeting one, when the numbers are down. They have a sheet for meeting two, if the numbers are still down. And they have a sheet for meeting three, and all along the way.

Next steps are documented, so there are no surprises for the employee. Because the last thing you want, is for them to get to that third meeting, and they had no idea that termination was even on the table. And then, you're just saying, “Alright, you know, this isn't a good fit. See you later.” They're like, “Wait, what? I thought we were working together on this?” So, setting expectations clearly is so important. And the more you can do that upfront, the better.

Now, what this firm decided to do, was to, upfront, as they were rolling out these goals and these new processes, they are going to explain the process across the board, to everyone, upfront. So, if you aren't able to hit your 100 hours a month, then the first one-on-one that we're going to have, is going to address that. And talk about barriers, and help you overcome barriers. We're going to make a plan, action plan, to be able to help you.

And if you come back 30 days later, and the goal still isn't being hit, then we're going to do this, again. We're going to try to offer more support, dig in a little more deeply; what are we missing here?

And if at the third month, you come back and the numbers still aren't being hit, then it's what they decided; was either a salary adjustment or termination. They set it all upfront, so that if the numbers go down, these people know exactly what they're walking into. And, that's healthy.

So again, this isn't the process you have to adopt. It's just to showcase how important a process is. Now, since they've implemented this, they have had wild success. People are hitting their numbers. People are happier. People feel more connected to leadership than to management. I mean, it's a game-changer for them.

But it wouldn't have happened if they didn't have a process. And the reason a process is so, so important, is because you don't have to think; it's already put into place. If this happens, then X happens. You know, so if someone's numbers are down, this is the sheet that we use to guide our conversation in that meeting.

But when you take the brainpower out of figuring out how to handle a scenario. And you take the brainpower out by instituting a process. Then, everything runs more smoothly. Expectations are set up front, and everyone knows what they're walking into. And it's easier to have less emotion and more objectivity, approaching the scenario and the problem.

And it's easier, frankly, to be that sense of authority and very clear, “This is what we do here. This is how we roll,” and warm and supportive.

Because, you know, frankly, the people I work with, they want their team to win. They want this to work. For so many reasons they want it to work. And making sure that the other person, the other side, the employee, feels that is really important. And, it's powerful.

So again, you don't have to have this process adapted for you. But I want you to think about the stuff that does frustrate you, and you wish was different. How can you institute a process to help shift change in that area?

A process that allows you to oversee the development and oversee the shift, and be supportive with the shift, even if it's not your work, it's someone else's work. How can you put in a process where everybody wins? The company wins clearly, and the team member wins.

And then, by the way, on top of that, that means the clients are winning. So, a win-win-win scenario is the thing to shoot for. How can you put a process into place that really allows for all of that?

I hope that today's episode, in this example, inspired you or gave you an idea on either how to form a process for yourself around something that's feels a little sticky, or gave you an idea on how to tweak a current process that you have.

Alright, everybody, that’s what I’ve got for you this week. I hope you have a wonderful holiday. And, I’ll see you here, next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called, Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to velocitywork.com it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So that, week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to velocitywork.com to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to velocitywork.com where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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