Thursday, January 10, 2013

Special Little Snowflakes

As the new year dawns, so do lots of resolutions about moving on to the next step professionally. I'm not sure whether this phenomenon is brought on by reflection on one's life so far or the thought of impending merit reviews - probably both. A lot of in house lawyers start evaluating their worth to the company, their skill set and their marketability elsewhere.  It's a time of year where everyone starts to see themselves as special little snowflakes.  But here's the thing, we're not.  With a few exceptions, there are quite a few people waiting in the wings do do what we do.  It's just a pain in the ass to find, hire, and train them.  So as managers we do what we can to keep them engaged and productive.  As employees, we need to understand the effort to keep us engaged and satisfied will cease the minute that effort exceeds the productivity lost to find, hire and train a replacement.

We may not all be "can't live without" employees, but we do generally fit into one or more categories.  Categories, that if department managers would pay attention to, make this time of year and the influx of the special snowflake syndrome a lot easier to deal with.

1.  The Gunner.  This attorney wants to make partner, be the GC, be a leader.  She spends all of her waking hours eating, breathing and being work.  She'll go out of her way to socialize with those in the management wrung at the office, often with the not too hidden intent of schmoozing her way into a promotion.  This person can generally be counted on getting a lot of work done, fairly well, but will also require a lot of recognition in return.  Titles mean a lot to her.  Making sure she knows that you see the effort she's putting in and talking her up to business people when appropriate will go a long way in keeping her satisfied.   If you can, give her a title promotion periodically.  Works best when accompanied by a raise, but an increase is not always required.

2.  The Ambitious.  Unlike the Gunner, this attorney isn't focused on power he just wants to be better.  Better than last year, better than his peers, just plain better.  He takes the opportunity to learn more, often taking on projects and more work that he really should.  He does it to better himself as an attorney, but also to better his marketability and ultimately his paycheck.  Titles are nice, but not all important.  Opportunity is the currency for the Ambitious (and a raise to go along with a stellar review).  Give this guy the opportunity to sit in on management meetings he normally wouldn't be involved in; put him on projects with business people/units that aren't in his normal rotation.  Being challenged, within his potential, will keep him engaged.  Making sure his pay check is better than last year, even if only by a cost of living increase will keep him satisfied and not looking elsewhere.  Give him a 1% raise telling him he's doing a good job but there's no need for him to go out of his zone of expertise and expect his resignation as soon as he finds the next thing.

3.  The Workhorse.  This is your go to gal.  She drinks the company kool aid and will do anything asked of her without complaint.  She's not overly ambitious and doesn't really care about being challenged.  She comes to work, puts in her hours with full concentration and then goes home and doesn't think about work again until the next morning unless there's something big going on.  Large law departments across the world are filled with Workhorses.   And that's a good thing.  We can't all be leaders, and it's good that not everyone wants to be.  Keeping the Workhorse engaged and satisfied isn't hard.  Job security is priority one.  Occasionally tell her she's doing a good job, give an occasional raise to keep pace with inflation and your golden.  You do have to watch productivity levels during business changes.  She won't tell you when her work is drying up for fear of having to find a new job.

4.  The Slacker.  We all met this guy in law school.  Naturally gifted enough to just "get" it, but to lazy to doing anything with it.  He'll slide by with just enough productivity to keep him employed and will occasionally show brilliance at just the right moment.  Otherwise, he'll find every excuse he can to do anything but work.  This is the guy that if it weren't such a pain in the ass to find a replacement - or if you could be guaranteed the budget for the back-fill would be approved, you'd get rid of quickly.  Unfortunately, you and he both know that a body doing something is better than an empty chair so he's safe - for now.  Rather than focusing on keeping him engaged, you need to keep him productive.  Weekly (or daily) check-ins and a bit of micromanaging will keep him on track.

5.  The Bad Apple.  Every once in awhile we come across a bad apple.  Her work product may be great, her productivity high, her ambitions just right and overall an easy employee to manage.  But, she's never happy.  And she complains - a lot.  To anyone who will listen.  She complains about legitimate things like work conditions, and stupid things like the decor in the bathroom.  She takes personal offense at every business decision made whether it impacts her or not.  She gossips about other people's paychecks, job performance and relationships with management.  The worst part of it all, it's contagious.  Her co-workers will find themselves drawn into her negativity without even realizing what's happening and before you know it you have a department that used to be well functioning, but is now one nightmare after another.  If you don't want to spend the next year playing kindergarten teacher with your employees, find a replacement for her now!  This is one time where even if you can't get a new req approved it's worth it to be without the body.

There you have, the major categories of in house lawyers that I've had the pleasure of meeting.  I know that I have definitely fit into more than one of these categories at one time or another - maybe even all.  Recognize any in yourself?  Or your team? 

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