Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I'm Bored!

As a mom, one thing gets on my nerves more than anything each summer - the inevitable "I'm bored" statement coming from a kid who has every toy imaginable and a huge yard to play in.  But what I dread even more is the "I'm bored" attitude from an employee.

At best it means I have a disengaged, dispassionate employee with horrendous productivity.  At worst, it means I'm wasting a talented resource who will soon leave me and be difficult to replace.  This is not unique to lawyers, but I've found that it happens more often in the legal team due to the potential isolation of the department because of the nature of our work and the structure of the company.  Unless you're engaged in senior management, in house lawyers don't do a lot of strategy work.  Which means that they're not working on the exciting stuff until after it's floated around the company for awhile.  Junior attorneys and remote/distance attorneys also get left out of collaborative projects that leave them handling routine matters over and over again.  You can only negotiate that indemnity language so many ways before it becomes something you can do in your sleep.

And that's when they start to sleep on the job (figuratively, I hope).  Most employees will give you signs that they're bored.  Good ones will ask for more work, not so good ones will ask for more time off.  Both can poison the productivity of the team - if for no other reason than misery loves company.  Even a bored superstar can't help but put off a vibe of frustration that's highly contagious.  And the superstar can fairly easily find another job.  They may wait it out a bit in hopes of things getting better, maybe out of a sense of loyalty to you or the company.  But eventually they'll leave and all those routine matters land back in your lap.  A less motivated employee may take advantage of the situation and just turn in crap work for awhile until you have to replace them.  And again you've got those routine matters back in your lap, and we know you're not bored.

So what's a manager to do?  Keep an eye out for the signs of boredom - hurried work, procrastination from otherwise productive team members, complaining about everything, etc.  Give opportunities to vary work load within competencies.  So you have one employment lawyer, let her work on some consultant contracts.  Or let your patent guy work on a licensing deal.  Get your employees engaged early on in the life-cycle of the "cool stuff".  Don't outsource all the deal work for that acquisition.  Let the attorney that will draft the terms of use for that new product in on some of the development meetings.  Give them something to shake up the routine.  And take the pulse of the department periodically.  Fully engaged employees will put up with more grunt work because they see the big picture and their place in it.  Disengaged employees see only their day to day and it affects their attitude, which in turn affects the attitude of those around them.  Know who your complainers are and keep them in check.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do for the bored employees.  We have a job to do and sometimes that has to be enough.  If it's not, help them move on with dignity and try to replace them with someone whose idea of gratifying work fits within the definition of the work they'll actually be doing.  If that doesn't work, do what I do to my kids - tell them to come up with their own solution and that you'll help them implement it if possible...or go outside and play. (depending on how many times I've heard the whine that day.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Answer the Call

I seem to be spending a lot of time networking these days.  Partly because it's a bit slow at work so I have time to devote to it, partly because I recently joined the board of the Austin Chapter of Association of Corporate Counsel, and partly because I've finally realized that you need to answer the call when someone reaches out to you. As in house counsel, we can get tunnel vision with the day to day of the job.  There is always one more contract to review, one more email to answer and not enough time to get it all done and still have some semblance of a family life.  So we tend to ignore the relatively easy side of professional development - answering the call when someone reaches out to connect with you.

I've had several recruiters reach out to me in the last 3 months.  Not only to attempt to recruit me to a new position, but also to see if they can be of service for my team or if I know anyone that is a fit for the role they're trying to fill.  Even on days when I'm overworked, over-stressed and REALLY don't feel like fielding a sales call, I answer the call.  At worst, I have a lovely conversation with someone who may have my next job even if it's not the one they're pitching now (and maybe make a new friend).  At best, I can connect and help them find the right person.  Which means that both the recruiter and the attorney/professional that I've connected them with will think of me the next time a position opens up.

Same thing applies when a local attorney looking for advice on the in house scene reaches out.  I may not be in the position to hire them now, or even give them sage advice on how to reach the next step.  But sometimes all they need is an ear to bounce ideas off or some insight into an area or a company that they hadn't considered before.  I remember being that newbie and needing advice.  I also remember very clearly the people who were too busy and those who took time to have coffee, lunch, happy hour or a 15 minute phone call.  Sometimes I'm asked about who would be a good fit for a great position - guess who I recommend.

And believe it or not, this applies to non-legal people too.  When the membership chair for that non-profit calls, the controller for that software company you met while at that tech focused happy hour, the salesperson for the contract management software you used to use but have replaced or even the cousin of that work colleague that wants to get into working with Autistic kids reaches out - answer.  Yes, you'll have to learn the artful skill of saying no to the sales pitches.  But, you may need that software in the future or may have a common interest with the non-profit.  You never know how they may add value to your life (professionally or otherwise) and it really doesn't take much to add a small bit of value to theirs.