Monday, July 10, 2017

Grow or go?

One of the largest responsibilities any leader has is to grow their team – not in headcount, but in development, capability and responsibility.  A good leader, regardless of the department, should have an idea of where her people want to be in the future and how she and the company can help them reach that goal –while also benefiting the company. So it behooves her to have frank conversations and encourage everyone to do honest assessments of where they are at and where they want to be, including the quantity and quality of the workload they currently have and the bandwidth to take on more.

Ideally, this conversation starts in the interview process.  Beyond the, “where do you see yourself in five years” question, every candidate should be asked about their long term career goals. In a small legal department hiring a second (or third) lawyer who one day wants to be a GC isn’t a bad thing – so long as one day is far enough in the future and the skills they need to develop in order to get there are skills that can be developed in your environment.  On the other hand, hiring someone who is ready to be GC now, whether in skill set or mindset, to be the third lawyer in the department is going to make a bad fit, regardless of personality, niche practice or anything else that makes them glow on paper.

Once you’ve hired the right person, you have to provide opportunities for growth.  Let them work on a project that is a stretch.  Provide opportunities to lead discussion and interact with the leadership of other departments. Provide training and resources when available. And most of all provide encouragement of the growth.  You’ll never get the best work out of someone if they don’t think that you’re on their side.

As a result, you need to be prepared for when your best employee outgrows you or your organization.  After doing an honest assessment of where they’re at in their career, and what your organization has to offer, allow them to determine if they’re happy where they’re at, or if their personal growth requires them to move on.  Provide support for whatever decision they make.  This doesn’t mean allowing someone to search for a job on company time or begin to deliver less than their best work.  But it does mean providing references, introductions and opportunities to be in the “right place” to find their next role.

And most importantly, allow yourself the same freedom.  Even if you’ve reached the top in your organization, you may find yourself unhappy or unsatisfied.  You may need to reach for a bigger organization, or ask for a more complex role.  I know a few GC that have moved to operating roles and are quite happy.  I know others that have moved to public policies and politics.  And others still that have taken on business development responsibilities in addition to their legal role.  At least once a year, assess your situation.  Are you still growing?  Do you have the opportunities you need?  Or is it time to go?