When It’s Time to Let Someone Go

I overheard a woman speaking to a friend in a coffee shop about the breakdown of her marriage. She said that she realised when her husband was going on a business trip and that she hoped the plane crashed, that it was time to end her marriage herself rather than hoping an additional 200 people might die in the process. As managers, we sometimes have a feeling that it is time for an employee to leave the organisation but we are reluctant to take that step, or avoid it, for a variety of reasons.

A few weeks ago on the 1st of June 2015, I read an interesting article in the Australian Financial Review titled “When it’s time to fire an employee who is ‘good enough’”. The title is quite confronting for anyone, both employer and employee, but it’s a subject that is not talked about very often openly.Hire-and-Fire-ID-10095091

There are many times when as a manager, you feel that an employee has reached the limit of their growth potential, or having been with your organisation for some time, their performance has dropped.

The article highlights three occasions where a manager might consider it’s time to move someone on. The article was originally published in the Harvard Business Review, so the term ‘fire’ is used in an environment where terminating the employment of employees is much easier. You can read the full article here.

The three occasions listed in the article are:

  • Is the employee meeting the responsibilities listed on their job description?
    • There can be many reasons why this might happen including boredom but it’s an important question to ask. Managers might be blinded to the truth of the fact that long-term employees are no longer performing.
  • Can the market offer you a better employee for the same price?
    • In addition to the example given in the article, I suggest that as hard as it can be, the market might be able to offer you a better employee at a reduced cost.
  • If the employee resigned would you fight to keep him or her?
    • This is the ultimate litmus test. If you receive a resignation from someone and you’re relieved it’s a sign that this should have been attended to some time ago. So honestly think about that person in this way and decide what to do about it.

To these three things I would add the following:

  • The employee is causing team disruption
  • The employee starts saying ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’
  • When they start saying ‘no’ a lot and finding reasons why things can’t be done

Does this blog post strike a chord with you? What do you need to do about it?

Business Development Is Your Responsibility

The legal profession has a long history and some members of the profession can remember the days (somewhat fondly) before advertising, marketing and business development were words associated with a professional service. Work came from existing clients and people they told.Business-Development

Today, the challenges facing the profession, and individual lawyers – including globalisation, specialisation, the number of practising lawyers competing for work – mean that marketing and business development are skills that must be learnt.

Marketing and Business Development for lawyers and law firms is increasingly important in what can only be described as a very competitive market – for the service you give your clients needs to be coupled with a strategic approach to building your own and your firm’s profile, and what you can do for clients, and actually develop existing clients and bring in new clients as well.

What’s the difference?

Business development and marketing are not interchangeable terms and they have quite distinct responsibilities in a legal environment.

Marketing is about the promotion of the services you offer and establishing within your target market what your point of differentiation will be. Marketing involves things like advertising, website content, blogs, brochures, and public relations activities.

Business Development on the other hand is a strategic activity that focuses, on particular clients or industries. It is about networking, building connections and referral networks, strengthening existing relationships and cross referrals.

More and more, lawyers need to be very strategic about obtaining and retaining clients. Work doesn’t just come in the door, or over the phone. Even if you are currently very busy, you will need a ‘pipeline’ of work down the track to keep being busy and to maintain profitability.

Your clients are not buying a transaction from you, or your expertise. They are paying you to solve a problem or make something happen for them. Thinking about what you do to solve your clients’ problems will be integral to how you market yourself and develop business – because it is actually not about you, but your clients.

Most lawyers, unless they have done so as part of another degree, will not have studied anything to do with marketing or business development, and may be tempted to think that this is the responsibility of someone else. The truth however is that regardless of the size of the firm for whom you work, or your level of expertise, you have a responsibility for business development. It is a skill that can and should be learned.

Dealing with an angry client

Good client relationships can be tested when a client calls you in a fury about something you have done or not done, or an invoice has been sent that they were not expecting. If you have worked hard at developing the relationship, the problem will be easier to solve.Angry Client

Regardless of the reason, or the cause of it, or whether or not you think the client is right or wrong, it is important to approach this situation with a client service mindset. That doesn’t mean that ‘the client is always right’ but it does mean that you have to give the client the opportunity to speak their mind and have a solutions focus to resolving the issue.

Here are our best tips, gleaned from the best in the business:

  • Don’t avoid the situation. If you have received an angry voicemail or email, make sure you respond, and as quickly as possible
  • Be brave and don’t use email to respond. Make a phone call
  • Control your own emotional response – do not blame, avoid, be defensive, or get angry as well. This will avoid escalating tensions
  • Let them vent their feelings without interruption
  • Acknowledge their feelings – for example ‘I understand you’re upset, I need some more information’
  • Let them know you are listening by short acknowledgements
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the reasons for the anger, and to clarify what you may or may not be able to do
  • Find out what solution they want even if you personally can’t provide it
  • What is your authority? Depending on your seniority you may not be able to solve the problem straight away but you can listen and commit to having someone else call them. You can also do what you can right there and then , e.g. send a copy of a missing document
  • Respond as promised. If you have made a commitment to investigate and get back to the client make sure you do as you say.
  • Finally – reflect on what you have learned from the experience

The way you respond and take responsibility may be the difference between keeping and losing a client.

The Best Form of Client Service

We have spoken before about how to add value for clients (view this previous blog here). Client service is essential in not just maintaining your client relationship but in retaining your client in what is arguably one of the most competitive markets the legal profession has ever faced. Most clients will assume that their lawyer will be able to do the job that is required – so how and why do clients stay with their service provider or leave and go to another? How do they choose a legal adviser if they have not been to one before?Client Service

Think about your own experiences with service. How do you choose? Price is one variable, and some will choose based solely on price, unless there is a particular product they want. The other one is value – what value do you receive for the price you are paying?

I recall a particular experience with a builder some years ago. The price quoted was slightly more than other quotes I had received. Yet I also had a recommendation from someone I trusted and I went with the higher quote. While it may have cost more, the VALUE I received was immeasurable.

  • Every question I had was answered with patience and honesty
  • Every change to scope was documented, no matter how small
  • The supervisor for the job was a pleasure to deal with
  • The job was completed on time and to budget
  • I received timely communication along the way
  • At the end of the building job, I received an envelope with a copy of all plans for future reference, and photographs of various stages of the building job.

So who do you think I would recommend to anyone considering building a house?

Think about your own clients. If price is one deciding factor and is either no different from your competitors, or slightly different, what VALUE will you deliver to your clients that will differentiate you? Price is a fact, but value is a perception rather than a fact and you can influence this perception with your own behaviour. Will you commit to keeping your client informed even if nothing is happening on their matter? Will you document changes to scope of instruction?

Will you provide good service, or poor service? What would poor service look like from the client’s perspective? In looking at how you provide value for the money you charge, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the client and think about how this works for the client.

Most importantly, will you develop a relationship with the client? Relationships are the cornerstone of all business dealings. Having a positive relationship will assist if things go wrong, in that the client is much more likely to move on from whatever went wrong. But assuming things go well, the client is more likely to refer you to others. And like the builder I mentioned earlier, you will be able to build a practice based on genuine referrals and glowing recommendations from happy clients if you provide value in the service for which you are paid.

And as the great Albert Einstein said:

Strive not to be a success; but rather to be of value.

Why Should People Work For You?

It is a well known fact that good salespeople can ‘hook’ people in with a sales pitch that sees you buying something that you perhaps did not really need, or upselling something additional or more expensive. The best salespeople tell you why you need something.Why 2

It happened to me recently when I went to buy a new oven. My existing oven had stopped working – knowing that a kitchen renovation was a likelihood in a few years and that I would be putting in a double oven, I did not want an expensive one.

I also mentioned that a double oven was going to be in my future. The decision was made very quickly and the sale done. While the paperwork was being completed, he mentioned that he could do me a deal on the matching microwave. ‘I don’t need a microwave’, I felt like shouting. The microwave in question was also a convection microwave – he very cleverly gave me the brochure, pointing out that a convection microwave would give additional oven capacity, which would also meant the need for a double oven would vanish.

He didn’t tell me WHAT the microwave did, or HOW it did its job. He told me (actually confirmed to me) WHY I needed it. And of course I bought it.

When you are speaking to candidates, what do you say to them about your firm? Do you tell them WHAT you or the firm does, or HOW it goes about doing what it does? For example:

  • We are a great place to work
  • We have great clients
  • We expect excellence
  • We have many different practice areas
  • We work as team
  • We have great promotional opportunities
  • We have leading edge technology

All of these things, and many more, are useful for candidates to know, and things you want to tell them. But think about this – you want a candidate who will be a good cultural fit for your firm who also believes in your mission and values.

They need to know WHY you do what you do and what you and the firm stands for to make that happen. What you do and how you do it are secondary. Show them what you believe in, what you are passionate about and see if this matches with their own personal values. Changing the way you interview in the selling process for candidates can make all the difference to ensuring you get the right candidate.

Simon Sinek, a well known leadership expert, explains this simple concept from a leadership and sales perspective in a TED talk which you can find here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE

What is your WHY?

LinkedIn Does Not Spell the Death Knell for Recruiters

A colleague asked me recently ‘So what is your exit strategy now that LinkedIn is taking over the recruitment business?’. I was a bit surprised by the question, for while I have used LinkedIn myself in searching for potential candidates for particular roles, I do not believe that LinkedIn will replace the benefits of specialist recruiters.   There is absolutely no doubt that LinkedIn has changed the way professionals connect and plays a role in attracting talent, and makes it easier to approach potential recruits. But there will always be a place for recruiters.LinkedIn vs Recruiter

Here’s why:

We understand your business and what you are looking for

As specialist recruiters, we make a point of getting to know your business and what you are looking for now, and also into the future. We work hard at developing relationships to make sure we know the type of candidate you are looking for. As we have a number of candidates on our books, either actively looking for new employment, or passively looking, in the sense that they are not wanting to change employers unless the right role comes along, we already have a large pool of candidates before we start advertising for a role. If an employer was to use LinkedIn to search for candidates they would potentially be sifting through hundreds of potential candidates who match the search criteria.

In some cases, if you tell us you are recruiting for a particular role, or looking for a particular person, we already know the exact type of person you are looking for, having done all the hard work beforehand.

We screen potential candidates

If we advertise, we screen potential candidates before they even come to you. We will not put forward a candidate unless we are sure they are suitable for the role. LinkedIn works on a particular set of search algorithms, and will present a group of people who match the criteria you put into the search. We know the personalities both of our clients and our candidates so we know who is best suited for the role.

Being on LinkedIn does not mean you are a jobseeker

A search of people on LinkedIn who match your search criteria, does not create a pool of candidates. Just because someone is on LinkedIn, this does not mean they are looking for a new role. This is potentially a huge time waster for employers making contact with people who do not wish to be contacted. And this can be annoying for those people who may be receiving multiple calls if their practice area is in high demand. Recruiters are experienced in identifying those who will be a good fit, and more importantly who will not be a good fit for the role.

While we ourselves use LinkedIn to search for and also eliminate potential candidates, it is only one avenue we use in our approach to recruitment. Professional, experienced recruiters provide the expertise, industry knowledge and personal touch that LinkedIn cannot provide on its’ own.

We are happy to discuss our approach – please call us to discuss at any time.

4 reasons to use a recruiter

Sometimes a candidate will call me and ask “Why should I use you, rather than apply directly myself?”.

This is what I tell them:

  1. Convenience

Looking for a new role can be a full-time job in itself: it’s a time consuming project. As an ex-lawyer, I know that with the hours I worked I didn’t have the time to look for another role when I had made the decision to make a move.Using-a-recruiter

  1. Confidentiality

It goes without saying that every-one wants their job search kept under wraps. It can be awkward, if not disastrous if your employer became aware that you were looking to move on. It is a recruiter’s role to keep the application process confidential. Recruiters who have strong relationships with their clients know who to speak to, who to send a CV to and what measures need to be taken to ensure the strictest of confidentiality.

  1. Not all roles are advertised

A well respected recruiter who has strong relationships with their clients will be advised of roles before they are advertised by the organisation and even before there is sign-off for the role. Clients who are time poor will often say to a recruiter who they trust to ‘watch out’ for a particular type of candidate and to let them know about them. I have placed many candidates simply by being asked to ‘watch out’.

  1. Expertise

Last but not least, a good recruiter is a consultant. Recruiters are experts and have industry knowledge in relation to salary & benefits, who is who in the zoo, what organisations are doing in terms of growth as well as the career progression paths that organisations have in place. A good recruiter can also provide you with advice in relation to CV writing and interview preparation. Some recruiters are even able to influence the decision-maker in persuading an employer to interview a candidate and even hire them.

If you find a recruiter you can trust and who has excellent relationships with their clients, you will be that much closer to finding your dream role.

8 Things for Employers to Do This Year

The first month of the year is gone and before you know it will be the end of the financial year, then time for Christmas party invitations.  As an employer, what will 2015 bring for you?  Will you be the person your staff look forward to seeing when they come to work?  Will your staff be engaged, happy and willing to go the extra mile for you?8 things for employers

Here are eight easy things you can resolve to do in 2015:

Conduct your staff appraisals on time – don’t put them off, whether you are giving good news or bad.  And remember that appraisals are to cover off the last 12 months, not the last 2 weeks.  And if someone is not performing, before you leap into performance management consider whether coaching or mentoring will be of benefit first.

Review your policies – check that they are up to date and reflect your firm values and promote you as an employer of choice. Are you able to exercise discretion if needs be in situations of hardship?

Review salaries on the basis of gender and level – are you sure your staff are paid based on merit?  Conducting a comparative review of salaries based on year level and gender will show you where there are problems if you have a staff member at risk of leaving, and also if there are discrepancies based on gender.  Ask yourself honestly if differences are really based on performance or bias.

Deal with complaints or allegations of improper conduct immediately – remember the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If someone trusts you to open up to you about a concern they have with someone else’s behaviour, don’t betray that trust by not confronting it.

Adopt the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation mental health guidelines (http://www.tjmf.org.au/raise-the-standard/) – review where you are and honestly commit to where you want to be.  Open up a conversation with one of your staff members if you are concerned about their mental health.

Make your promotion procedures transparent – are your promotions criteria and the performance criteria for senior associate and partner known?   Some firms keep this a deep dark secret but transparency of process and standards has a lot going for it. It allows for honest conversations about promotional prospects and gives staff something to aim for.

Keep your stars engaged and stretched intellectually – if you have a star performer, it is imperative to make sure they are not only engaged, but busy and also stretched intellectually.  Introduce them to clients, give them responsibility, and stretch assignments to give them new skills and a challenge.

Commit to flexible working – Flexible work is the way of the future.  It is the way of work now for many workplaces.  Don’t be left behind.  Check your own assumptions and biases about how people work.  Commit to measuring output not hours in the office.  For roles that genuinely require attendance in the office offer flexibility in terms of start and finish times.  Your generosity will be rewarded with loyalty.

Doing things the way you have always done them will result in the same output.  What can you do differently this year to enhance your performance as an employer?

Rewarding high performers

A recent Harvard Business Review Article examined ‘What High Performers Want At Work’ https://hbr.org/2014/11/what-high-performers-want-at-work

The article starts with the premise that a high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer.  So it makes sense to make sure that they are rewarded appropriately and are engaged at work, doesn’t it? This is particularly so, in light of the fact that if they are high performers, they are likely to be in demand and at risk of being poached by another firm. High Performer

Here are some ways we know will engage your stars:

  • The most important thing is to make sure you communicate often with your star performer – discussing their work, career objectives and level of engagement are crucial.
  • Find out what motivates them as an individual – lumping them together at review time and assessing them as against peers to set salary bands is not going to make them feel supported if that is how you are going to answer them when they query their salary review.
  • Find innovative ways to remunerate them – whether it be by additional special leave after a big transaction or project, or gift cards, or a gift to their partner, little things add up to big loyalty.
  • Give a lot of encouragement and feedback – especially if the feedback comes from clients or outside your own team.  The impact of positive psychology cannot be underestimated – you will reap great rewards if your stars know you regard them highly and acknowledge it.
  • Consider stretch assignments.  High performers enjoy achievement, and want to learn. Think about what transactions they can be included in to help them learn and grow.
  • Involve them in the business, to an appropriate level.  Help them understand your business drivers, its risks and strengths, as well as opportunities, and how they can help.
  • If they are technically excellent, help them develop the other skills needed to excel in the profession – for example client and business development, people skills, as well as practice management.

Don’t let your stars shine somewhere else.

5 Great ways to reward & appreciate your staff

AppreciationWhat do you do when you know a staff member is terribly resentful that he or she did not get the pay rise they were looking forward to? There is no doubt that in tough economic times, it is difficult to give your staff the salary increases they might want or expect. Disappointment is inevitable.

How do you ensure you retain your best performers in a tough market and where top performers will be in demand, and at risk of leaving or being poached?


Most importantly don’t ignore the problem.  Most problems are, if not solved, then lessened, by communication. Explain the decision, the reasons for it, and what the future holds. Ask for their feedback. Ask what motivates them. Rewards can be fashioned around what motivates individuals.

Here are some options:


Bonuses can take a number of forms. Performance bonuses based on meeting set criteria (and not just financial) are a good way to motivate. Don’t leave it 12 months after the event – try breaking the bonus up into two parts, payable six-monthly.

Retention bonuses are paid, regardless of performance to encourage staff to stay for a period of time.  Some call it a golden handcuff – but if a staff member is at risk of departure, keeping them with you for a set period of time with a reward at the end may be enough to see the tough times through.

A holiday bonus is a great way to reward your staff before they go on leave – and a great surprise for them if not linked to any event other than wishing them a happy holiday.

Some organisations pay a loyalty leave bonus which pays staff a small bonus with an extra week’s leave after five years’ service.

Time and flexibility

Does you staff member have child or eldercare responsibilities?  Offer time – either in blocks, or shorter days when work is light on. If work is full on and long hours are worked, offer a day or afternoon off at an appropriate time.


Buy a few gift vouchers to have in your top drawer – and vary them. Grocery store vouchers may not float the boat of someone who is into cars. Movie vouchers, massages, and other experiences are all good rewards and these should be given out at a time close to an event worth rewarding.


Create a greater sense of team. Bring in a cake for your team meetings. Take the team out for lunch for no reason. There are a myriad number of ways to do this.


Staff who feel appreciated are more likely to go the extra mile for you. Say thank you and express appreciation on a regular basis.

What are your favourite ways to reward your staff?