A couple weeks ago, I was at the Association of Legal Administrators conference.  On a number of occasions I heard about the topic of silos and individuals when discussing what is happening in law firms.  I’ve also seen this in many of the law firms that I’ve visited with over the past 10 years.

Consequently, as I have developed the Pathway to Success model for achieving goals I purposely put the word teamwork into the template.  Here is what I picture as the ideal team and how it would work in a law firm.

Maybe the place to start is looking at why working as a team matters.  Well, studies over the past several years have shown that people who work as team are able to accomplish more than those who work individually. I find that when a firm is working in silos and its focus is on the individual, ideas are not shared, and problems that are happening don’t get addressed.

This is because everyone is more concerned about their own work, leadership and training of other people in the firm doesn’t happen, and the list could go on. But you get the point.

Developing a team mentality will help your firm achieve your goals.  When teams work together problems can be solved, ideas are shared, associates are mentored, paralegals get all of the information they need to do their jobs, and so on.  Each of these has an outcome that leads to higher productivity and greater profitability.

So next time you think about what your practice should look like consider the benefits of having a team working together to achieve your goals.

You may be asking what alignment has to do with achieving goals and being successful in your practice. The answer is that alignment is a key component to success. Let me describe for you what alignment means.

Alignment occurs when your goals adhere to what you say you’re doing. For example, if your firm says that you are family-friendly, then you need to act family-friendly. You also need to define what family-friendly means.

Does it mean that your team can take a break from work and go see a school play? Does it mean that you only work so many hours in a day and that’s how you are structured? You need to define what you say your culture is and ensure that your actions are in alignment with that culture.

The problem that we find, and this is the case not just in law firms, that a firm will say that it believes in one thing and then its actions don’t show they believe what they said.

The effect on your team when you are in alignment with what you say your culture is can be powerful. Alignment helps you retain your talent. It also makes it possible that your team will give you their best, because they know what your values are and they are able to agree with those values. Plus, this helps when you hire new people. They can discover what your firm’s culture really is so that the both of you can make a decision on if working there is the right fit.

Last week I was at the Annual ALA conference and had a great time meeting with people. At the conference I gave out gratitude journals because gratitude helps people be happier, healthier and smarter.

Another great side effect of gratitude is that it helps you gain respect at a faster rate. The key to moving forward on the Pathway to Success is having respect for yourself and for your team.

So you may be asking why respect matters. The reason why respect matters is that we need to work together to get to our goals.

Have you ever been in a situation where you work with someone you don’t trust or respect?

It’s hard to achieve your goals if you don’t respect the people around you to do the job that needs to be done. We end up micromanaging them to ensure that the job is done right. This makes it harder to achieve our goals and wastes precious time.

This week I’m at the Association of Legal Administrators and I’m giving out Gratitude Journals.  You may be asking the question:  Why gratitude?

The Pathway to Success requires us to solve problems and innovate to get to our goals.  In all of the research that I have done I have found that people who have gratitude are able to solve problems easier.

For example, in Robert A. Emmons’s book “Thanks!” he relates various studies that show having gratitude has helped people be happier, healthier and smarter.  So if I can solve problems easier by being happier, healthier and smarter, then why not use gratitude to help me achieve my goals?

The key to gratitude is to be consistent.  I recommend writing three things you are grateful for each and every day.  I’ve done this for over 7 months now and I can truly say that I have been sick less, I’m happier, and I have been able to solve problems much easier.  As a side benefit I have a much easier time going to sleep.

All of these side effects of gratitude will help you as you pursue your goals. This is why gratitude is so important to the Pathway to Success.

Last Friday I presented at the 13th annual Elder Law Conference on getting to what matters most. So why do this presentation?

Too many practices are struggling to do what is the most important. And the reason has nothing to do with the fact that they are trying to do the wrong thing. It has everything to do with needing a different structure that allows the attorney to have the focus they need.

My presentation lays out the leadership structure that is needed to get you to what matters most.

Over the next nine weeks my blog posts will be devoted to my Pathway to Success system that walks a firm through the entire process. Then next year I will be releasing a book called, “The Pathway to Success.”

I look forward to connecting with you and learning from you what is working and what isn’t working in your practice.

If you are like many people, the thought of tackling a problem sounds draining. Maybe you need to look at problems in a new way so that you can solve it without the normal drain.

Many times we tend to jump to conclusions about the problem we are trying to solve.  Then we come up with a solution to the problem but it didn’t really work.  Then the next time you try to tackle a problem you get more resistance.

Here is a new way of looking at what the real problem is.  First you need to start by not blaming the person. You need to look at why the process isn’t working.  With the blame game gone it will be a whole lot easier to solve the problem.

Next, ask why the problem exists in the first place.  You need to understand the real root of the problem before you can fix it.  Then ask why 4 more times and see what real problem is.  Once you know the root of the problem then it becomes a whole lot easier to come up with the solution.

You’re busy in your practice and working 60+ hours a week. You’re probably thinking, “I’m worn out.  I’m ready for a change.  Yet work keeps piling on, which is great because the cash flow keeps coming in.”

But think about the things that you’re missing. Wouldn’t be nice to get home before 8:00 at night?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have weekend off?  This sounds like a pipe dream right? This is just the way it works.  It’s the way it has worked for the past 100 years.  Attorneys just plain and simply have to work this hard. It’s a badge of honor.

But what about the cost? Sure the income is great, but it’s hard to find the time to spend it. You’ve missed more activities with your family than you care to count.

The good news is that there is a better way. And it starts with understanding how decisions work in your firm. Take, for example, the last time you went or someone you love went in for surgery.  Did the surgeon prep you for surgery?  Did the surgeon make sure that your papers were filled out before hand?  Did the surgeon wheel you out of surgery and take you to recovery?

Absolutely not!  They performed the surgery, they made sure that they did the technical procedures that they spent time training for.  They also have systems in place for training their staff.

Now think of your office. When is the last time you had to deal with a bill or make sure that the client was called? If you are still dealing with things that don’t require your experience then guess what? You are the bottleneck in your firm.

So how do you go from being the bottleneck to the person that only deals with problems that require your expertise?  The answer is through systems and procedures. You create an environment where your staff knows what decisions they can make and the decisions that they need your help with.  The reality is that you are making the same decisions over and over again, which is causing you to work weekends and evenings.

Most people look for a silver bullet to help them shave off 20 hours out of the work week. But there is no silver bullet. In order to shave off 20 hours you have to start with 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. And one of the places to start is to teach your staff how to make the right decisions and have a process to ensure that it gets done.

So the next time you get pulled away from doing a critical task, take a moment and think about whether you should have to answer the same question every time or if you could do like we did for our other clients and put a process in place to help your staff know what decisions they can make.

Are you tired of working 60+ hours in a week?

I’ve worked with a number of attorneys over the years and most of them are working more than 60 hours a week. They rarely don’t work on weekends. But they are frustrated because they feel like they are chained to their desks.

So the question they should be asking is, “How can I work a reasonable amount of time and still make the same amount of money?”

Many attorneys look at this as impossible. It is just the way it has always been. You work really hard and then you hopefully retire and get to do all the things you missed out while you were working really hard.

This past week I was talking to a few attorneys over lunch who asked me to look at their processes. When I asked them what their goals were for the two days I was going to be with them, they said that they really wanted to just work 45 hours a week.  They were tired of the 60+ hour work week.

I told them that in order to reach their goal they are going to have to not only invest in processes but they had to make processes a way of daily life.

What does that mean?

Well, most attorneys don’t have defined processes. But the process is what gives you freedom to know that everything is getting done the way it needs to be done.

For example, last week I talked about checklists and the importance of having them. I work with attorneys over the course of two days to help them define the key areas that were costing them their personal time. Then I work with their staff to develop some key checklists that would help ensure that everything is getting done right.

It has been fun to see the light go on in attorneys as they have understood that process are going to give them the lifestyle they are looking for. The key to going from a 60+ workweek to a 45 hour work week is eliminating all of the tasks that don’t add value to clients. In most cases it is done by freeing up 5 to 10 minutes by either eliminating a task or making a task more efficient.

To start, I recommend keeping a list at your desk and write down the things that you do during a day that you don’t get paid for. Then categorize them into three categories: I should do this, my staff should do this and no one should do this.

Once you have done this make a plan to remove these things from yourself, from the staff, and then eliminate tasks. The next step is to look at the things that you get paid for and put them in two categories: I should do them and my staff should do them. Using this list, create a plan with a date for when the staff items will be shifted. Next week I will go more into depth on how to do this.

If you need help with this we offer various coaching packages to get you started.  Click here for more information.

Has this ever happened to you? You thought you trained a team member to do a job a certain way, but the results were not what you intended.  If this is the case for you then you should understand some different training methods.  They are listed in the order of least effective to most effective.

  1. The sink and swim method  – You ask a person to do a job and then expect them to get it done and if they don’t make it then you just reassign them to something else or worse let them go.
  2. The benevolent sink and swim method – It’s similar to the first sink and swim, but you just continue to let them plow through the tasks and hope they get it right someday.  You believe they will get the task done and there is no threat of being fired.
  3. Written instructions on how to do the job, now go and do it – This is getting better. At least they have instructions on how to do their job.  But in many cases they still are sure exactly what to do because the instructions aren’t necessarily clear and they are hard to understand.
  4. Watch – Do Together – Ask Questions –  In this type of training you actually sit down with the person to show them how to do the task. Then you do the task together.  Next, they do the task on their own with the ability to continue to get feedback on what is working.  You also have instructions that are clear on what needs to be done.

The reality is that the effort you put in to training your team member is critical to your success.  If you aren’t training them with the best practices possible you’re setting them up for failure.

I sat on a plane recently ready to take off to visit one of our clients for two days of process improvement.  As I marveled at our ability to fly from one side of the country to the other, the thought crossed my mind about how these airline pilots ensure that everything is ready to go.

I was reminded of a story early in aviation history where Boeing developed the 299 plane which later went on to become the B-17 bomber. During the trial evaluations of the plane, tragedy struck because the elevator lock wasn’t released. Boeing went from a sure lock in for a contract of over a hundred planes to people saying that the plane was too complicated for one person to fly.

Did Boeing create too complex of a plane? A team of pilots got together to determine if there was a way to ensure nothing would be missed. Out of that meeting the checklist was born. The plane later went on to fly 1.8 million miles without serious accident and the army eventually ordered 12,731 planes.

Today checklists are the staple of airlines and many other industries. Law firms are also taking advantage of checklists to help them ensure that every detail is taken care of for their clients. The key to using checklists in your office is to have the checklists match what is really happening with the process. This will ensure that your firm benefits from the use of checklists.