Entrepreneurship is the most worthwhile endeavour, regardless of one’s fate in this journey. Those of us who have taken up this facet of professional life will testify that the business is the wife and everyone else in our lives become mistresses. The concept of weekends, weekdays, holidays, etc. are all non-existent and it is a 24/7 engagement no matter how much we wish for things to be otherwise. Yet it is not something that can be abandoned at all. The journey is exhilarating and completely satisfying and the joy cannot be substituted with anything else.
One of the most tricky aspects of management is handling the human resources. Especially in the legal services industry, we have to constantly be mindful of the fact that people drive businesses and processes are dependent on people. Human Resources are not just the biggest assets of a law firm, but they are the foundations on which law practice is built. I say this because unlike any other field, the role of the human mind and the demand for its ingenuity is ever evolving in this line of work.
Yet the paralegals, the associates and the non-partner staff are the unsung heroes in the legal services sector. Not too long ago, I was among their ranks when I was a student of law. My position as a junior associate back in 2007, notwithstanding the relatively higher responsibility and dignity the position came with as opposed to an intern, allowed me the benefit of understanding the core H.R. challenges in a law firm. Around this experience has also come a certain understanding which I now wish to share.
1. Embrace the changing dynamics: The yesteryear job market was all amount too many people competing for too few jobs. In this atmosphere the employer was at a vantage point. It was not the era of economic boom and a salary offered much security and stability. Today the times are different. Too many jobs and too few people seem to be the norm. The focus is no longer on salary alone but also dignity, work satisfaction and facilitation of a healthy work-life balance. It is thus, not sufficient if one’s employees are being paid. One has to be sensitive to their mindset, value systems and emotions, failing which attrition is not too far away.
2.Stick it to the Carrot and the Stick: Human Beings are rational beings. The carrot and the stick approach undermines your employees and reduces them to animals who, notwithstanding the whack from the whip, will still come crawling back when shown the carrot. Entrepreneurship is all about ownership and responsibility and inculcating that as a way of life among all stake holders, particularly the employees. Don’t undermine them with the carrot and stick policy. Hold them accountable, as you would hold a team mate, when work is not done. But don’t be patronizing about it. Similarly thank them when something is done, not because they are your servant and you are being magnanimous, but because they deserve it!
3. Collective Approach: We all hate it when the work we allot is not done. It sucks. We feel angry, frustrated and our ego accuses us of emasculation. But, bottom line, the problem still exists. Instead, sit down with the person responsible for the default in an informal private setting. Inquire into the causes that led to the default and objectively analyze the sustainability of these causes. Map out solutions and transfer the onus of implementation, atleast partly to the concerned employee. Not only will this motivate your employees to come clean with their grievances to facilitate preventive action the next time around, but critical system failures, which legitimately exist will come to light, which, in the long run ensure greater efficiency and approach. Encourage them when they do things well with genuine compliments and hold them accountable, in an unemotional manner, when they go wrong. It has to be done. But do it because you are first among equals and not because you are the master and they, your servant! Statements like “I don’t care what went wrong, bottom line you didnt get the job done and therefore you are useless” are to be strictly avoided at all costs.
4. Sensitivity- The untold story: We all have strengths and limitations and we all have our egoes. Some people would not like to do certain kinds of work and some people are willing to do every kind of work that exists. Learn to balance it out between such competing interests and be sensitive to them. If a work, not conducive of an employee’s qualification and experience, needs to be done by him, ask a favour as a friend rather than imposing it on him. It is a process of rapport building and one needs to be intuitive on these areas.
4. Objective Distance: In the work place, we are neither friends nor foes. We are simply people who have come together to achieve some goals, financial and non-financial together. Office politics is the anti thesis of efficient goal achievement, so neither encourage it nor initiate it. Have honest weekly team meetings to understand where the staff is coming from and what they wish to offer as critique of your management skills. As a small business, we may not be able to offer salaries of large corporations, but we can create a democratic atmosphere where everyone is brainstorming on increasing efficiency and decreasing wastage. Keep a safe distance and ensure things are done in a collaborative and participative manner.
What I have shared is not a key driver of success or a one stop miracle maker. It is some insights I believe to be true based on my experience managing members in my own team. It may work for some, it may not work for all. But the pitfalls from not implementing some of the above observations are all too obvious to be ignored. Hope this helps!