No, not the Face Time app on your iPhone, “face time” as in one-on-one meetings with direct reports and others in your organization.
As firms relentlessly pursue efficiency by automating processes, collecting loads of data and creating “lean” teams, more of us are deliberately disengaging from our work.
And we often blame management when things don’t improve. Bad management, to be exact. A 2014 Gallup poll shows that companies fail to hire proper management 82% of the time. Ouch.
What exactly makes a “good” manager? Harvard Business Review recently published a summary of research done in studies of knowledge-based businesses. The researchers found that effective managers:
- Lead by example when it comes to working hours
- Ensure even allocation of work among team members
- Maintain large networks across the firm
- Prioritize one-on-one meetings with direct reports
- Are engaged with their own work
Of all these practices, more frequent one-on-one meetings with direct reports could be the easiest way to improve management. They are time consuming and relatively expensive, but they could also be the most rewarding.
Whether you’re a managing partner, practice group leader or administrator responsible for getting work done through others, you can find creative ways to prioritize conversations with direct reports. Schedule meetings with standing agendas. Connect the agendas to operational plans and firm values. Gather feedback and listen for what your reports are and aren’t saying.
This is what will help you make the most out of data and process improvements (including automation). Facilitate conversations to uncover and connect insights, and then leverage them into value that you can communicate to clients and propel your team forward. It cannot be done any other way in a professional firm.
Some corporate clients now refuse to pay outside counsel for time spent in conversation with firm colleagues regarding their legal matters. And some lawyers are using this as an excuse to bow out of important internal conversations.
On a simplistic level, this might be a mistake. It doesn’t just inhibit strong firm management; it inhibits strong matter management by limiting growth of the collective intellectual capital that comprises a firm’s competitive advantage (presumably why the firm is hired to begin with). It it doesn’t encourage delegation where appropriate, either, which often costs clients more in the end.
Prioritizing one-on-one or in person meetings is a good idea, regardless of whether your clients will compensate you directly for it or whether you’ll receive any external recognition for it. It could also make your firm management happier too: visible leaders are often perceived as more credible leaders. When your firm is ready to launch development initiatives, you’ll have an easier time convincing people to cooperate.
An abbreviated version of this post was published on the Canadian legal blog slaw.ca on December 28, 2016.