The Power of Clarity on Expectations

By, Phyllis Weiss Haserot - When I talk with young partners, managers, counsel and associates at many professional firms, I hear a lot of similar concerns, uncertainties and insecurities relating to their status and their future.

The pressures of today's practice, including billable hour requirements and needs for constantly building the client base as well as the greatly reduced chances of "making partner," or shareholder or managing director at any one firm, has changed the rules of the game. Change is always difficult, but change when the rules are unclear or even unwritten is harder still.

What do they say? Some typical comments from young professionals are:

 

  • We hear lip service to encourage us to develop business, but in the end, we're only really rewarded for billing hours.

     

  • Some partners seem to get firm support for spending prime time on marketing. We get disapproving looks if we are out during the day on business development activities rather than in our office. But our prospects are not usually available after 8:30 pm.

     

  • We hear different stories about our minimum billing requirements. Associates and managers at the same levels in the same firms are given different numbers.

     

  • Management seems luke warm at best to niche practice areas we suggest that we want to develop - and then questions whether we are the right people to lead the practice development.

     

  • Some more senior lawyers are as likely as not to decline to spend time supporting me when I am pursuing a prospective client if it's not a large client.

These professionals are the future of private practice - they are "the Next Generation."

Their engagement in firm plans and activities is crucial. Their disenchantment is risky. And the keys to their enthusiastic involvement are not so costly. They need a clear articulation of expectations, coaching, encouragement to develop new practice niches, support and sincere feedback. They need to feel recognized for their contributions.

How best to deal with these very typical situations? I find that most managing partners and committees and practice group heads think they have articulated their or the firm’s expectations.

However, ask those they think they have communicated to, and generally you find confusion, uncertainty - certainly not crystal clarity. In most cases, the lack of clarity is unintentional and stems either from a belief on management’s part that they have actually conveyed to the whole firm what they have said to each other in closed meetings or a lack of repetition.

Just as in advertising, to have the desired impact, clear messages need to be repeated regularly and to be reinforced with "what’s in it for me" recognition mechanisms. Management actions must avoid mixed messages and be consistent with the intended messages put out.

It’s important to remind ourselves, especially from a position of leadership, of the tremendous impact of expectations and perceptions. It is natural for us to expect that most people want the same things to a similar degree, but it is simply not true.

Individuals and managers at all levels need to identify expectations, assess whether those expectations have been or can be fulfilled, and then take whatever action is necessary to address dissatisfaction in order to retain and motivate desired talent.

Copyright 2004 - All Rights Reserved.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2004.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Practice Development Counsel
Consulting/Coach to the Next Generation
Creator of *Coach-for-the-Coach* and *The Flexible Firm*
Web Site: http://www.pdcounsel.com

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