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MANAGING STAFF

Want to jump ahead of the competition? Get everybody aiming for the same thing

No matter what the business, the winning players are always organizations with a motivated and productive workforce.

And what maintains motivation and productivity is goals—plus mentoring, coaching, and training to help everybody achieve them.

Workable goals admittedly take thought, planning, and a lot of follow-up, says business development and management consultant John McNamara of John McNamara and Associates in Morganville, NJ. But without them, don’t expect to see the firm grow. Plan instead to become a stationary observer of the competition as it passes by.

It starts with one big firm goal

Job descriptions do no more than outline people’s basic responsibilities, McNamara says. What determines success is goals.

To be effective, the goal-setting has to start at the top and continue on down to the most junior clerical staffer.

It’s a matter of deciding what the firm wants to see most and then setting individual goals to make it happen. It becomes a chain of overall goals, departmental goals, and goals for each partner, associate, and staffer—all lined up so everyone is working to achieve the same thing.

Suppose the firm wants to retain 100% of its client base.

An individual practice group might have the goal of surveying the client satisfaction level and making whatever improvements clients cite. To support the goal, the receptionist’s goal might be to get 100% positive feedback on the part of the survey that covers telephone etiquette and responsiveness.

Or suppose a firm with five practice groups wants to see $10 million in revenues during the first quarter.

Each group might take on the goal of bringing in $2 million. And everybody within those groups then takes on a supporting role. A secretary, for example, might focus on getting the bills out by the 15th of the month.

Five factors for success

McNamara points to five factors that will determine the firm’s success.

1. Explain it all

The first factor is that people have to understand how their personal goals fit into the big picture. Without that understanding people will wonder, “Why in the world do I have to do this?” and the response will be negative. So will the motivation.

Phrase it in terms of, “We want to bring in $X next quarter. That means this department needs to generate $Y million in revenues. And to do that, we need you to participate.”

Then explain how the firm expects individuals to participate. Say, for example, “For us to achieve that, we need you to get the bills out by the 15th of the month,” or “We need you to answer the phones in a professional manner so we don’t lose potential clients.”

2. Get everyone’s input

Success also demands everyone at the firm participate. That means each goal has to be a joint decision between firm and employee or, on a larger scale, between firm and department.

“Nobody wants to be told what to do,” McNamara says.

It has to be a mutual decision, with both sides expressing their opinions on what types of goals are needed and how to accomplish them.

3. Ensure the goals are achievable

Each goal has to be realistic and that means both sides have to agree that it’s doable.

There has to be a conversation where people are asked questions like: “Can you achieve this?” and “Do you think this is reasonable?” and “Do you have the resources to do this?”

The secretary who’s being told to get the bills out by the 15th may cite a need for more training in using the billing system. Or the system may need a program update.

Fail to get agreement on the achievability of the goal and employees may leave the meeting thinking, “I’m not going to bother with this. I’ll go through the motions, but in reality I’m not going to worry about it.”

4. Follow-up regularly

Frequent progress evaluations are essential.

Don’t wait until the annual review to follow up, McNamara says. If someone encounters a roadblock, find out what’s needed to get the person back on track. Or if someone is simply not performing, say so. Don’t let poor performance continue unchecked until it becomes absolute failure.

For new, inexperienced employees, McNamara recommends goals be reviewed as often as twice a month. The others can wait longer, but no more than quarterly. Otherwise, the administrator forgets specific examples of what the person has done well or where the performance has fallen short.

The points to hammer home are: How are you doing with your goals? Have you encountered any problems? Is there anything you’d like to share with me about what is and isn’t working? Is there anything you’d like to discuss with me in terms of where you are in your career and with the firm?

Then point out the positive. “You’ve done a great job with client relations. I’ve noticed how you always speak professionally when you answer the phone and how helpful you are when clients come in.”

And then address the not so positive: “One of the things I’d like you to focus more on is taking complete written messages. This is something we talked about when we set the expectations. How do you feel about that? What is standing in the way right now? Do you need extra training?”

End by reiterating the goals and summarizing what the employee will do in the next few weeks to achieve them.

With ongoing follow-up, the entire office is constantly aware of, and accountable for, reaching the firm’s overall goal.

5. Prepare for next year

The fifth and final factor is ensuring the goal-setting process is never ending.

During annual performance reviews, address how successful each staffer has been at reaching their goals and adjust expectations up or down accordingly.

Sometimes higher expectations will be in order, McNamara says. If an attorney’s goal was to bill 1,700 hours and they achieved it even with a month’s sabbatical, then it’s reasonable to raise the goal to 1,800 hours.

Or, if there’s failure, find out why. Were the goals unreasonable? Should the expectation be lowered? Is more training in order? Is the employee just lazy?

Most people respond positively when the conversation is presented in terms of “the firm’s goals” and how their personal goals fit in.

As you know, this is the time of year when we meet with everybody to set personal goals and to show how those goals relate to the firm’s overall goals.

Here are your results for last year. I want to talk with you about your success and make adjustments for next year.

Talking in terms of “we” demonstrates that the firm and employee are working toward a joint accomplishment. It also shows the administrator is receptive to input from the employee.

That type of dialogue “creates a comfort level that leads to a productive meeting.”

Make the time and find the money

To the firm that says it doesn’t have the time or money to devote to setting goals, McNamara says, “Make the time and find the money or fall behind the competition.”

Fail to keep tabs on progress and the firm will see many failures plus an attitude of “who cares?” People see their co-workers not pulling their weight but still getting paid and think, “Why should I go out of my way to do more than the bare minimum?”

Or a staffer may come back and say, “You’re giving me an unsatisfactory review and I won’t get a raise, but this is the first time I’m hearing about this.” And if the employee is in a protected class, that could be accompanied by a claim of discrimination.


Related reading:

How to make 2015 the year you improve value, cut costs, and increase profits


Unique client communication approach gives small firm a huge marketing advantage


90-day goals for success and job satisfaction


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