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Rise to Inclusion: Try Curiosity instead of Conflict

“What is right, can never be impossible!”
-Captain Sir John Lindsay, in the film
Belle

Almost ten years ago I had the privilege to present at a NALP conference. I was one of four coaches speaking to a group of law firm professionals about the use of executive coaching in law firms. Attendees at the presentation were offered a 30-minute on-the-spot coaching session to get a sampling of how coaching works. As attendees entered the conference room set aside for the coaching, they could choose any available coach to engage in a session.

When Tracey West, the Associate Dean of External Relations, Diversity & Inclusion at Boston College Law School approached the conference room, she made a bee-line straight to me. She said, “I’d like you to be my coach. Is that okay?” I welcomed Tracey and we went to find a quiet place to sit and talk. Before we started the coaching session, Tracey told me, “I really enjoyed your section of the presentation, and I knew right away I wanted to work with you. Look. I even wrote in my notes, “the engaging black coach.” I smiled, looked at her notes, felt very humbled as Tracey described me as “engaging”, and then looked at Tracey and said, “You think I’m black?” And she nodded and smiled while saying “Yes.” I immediately asked Tracey, “Are you?” Tracey said “of course.” And I said, “Wow, I thought you were white...and by the way, I’m not black, I’m white.” We both roared with laughter at how wrong we both were, however, it led to a great conversation and an even better professional and personal relationship.

So other than laugh, what did we do next? We did what lots of mothers do and showed each other pictures of our kids and commented on their color too. My white son looked darker than her black children. We laughed. And then I showed her my daughter with fair skin, blond hair and green eyes and we laughed again about the unpredictability of genes. Our curiosity about each other, our cultures, backgrounds and life experiences provided the stage for candid, respectful and open communication. Since we approached each other with curiosity, a safe space for genuine and candid conversation developed. I asked Tracey about being a black woman in America today and Tracey inquired about my ethnic and religious background as an Ashkenazi Jew.

Commonalities were easy to find: as professionals, mothers, spouses and proud Americans.  Likewise, we were both interested in learning and development, so there was plenty to talk about. Being curious about our differences with a healthy respect for each other has given us both many teachable moments, particularly when societal pressures may threaten to inhibit individual dialogues.

I see echoes of our interactions in the 2013 film Belle. Based on the real-life events, the film concerns the relationship between the title character, a mixed-race girl and her white cousin who were raised as equals among the nobility in 18th century England. After Belle’s West Indian mother dies, her English father, Captain Sir John Lindsay is forced to leave his child with his unenthusiastic aunt and uncle, the Mansfields, in order to perform his military duties. It turns out the Mansfields’ daughter Elizabeth is the same age, and the two cousins develop a friendship they navigate into adulthood despite being overshadowed by the politics of race and class culture in their time.

The Curiosity Ladder

Adi Ignatius references recent research in the Harvard Business Review article, “Cultivate Curiosity.” The author notes: “Curiosity improves decision making because it reduces our susceptibility to stereotypes and to confirmation bias; it fuels employee engagement and collaboration; and it fortifies organizational resilience by prompting creative problem solving in the face of uncertainty and pressure. In short, curiosity boosts business performance.” Ignatius’s conclusion supports the argument for curiosity.

Judging → Understanding → Respecting → Appreciating → Valuing Differences*

Choosing curiosity as the tool to use when encountering someone different from ourselves provides the platform for understanding. Think of it this way: as humans, we climb to the first rung of the curiosity ladder when someone is different from us. This rung is called “Judging.” And the behavior of judging one another can cause conflict. If we choose to rise on the curiosity ladder, the next rung is “Understanding.” On this rung we can choose to practice curiosity and inquire and ask questions to understand. If we choose to go higher, we can move to the next rung of the ladder, “Respecting” and demonstrate respect for each other’s differences. From there we can strive to go higher and “Appreciating” each other’s differences. The highest rung of the ladder is one level higher: that of “Valuing” our differences. As we reach the height of “Valuing Differences” we are so far away from judging, we can instead choose to value the unique and exquisite differences our friends and colleagues bring to our work and our lives.

Perhaps when the majority of us get there, we will have transformed society! I remain hopeful our society can get there as a whole. The clip “Soul Sisters,” from a 2017 episode of CBS Sunday Morning shows us why. It profiles Miami preschoolers Jia Sarnicola and Zuri Copeland who say they are closer than best friends, closer than sisters, even. In fact, Jia and Zuri truly believe they’re twins - not because they share the same skin color (they don’t), but because they share the same soul.

*Based on DiSC® Classic, ©2011 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. “DiSC” and “Wiley” are registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The Generational Disconnect Between Law Firm Partners & Associates

By: David B. Sarnoff, Esq., With Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David Robert  

Editorial Note: We changed the names of those interviewed for this article to maintain their anonymity.  

When I was a junior associate in the mid-1990s, partners and associates were able to connect over common life experiences, in how we grew up and began our careers. Even though many of the partners were more than 20 years my senior, we were all raised before the internet and cell phones, we were content with seven channels on television, we went to the movies and rode our bikes to the park. Despite the technology advancements in the 90s, many functions at our firm were still being done manually or with limited automation. I recall bates stamping documents by hand and researching caselaw in a physical library with the help of books (gasp!), digests, reporters and supplements.1

Over twenty years later, law firm life has changed dramatically. We often hear from our leadership training clients about the generational disconnect between junior associates and partners, creating challenges to a productive workplace culture. The common threads in these stories include a lack of mutual understanding of each other’s needs, how others communicate, give and receive feedback and collaborate.  This may be the result of having fewer common life experiences than with the previous generation. 

I spoke at length with an attorney, Michael, who has practiced law for over twenty-five years and was a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm. He recalled the excitement he felt after graduating from a prestigious law school and starting his career at a large New York firm. From the first day on the job, he felt a deep sense of commitment to the firm and aspired to be a partner. He doesn’t see the same commitment from the new generation of associates.

Michael discussed how when he was a junior associate the practice of law involved more human interaction, collaboration and mentoring. With respect to the law firm library culture, he said, “I would analogize it to the college experience. At the law library, there were always a group of young associates talking to one another at the reference desk or at each other’s table.” Practicing law was a social activity. “I think it built some esprit de corps,” Michael added, and would lead to establishing relationships outside of work. 

Document reviews, or due diligence trips, presented additional opportunities for attorneys to strengthen their bond. During the early part of Michael’s career, he would frequently join junior and senior attorneys to off-site trips to review thousands of pages of documents that were stored in a warehouse. The document review in many respects was an opportunity to essentially live together in the same hotel, eat together at the same restaurants and engage in informal chit-chat that increased the degree of awareness and collaboration across the team. Although the document reviews could slip into the mundane, Michael appreciated the opportunity to connect with his peers. “Document review trips felt like being in the trenches,” he recalled. “You got to know people better and there was that sense of shared experiences.”

With the technological explosion in law over the past decade in e-discovery and artificial intelligence, there are fewer of these extended document review trips. “The law library has been rendered almost extinct,” Michael shared, underscoring the sentiment of many of his contemporaries. Millions of documents are now streamed through servers to an attorney’s desk and, in many ways, law can be practiced without ever leaving one’s office. That’s certainly inconsistent with how Michael was trained. “The practice of law has become a lonely experience,” Michael said. “I can go days without seeing an associate.”

Shawn, another seasoned partner I spoke with, shares some of Michael’s perspective. He sees erosion in the sense of urgency among junior associates, partly due to the changing dynamic between partners and associates. “Small firms are trying to take my clients and big firms are trying to take my clients,” Shawn said. “It is so hard to bring in business but so easy to lose a client when mistakes are made, or a client feels disrespected.”

Shawn sees a lack of understanding across the associate ranks of the practice of building and retaining strong client relationships. Practicing law isn’t always glamorous. The small transactional tasks can be just as important as the richer assignments, but associates don’t always share that same perspective. “When I give assignments, I’m occasionally greeted with an eye roll,” he shared. “Associates need to understand that each assignment, no matter how mundane, is critical to solidifying the firm/client relationship which helps grow more business and profitability.” 

“I am still waiting to get a junior me as an associate,” Michael said, although he knows that is unlikely given the generational divide. 

Not all partners see these emerging challenges as directly related to a generational gap. “I have never had to deal with so many spread sheets and reports,” said Cathryn, a partner who has been practicing law since the early 1990s. She points to a shift within her firm toward hyper examination of compensation, expenses, and investments. She describes the shift as the legal profession morphing into the legal business. She doesn’t think the generational gap is contributing to the firm’s challenges to the degree that others may assert. “The quality of the associates hasn’t changed in 15 years,” she said.

When reflecting on firm culture today, Cathryn offered some advice to both associates and partners. She advised associates to “align yourself with good lawyers and people who can give good guidance. Learn from firm leaders.” As for firm leadership, “if you want top talent, then understand top talent doesn’t want to work 24/7. Firms need to offer professional development so associates feel valued.” 

Kim, an HR Director with many years of big law experience, couldn’t agree more. “A lot of things get blamed on the Millennial generation simply because they are young,” she said. “There is a lot of ageism against the younger associates.” And Kim doesn’t hold back on why there might be challenges between partners and associates. “Millennials are less likely to take crap and they will express themselves. That is not something that generally happened 20 years ago.” Kim’s perspective hits a chord with many of the recruiters I spoke to as well. “Millennials demand more and if they are not heard they will move,” Kim said. “Because there is such a negative stereotype around Millennials, firms aren’t listening to what associates are saying and are dismissing their concerns.” 

Michael supports Kim’s call for action. “Leaders need to be responsive to needs and desires,” he said. “Young lawyers may want a lot of different things and that doesn’t make them bad or ineffective people.” Michael encourages partners to recognize that the conventional model has changed, and that firms can be trailblazers on Millennial engagement only if they are willing to change. But he knows that change at a typical law firm moves at a glacial pace. “Firms need to cultivate their second- and third-year associates,” Michael added. 

Associates clearly offer a differing perspective on law firm life. “We work hard, bill big hours and make sacrifices to perform at a high level,” said Jennifer, an associate at a large firm. “No matter how much a firm will promote long-term growth opportunities and the chance to make partner, we obviously see that only a small number make it every year.” Jennifer shared many stories about the pressures of the associate role and why she feels somewhat cynical. “It’s just not an honest conversation and that is why some associates don’t aspire to partnership because they believe firms are not dedicated to their development as an attorney or leader.” 

Other associates shared Jennifer’s perspective, particularly as it relates to partner expectations. “We are placed in a difficult situation where we are told we don’t take initiative and simply wait to be given instructions,” Jennifer adds. “However, we are not permitted to act alone, and I can’t contact a client directly without running it through a senior associate or partner.”

Carla, a partner at a different firm, added yet another perspective on the changing times within the legal field. She said that while there still needs to be improvement in women leadership and partner development, it is much better than when she was coming up the ranks nearly thirty years ago.  She describes the reaction from her firm leadership when she told the partners she was pregnant. “I felt as if I had to apologize, because some partners viewed it as a lack of seriousness in working toward partnership.” 

 

It’s safe to state that the practice of law is being disrupted at a rapid pace. Clients are commoditizing services, competition to retain clients and talent is fierce, and there’s an awakening spreading across the industry to the acceptance that a firm’s legal expertise may not be enough. Perhaps the caliber and effectiveness of the internal relationships, particularly between partners and associates, may be the necessary focus for long-term firm success.  

“Rather than focus on what separates us, maybe this is the right time to start a conversation about what unites us,” said David Robert, Chief Strategy Officer at Loeb Leadership Development Group. “People gravitate to the legal profession for a compelling reason. We may find that partners and associates have more in common than we think. Let’s start there.”   

A mid-level associate, Stephanie, suggests some examples that could begin to build a bridge.  “As a young associate, I feel that partners often underestimate the value of our presence during court proceedings, depositions, or any instances of client interaction. Even if we’re simply there to silently shadow, the opportunity alone allows us to absorb skills and techniques that we’re not exposed to through document review or legal research.”  She continues, “the ability to shake hands and introduce ourselves to clients allows us to begin establishing relationships that will ideally strengthen the clients’ connection to the firm.” 

Additionally, Stephanie offers other opportunities to connect, including, “professional development seminars, particularly “lunch and learn” discussions, with partners, are incredibly beneficial. Law school courses don’t address the true nuts and bolts of the industry or impart expertise that can only be gained through experience. The sheer wealth of knowledge and experience that partners possess, position them to be the ultimate educators for the next generation of lawyers,” she concluded.  

Natalie Loeb, Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group, sums it up this way, “approach your work with your colleagues, teammates, bosses, clients and direct reports with a sense of curiosity, a dose of empathy and a willingness to have a two-way discussion... and close the gap.” 

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is Director of Strategic Partnerships of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111.  

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.   

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership. david@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

Who Really Performs Better: The Perfectionist or the High Achiever?

 By: David B. Sarnoff, Esq., with Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David Robert  

Our work needs to be perfect, right? Isn’t the risk too great if it’s not? As a legal professional, you are likely to answer a resounding “Yes!” to both of the above.   

But, is perfection even possible? And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth trying to achieve?  

Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” This means that the perfectionist will continue to perform tirelessly until they believe the work product is perfect. But – and herein lies the problem – that belief is entirely subjective. So, the perfectionist may never believe they’ve achieved perfection. Spurred on by self-doubt, they labor interminably on a task, impacting overall project workflow, frustrating colleagues, straining imminent deadlines, and ultimately disappointing clients. (We’ve all heard the phrase “analysis paralysis,” and it may actually be the result of a culture of perfectionism.) 

“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”  
― Salvador Dali 

 Now, what about high achievers? Don’t they harbor the same tendencies as perfectionists? In some senses, yes. But there are key distinctions. “Although perfectionists and high achievers [both desire to] excel in their goals, there is a significant difference between the two,” says Robin Farber, an Executive Coach and Psychotherapist. “Perfectionists are driven by a perfect outcome as a way to seek temporary emotional relief from a painful feeling.” This suggests that perfectionists are motivated by the fear of failure or rejection. “Perfectionists find it difficult to enjoy the small wins along life‘s journey,” continues Farber, “which can take a toll on the individual, the team, and the organization.” 

High achievers, on the other hand, while also striving to produce an exceptional deliverable, cope better with disappointment and are not afraid of it. They see mistakes and failures as necessary steps on the road to success. Thus, they tend to have a more positive mindset, are less anxious, and find ways to celebrate even minor accomplishments and milestones.   

Now, you might say, “But clients demand perfection!” In truth, clients frequently tell us that they need their lawyers and team members to demonstrate agility, creativity, and openness to change in pursuit of an excellent result. A hyper-focus on perfectionism contradicts those competencies. Though perfectionists will claim – and believe – that they are focused on producing exceptional work product, their underlying fear of failure inevitably stifles the competencies our clients say they value.   

Sandy Rubenstein, CEO of the digital marketing firm DX Agency, sums the problem up perfectly. “A perfectionist can be the downfall of a creative environment, limiting the free flow of ideas and possibilities.” She adds, “Although perfectionists are typically great project managers, in today’s fluid business environment a perfectionist can sometimes have difficulty with the non-tangibles, the curve balls, and out-of-the-box thinking.”   

Sometimes the best ideas are borne from the analysis of a mistake. While certain mistakes can indeed be costly, if your firm consistently punishes even the slightest error, then a variety of valuable, constructive, and creative activity will be avoided for fear of embarrassment or rejection.  

What if you work alongside a perfectionist? As noted by author and therapist John Amodeo, PhD., “People who are addicted to perfection are often isolated. They don’t have many friends. They’re afraid that people will see through them, so they don’t let anyone get too close.”1  Thus, you can enhance the effectiveness of your interactions with a perfectionist via a handful of proven methods, one of which is empathy. “The most important thing is to be empathetic,” says David Robert, Chief Strategy Officer at Loeb Leadership. “Remember, perfectionists tend to fear rejection, so it’s important to let the person know that you understand their perspective.”  

Perhaps more challenging is how, as a leader, you should provide feedback to perfectionists vs. high achievers. High achievers, fortunately, welcome it. They require just a bit of “TLC” feedback to improve (i.e., Timely, Limited to one behavior, and clearly describing the Consequences of the behavior). For example, “Yesterday, we missed a deadline to get a draft to the client for review. The client is not happy.” This type of feedback, however, will land better with a high achiever ready to discuss what happened than with a perfectionist who may look to point blame elsewhere.  

In fact, because perfectionists tend to respond defensively to criticism, leaders often choose not to give any feedback. This is a mistake, because providing no feedback contributes to the loneliness that perfectionists can feel. It becomes a bit of a vicious circle. 

The good news is that, in our experience, most perfectionists are not unreasonable and will work with you to find some middle ground. “Once you demonstrate an understanding, then you can try to establish a shared vision,” notes Robert. “If you can agree on a shared vision, you’re in a better position to clarify where trade-offs can be made.” Robert suggests focusing on the client experience as a way to frame that discussion. Allow the common desire for exceptional client service to guide the process for getting work done.   

Creating an environment that rewards high achievers is the best way to ensure your team demonstrates the agility, creativity, and openness to change that clients value. High achievers “know that they are always learning and are striving to improve. Cultivating a culture that promotes high achievement and incorporates frequent feedback is often the way to the more ‘perfect’ outcomes, since high achievers are always striving,” says Natalie Loeb, CEO and leadership coach for Loeb Leadership.   

And don’t worry. If you describe yourself as a perfectionist, you’re in good company. Perfectionists who are self-aware tend to be more open to finding a middle ground as compared to those whose perfectionist tendencies reside in their blind spot. “One thing you can try immediately,” says Robert, “is to seek feedback from trusted colleagues. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you are to shift your mindset.”   

While striving for high-caliber results is any attorney’s goal, it must be balanced with rational and reasonable expectations of oneself and others. Lawyers never want to fail their clients, but incorporating certain successful elements of the tech mindset, “fail fast and fail forward,” can be helpful as we look to find a balance in our daily battle with perfectionism. Mistakes happen. Rebound quickly (fail fast) and learn from them (fail forward). Leaving space for non-perfection creates opportunities to build resilience, coping skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem. All qualities of high achievers. 

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is Director of Strategic Partnerships of Loeb Leadership, Executive Coach and Leadership Trainer. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111. 

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership.  david@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Law Firm One Bus Hit Away from Chaos? The Urgency of Succession Planning

By:  Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq. 

Succession planning in the corporate world is vital to the survival of the entity beyond the involvement of its founders – does your firm have a plan for future leadership? For companies that sell products, proprietary programs and services, succession of leadership typically doesn’t affect the quality of the product or service.  However, law firms and other professional service companies can be greatly impacted by the death or departure of a highly skilled practitioner or rainmaker.   Many law firms are created by individuals who either have an expertise in a specific practice area and/or have established relationships that produce revenues to sustain the ongoing operation of the firm.  A significant challenge facing law firms of all sizes, is how to establish a stable business model that can survive and withstand changes in key personnel. 

First, let’s start with the definition of “succession planning:” 

“Identification and development of potential successors for key positions in an organization, through a systematic evaluation process and training. Unlike replacement planning (which grades an individual solely on the basis of his or her past performance) succession planning is largely predictive in judging an individual for a position he or she might never have been in.”[1] 

The goal of any succession plan should be to elevate the most qualified individuals who can maintain and improve the firm’s production, culture and leadership.  Succession planning is not an easy undertaking and requires strong leadership, a supportive culture, humility, objectivity and the absence of outsized egos.  Given the fact that many law firms are controlled by the individuals who produce the most revenue, or their closely associated allies, succession planning can present difficult challenges to initiating the planning process. 

According to David Robert, a leading Organizational Development Professional who has substantial experience working with law firms, “Effective succession planning is guided by three factors: (1) What role(s) are you focusing on, (2) how will you objectively evaluate successor readiness, and (3) how will you engage and develop your successors prior to their transition into the new role?”  In addressing the first question, the management of a law firm must identify the leadership positions of the firm that need to be staffed and sustained in order to successfully run the business of the firm.  Succession planning does not only apply to the attorney side of the firm, it also applies to business services positions such as the firm’s COO and CHRO. 

“Successor readiness,” is a key element to planning for the future.  To properly evaluate an individual’s practical legal skills, leadership abilities and assess intangibles such as emotional intelligence (“EI”) requires an objective eye.  Often, rivalries, firm politics and a toxic culture can derail the succession planning process.  In many cases, firms will engage external consultants such as OD professionals and executive coaches to assist with the design and implementation of the planning process. These professionals are generally certified in personality, leadership and values assessments, to assist in designing and outlining the necessary training to prepare future leadership. 

Once you have the right pieces in place to enact a plan, it is critical to have a fair process established to encourage participation from firm stakeholders.  As the succession planning team identifies possible successors, they must agree on how to approach that individual about being considered for a leadership role and whether that person is interested in being considered for this future role.  Assuming they are, the planning team should explain the purpose of the succession plan, what the firm’s process would be and the time frame in which it will be carried out.  There should be complete transparency about the process so that there are no misunderstandings or unintended surprises during the process.  This is not an easy undertaking, especially when multiple people are being considered for the position.  Obviously, personal feelings, professional relationships, egos and competition impact the process. 

It is likely that a law firm management team that initiates a succession planning program has a supportive firm culture.  However, a crucial question that David Robert raises is, “How does a firm’s culture influence the likelihood of a successful succession planning process?”  He continues, “for succession planning to ignite engagement and motivation across a firm, the process must be transparent, fair and objective. As soon as a partner bypasses the formal process and goes all in to advocate for a sacred cow, the process immediately loses credibility and could adversely impact engagement.” 

Many law firms have stood the test of time and have existed and thrived for decades.  However, there are law firms, including several that were once ranked in the AmLaw 200 that no longer exist because of significant lateral departures, planned retirements or turmoil that ultimately brought an end to the firm. 

There are many factors that can contribute to the demise of a law firm.  However, with a transparent, authentic and thoughtful succession planning process, a firm can harness significant buy-in from its stakeholders and rally support for the leaders that are selected to assume a higher-level role at an agreed upon time.  The process also allows for the individuals up for consideration to receive high caliber coaching, training and development to be equipped for the challenge.  The succession planning process positions new leaders to establish themselves and works to ensure the survival and vitality of the firm. 

 [1] Business Dictionary, www.businessdictionary.com 

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS

NATALIE LOEB is the Founder of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

GORDON LOEB is the COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach and a consultant to Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com. 

 

Are You Ready For Some Feedback?

By: Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.

It has been well established, and documented, that “feedback” is a vital component to professional and personal development1.  Feedback provides data that allows an individual or a team to self-analyze their performance and assess whether they are meeting individual and organizational goals.    

While the idea of feedback sounds simple and easy, in practice, it can be quite difficult to elicit honest and constructive observations.  Sometimes managers and executives are reluctant to provide feedback to employees, especially if the feedback is negative, for fear of inciting conflict.  Conversely, individuals or members of teams may be hesitant to provide honest constructive feedback to a supervisor for fear of being retaliated against.    

As executive coaches, one of our goals is to raise the emotional IQ (or emotional quotient EQ), and self-awareness of our clients.  Clients who participate in a thoughtful, professional and confidential 360-degree feedback process have the unique opportunity to get a look through the lens of others as to how they are perceived and viewed in their organizational role.   

A proper 360-degree feedback exercise requires the client to select a broad range of stakeholders in the organization, which typically include those that report to the client, peers of the client, are managers of the client, and can sometimes include executives of the organization.  Typically, the number of stakeholders in a 360-degree exercise range from seven to ten individuals.  

The executive coach conducts in-person or telephonic interviews with the stakeholders that last approximately thirty to forty-five minutes.   It is critical that this process be conducted with the highest level of ethics and confidentiality.  A successful 360-degree feedback process hinges on the coach’s ability to establish a trusting relationship with the stakeholder to elicit an honest and frank assessment.  

According to Dr. Michael Frisch2,“it is the human condition that there is always a gap between our intentions and the impact we have on others.”   Dr. Frisch’s observation of a “gap” in our intentions and actions can have a negative impact on a team or department when it goes unidentified.  If a manager or executive lacks self-awareness, their behaviors can have a corrosive effect on their team, even though their intent was to make their team better.   Dr. Frisch explains this dynamic, “because there are several opportunities for slippage as intentions are channeled into behaviors and then those behaviors are experienced by others, depending on their individual perceptions.  The size of the gap between intentions and impact varies depending on many factors but leaders need to monitor this gap and keep it as small as possible.”  To properly monitor this “gap,” leaders must be able to rely on honest, genuine and thoughtful feedback.    

Sometimes, participants in a 360-degree interview session are reluctant to be critical or honest for fear of retaliation, while others may use this opportunity to settle a score and be overly critical of a subject.  A good coach will be able to analyze the feedback to ensure that a sufficient sample of stakeholders are utilized to address outliers and evaluate the validity of the feedback.  

Honest and constructive feedback is necessary for anyone who wants to lead a team or organization, as it provides an objective assessment as to whether your actions are creating a response that aligns with your leadership intentions.   “A leader who is intending to be firm and clear about certain performance goals yet is perceived by others as judgmental or angry will be disappointed about results if he or she doesn't discover the gap so that it can be corrected,” stated Dr. Frisch.  He continues, “this makes both informal and formal feedback essential for leaders to find out how intentions are coming across to others so that adjustments can be made.”  

Once the executive coach completes the stakeholder interviews, the coach will then compile all the feedback and analyze it for consistent themes, examples of behavior and feedback that is particularly constructive.  The coach will then prepare a 360-degree Report for the client that delineates the areas of strength to continue leveraging and suggestions for improvement.  The coach will meet with their client to review and discuss the feedback.    

It is important for the coach to present the feedback in the spirit of growth and development, and not to focus or dwell on negative comments.  The client will then have the opportunity to review and absorb the feedback and, in consultation  with their executive coach, draft a development plan.  This plan allows the client to apply the feedback and work it into a plan of action to raise performance, self-awareness, enhance and build relationships, and be an all-around more productive, energized and focused employee and leader.  

Dr. Frisch in sum says, “making the sharing of feedback usual and safe and then using it to adjust leadership behaviors to better align intentions with impact, should be standard operating procedure for leaders even though it requires ongoing effort.”  The development plan provides a road map for the client, which can be amended to address concerns or behaviors that may arise at any given time.  

At the end of the day, 360-degree feedback is a rich resource to assist employees at all levels of an organization, to increase their awareness and become more productive leaders.  It is invaluable to learn whether the “behavior intentions” of a leader are having a positive impact on their team, or vice versa.  Once there is an acknowledgement and awareness how others perceive you, there is a unique opportunity to either reinforce behavior that is having the desired effect, or an opportunity to adjust and change behavior that may be unproductive or damaging.  

While a 360-degree feedback process can be challenging, an experienced and skilled executive coach can navigate the process and provide a customized and career elevating experience.  

Information About the Authors: 

Natalie Loeb is the CEO, Founder and Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership. She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com

Gordon Loeb is a Principal of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach.  He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com

David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach of Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com  

 

 

An Executive’s Dilemma: The Challenge of Supporting A Work/Life Balance While Holding Employees Accountable

by Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb, & David B. Sarnoff, Esq. 

Anyone who has recently engaged in hiring has found out that it is a fairly tight labor market and quality candidates are in short supply.  While a focus on recruiting is important, equally so is to retain and inspire current employees.  This has proven more challenging than many executives, law firm partners, and managers expect.  What seems to be a constant theme of discussion in management circles is, how do we provide a culture where work/life balance is encouraged while still holding employees accountable for performance, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling responsibilities?  Due to the sensitivities around this topic, the interviewees preferred that they and their companies not be identified. 

A senior-level executive at a media company states, “Work/life balance has to be part of the organization’s culture and that is set from the top down.”  This executive continues, “It’s about managing the whole person for success, not just the ‘work’ person.”  He says many employees are derailed when experiencing personal matters such as marital issues, substance abuse, depression, or an illness with a family member.  Executives and managers should show empathy for employees who are experiencing tough times.  This also sends a message to other employees that they matter, and the firm has their best interests at heart. 

In the media world, there is constant pressure and deadlines and it can be a high stress environment.  This executive tells his colleagues and employees, “Take all your vacation time and don’t leave any on the table.  You need time to recharge your batteries.”  He is not saying that employees shouldn’t work hard.  However, he does believe that “managers need to take time and learn about their employees and what they need.  Leadership and managing is complicated and hard.  The easiest thing is to tell an employee ‘no’.”  However, each employee is different, and managers need to engage employees and find out about the “whole” employee; this helps establish culture and leadership. 

With respect to “accountability,” the media executive states, “Executives and managers must establish a clear expectation concerning accountability.”  Is this a firm where you are expected to respond to emails on weekends?  Are employees allowed to leave for their child’s school play?  Are managers approachable when employees need to discuss personal matters that are affecting performance?  Are executives and partners willing to coach employees for career development or make accommodations that will make employees more productive?  This executive sums up that “millennials have made it clear that work/life balance is a priority for them and they want a full life.  It should not be a tough issue, but it is for many companies.”  Executives and partners will learn that disgruntled employees are not productive, and it is costly and disrupting to lose and replace high performers and high potentials. 

Another CEO in a consumer goods company has a different problem.  “To be honest, a big part of the conversation revolves around the problem that some employees work too much instead of not enough.  This is a particular problem with people who work from home.  They often work way more than 40 hours and seem to never be far from work and never really leave it, so burnout is an issue.”  He continued, “I used to worry about remote workers goofing off all day but that has seldom been a real problem. Once in a while, but not much. I have more problems with my office staff texting and checking Facebook or doing online shopping.” 

He adds, “Culture plays a big role. For us, the culture starts with how we try to foster a supportive atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes.”  He sums up by noting, “At the end of the day we have to balance the company’s needs to stay afloat and achieve our goals and objectives.  I have found that in general it is better to trust people and deal with the occasional abuser than to tighten the screws on everyone and have an uptight culture.  Most people are good and want to do the right thing.  The few bad apples end up self-selecting out of the system.” 

Professional service companies such as law firms and accounting firms provide for other work/life issues.  As one law firm partner relayed, “When you bill by the hour, profitability depends on meeting and/or exceeding targeted billing requirements.  However, sometimes it feels as if you are only as good as your last monthly revenue generation.”  Law firm partners face many challenges in providing for work/life balance because of the nature of the profession.  At times, litigation can require significant time demands in engaging in motion practice, depositions, discovery, and preparing for trial.  Likewise, transactional practices require significant due diligence, document review, extensive negotiations, and document drafting.  Law firm partners seem to be confronting, more and more, a generational disconnect with associates that impacts a balance in work/life culture, policies, and how they are communicated and modeled to employees.  We hear from many partners that when they were associates, they “worked grueling hours on a regular basis and that was just an accepted part of the job description.”  One law firm partner stated, “I am still waiting to find a junior ‘me’ as an associate, someone dedicated, hardworking, and does what is required.” 

The question that needs to be asked is: What is work/life balance? Is it leaders who model this culture for associates and staff to see?  For instance, leaving the office at a reasonable hour, not emailing late at night, and taking vacation days?  Conversely, is it leaving at a reasonable hour for whatever reason, but working late at night and on weekends to get the work done on time?  This is the challenge that companies face.  What culture does your organization support?  And how does it reinforce this culture? 

Law firm associates, in many cases, have voiced concern over working excessive hours and spending time on routine or mundane assignments.  Associates want challenging and stimulating assignments, mentoring, and skills development to advance their career potential.  Additionally, they want their hours kept in a reasonable range.  Some law firms have raised compensation to attract and retain top talent.  However, increasing compensation alone doesn’t always lower attrition.  Research shows that when compensation is tied to other measures, there is a likelihood of greater job satisfaction. 

Specifically, these measures can include the following: 1) Providing stimulating work; 2) Recognizing employees for work done well; 3) Nurturing a culture so that employees believe they are part of something bigger than themselves; and 4) Leaders should explore the goals and aspirations of employees and support the attainment of those goals. Research and studies, including work by B.F. Skinner, bolster the notion that money alone will not inspire and motivate employees in the long term. However, a positive and meaningful culture, paired with professional and personal development will have greater impact. 

A company’s work/life balance should be firmly ingrained in the organization’s culture.  Culture is established and reinforced by executives and this behavior should be modeled by managers and group leaders.  Just remember, leadership and managing employees is hard work, if it is done right.  

 INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS:  

NATALIE LOEB is the Founder of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. 
She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com, 
866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

GORDON LOEB is the COO of Loeb Leadership  and an Executive Coach. 
He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach for Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com.