As a supervisor or manager, it is your absolute responsibility to provide feedback to staff regarding their performance. This has a primary and exacting impact on how engaged they are and loyalty levels towards the firm. Some supervisors see the value in providing feedback, and some do not, or say they do not have the time. But you watch the teams around them, and for the leaders who know how to build performance, something operates differently.
The linkage between performance, engagement and culture runs deep and it is leaders of law firms that set this tone. We operate in a time where there are multiple generations operating at firms, ranging from leaders and newbies to the profession, and this comes with different strains and difficulties. It is no longer tolerated that the way our leaders were trained, is how they themselves train juniors. The way people feel engaged in the workplace has changed and it is key to understand that. Leaders need to accurately know their strengths, and then capitalise on that by building a team that bring other strengths to complement. This is as far reaching as recruiting graduates or junior lawyers into teams. People are engaged by the work they do, the autonomy they have, challenging and interesting projects and a supportive team around them. At the end of the day though as much as the profession is experiencing the effects of automation, it is still truly focussed on human capital and due to that, individual interactions are a key engager for most people.
Rotating graduates are some of the biggest advocates you can have in representing the experiences of worki ng in a specific practice area. Grads more generally can be the cheerleaders Supervising Partners need in connecting practice groups across the business, building knowledge and internal business development. For them to be advocates though, they need to feel that they are part of the team, valued, trusted, and adding value to the team. Yet for them to be trusted they need to demonstrate this to said Supervisors. I am not saying it automatically happens, you need to build trust. So this action starts out at the Grads’ feet - it is up to them to showcase their best work, for Supervisors to see that a true effort is being exerted. But in return for showcasing their work, they need to receive feedback on their approach and performance.
There are multiple ways that feedback can be shared, elicited or pried out of people, and how supervisors manoeuvre this task has impacting outcomes on the team around them. As a Supervisor, does your feedback delivery style mimic a critic or a builder? Are you a critic who provides 1-2 minutes of feedback on the fly, with only one direction of dialogue, without the right of response? Tough love does not always work, and the critic loses faith in ability quickly. Members of your team can detract and thus leading to them feeling they can do no right. An appreciation of their efforts, commitment and involvement needs recognition. Or are you in fact a builder? Do you provide support and strength to build confidence, inspiring juniors to push harder, challenge outcomes and resolve with innovative solutions? Are you in fact open to hearing the dialogue back from junior teams members on ideas of how things could be done differently in this technology focussed world? And it needs to go beyond saying 'of course I am’. Juniors need to see this in action before they can take the brave step to engage you in such a conversation. They near on need permission to step outside the hierarchy but firms that have this have the edge. By engaging your staff in this way and in such a dialogue, the results will speak for themselves.
However it is absolutely a two way street - Grads have to take some responsibility for seeking out feedback, wanting to uncover ways they can improve their work, style and approach by demonstrating an active interest and curiosity to improve and develop. It is those Grads that thrive on feedback (and receive it) that develop at a rapid rate and can add value more quickly (equating to increased profitability). Navigating the feedback loop for Grads is an art form, and takes practice. It is knowing the when, where and how to that makes the biggest difference.
Delivery of feedback can be a pleasant or unpleasant experience. In my view, direct is best. People value honesty and truth but delivery should be positioned alongside support to encourage growth and commitment to learning, and driving a fire to excel next time. Feedback and appreciation is an often forgotten aspect of creating an inspired team of lawyers. Leadership that incorporates this empowers and strengthens, providing a market leading edge in a year where headhunting calls are occurring on a daily basis. As a leader, your inspiration is key - people look to you for that, and expect to have the opportunity to learn from you. Provide this through a strong feedback loop, and you will have an invincible and impenetrable team.