Why are you ignoring your single biggest asset ~ your PEOPLE?

Yes … yes … yes … I know you have heard it a gazillion and +1 times before, but the issue just won’t go away.

At my core, as manager, leader or just a person, I always wanted for those who I had responsibility for to achieve their very best. To serve in other words.

For fear of making this a (long) diatribe, let me make my point swiftly:

Law firms (and business in general – those that I have worked for or been exposed to) treat their people as a resource at best and expendable at worst. They do nothing or the de minimus to develop every single one of them to reach their full potential either as ‘workers’ or human beings. It has to be the single biggest tragedy that so much talent, passion, desire, skill, intellect, brilliance, love and emotion goes untapped, unfilled or ignored.

For me this is serious, serious stuff.

Sounds over the top [damn right] but how many of us can honestly say that we give all of ourselves to our work [when working for someone else]?

The truth is that very few of us go to work and feel that every ounce of us has been asked for and given and, in the process, the pact that has been created delivers an equal bargain.

The sense now, whether it is legal practice of otherwise, is that it is just take, take, take without enough or in some cases any regard to giving back.

I would like to see a charter, new employment contract or Challenge that requires every employer (and particularly partnerships – oh how they don’t get It), to swear an Oath to their staff that each and every one of them will achieve their full potential in every respect. As I have said ad nauseum “to be the most of anything” (see William Taylor’s excellent book Radically Thrilling).

Can you imagine that?

You get an employment contract and right next door is this beautiful document with the words:

“We Swear by the Oath of Excellence [or whatever your credo is] to ensure without fail that we will do our utmost to ensure you reach your full potential as an employee of XYZ firm”.

OK, I know the pigs have just started their engines for a quick fly past, but wouldn’t it be amazing if firms asked a few simple questions at the start of your employment and kept coming back to them to make sure that everyone was on track:

  1. How can the firm help you achieve your potential?
  2. What do you think you will have to do differently, and with our help and support, to achieve that?
  3. What is your biggest strength?
  4. How can we utilise that for the benefit of others?
  5. [Later on in the role] Are you happy?

If firms not only started listening to the answers but ACTING on the response then I am 100% sure that they would see their businesses change. Not overnight perhaps but in time the business would start to feel more humanising and people would not only want to give of their best but they would also want to support everyone else to do so.

At a more basic level you could cut through all this if PEOPLE JUST CARED MORE. Old school values have never gone out of fashion for me and that doesn’t mean not being hugely profitable or going soft on Why you are in business. But if everyone just took the time to understand what was really going on with their staff then things would be so different.

Now we are all human, have annoyingly frustrating personalities and are prone to spells of melancholy but that is no reason to give up on people.

Human Resources (HR) and me never really saw things through the same lens. It wasn’t that I didn’t see the need for them but I viewed them as trying to shepherd people down an ever smaller tunnel of compliance and conformity, whereas I saw their role in a much broader context.

Here’s a challenge to everyone in HR: go and spend 10 minutes every day talking to one person about them and their family. Don’t read a file just wing it.

There I said it … now I feel better.

No, but in all seriousness, the appraisal is not the place to start asking those daft questions like “How’s the family?”

If firms really want to head off the looming challenges of the market then start with your biggest, most precious (and prized) resource: YOUR PEOPLE. Whoever is in charge start practising M.B.W.A. [Managing by Wandering About] NOW. You shouldn’t need to appoint any one person with a fancy title. Just be human.

The aim of all this cajoling?

Getting the best out of your people so that you and your business reaches its full potential. Oh and you may just find along the way that you learn something that you have been missing all along. If you have happy, fulfilled and motivated people then you are very likely to have happy, fulfilled and contented clients.

People success = Firm Success = Profit.

Now there’s a rule of three that may just stick.

~ JS ~

6 Responses to “Why are you ignoring your single biggest asset ~ your PEOPLE?”

  1. Miriam Said says:

    First of all, can we change the name of human resources to humane resources.

    The main reason Human Resources is there is to protect the business.

    Excuse me, but aren’t the staff your business.

    Nurture the most important and costly resource you have…..You Staff…

    Do this and they will in return, nurture your business for you. It is indeed a two way street, one that is often forced into being a one way street and needlessly.

    When there is disconnect, there is dis-harmony and the stack of cards, that is your business will keep falling down.

    And for cripes sakes, don’t take the credit for a job well done, away from them. Praise them and others who do the same for your company.

    Pigs can fly…I put 2 on a plane myself and they came back with so much experience and so many brilliant ideas and we literally brought home the bacon.

    Neglect and abuse anyone for long enough and they leave.

    Get wise and energise.

  2. Miriam Said says:

    First of all, can we change the name of human resources to humane resources.

    The main reason Human Resources is there is to protect the business.

    Excuse me, but aren’t the staff your business.

    Nurture the most important and costly resource you have…..You Staff…

    Do this and they will in return, nurture your business for you. It is indeed a two way street, one that is often forced into being a one way street and needlessly.

    When there is disconnect, there is dis-harmony and the stack of cards, that is your business will keep falling down.

    And for cripes sakes, don’t take the credit for a job well done, away from them. Praise them and others who do the same for your company.

    Pigs can fly…I put 2 on a plane myself and they came back with so much experience and so many brilliant ideas and we literally brought home the bacon.

    Neglect and abuse anyone for long enough and they leave.

    Get wise and energise.

  3. Julian,

    Great ideas and I have seen them put into practice in some places so can I share an example of what we often observe.

    Often we see, competent, caring, interested managers who still can’t get the best out of employees because of the prior management “baggage” the employee brings with them – the “baggage” that tells them to say what they “think” is required not what they “feel”

    Taking the questions you propose, what might the employee hear?
    1. How can the firm help you achieve your potential?
    Employee Hears – What did I get wrong in my previous job? what was always on my development plan?
    2. What do you think you will have to do differently, and with our help and support, to achieve that?
    Employee Hears – Do I want to do another [time] management course?
    3. What is your biggest strength?
    Employee Hears? What am I paid to do, better answer with that + conscientious, hard working, driven etc, etc
    4. How can we utilise that for the benefit of others?
    Employee Hears – what can you do for this department, function, rarely do they equate themselves with the larger organisation
    5. [Later on in the role] Are you happy?
    Employee Hears – You are Happy!

    The “baggage” can be previous managers in the business, who may still be employed in another role or have even been promoted, it maybe a perception the employee brings with them from other employers.

    In order to make MBWA work managers have to be prepared to conduct the MBWA (or Gemba, as we call it) consistently and regularly, in fact we do have a target for managers to “walk the floor” and observe, take feedback, help individuals identify their skills etc and the target is 70% of their paid time. Seems a lot doesn’t it? it’s amazing how setting this target, achieving it and taking action with the input from staff rapidly allows you to really work with staff on their individual plans and drives the business forward.

    Imagine in a typical 40 hour week that’s 28 hours of listening, asking, observing, not doing, not going to meetings, signing paperwork, filling in computer forms etc.

    If I can share just one example ;

    6 weeks after starting MBWA in a department of a major business that had tried several change initiatives, we have 20 people raised their hand to be given some basic machine operating skills (as opposed to machine minding), 8 wanted to learn the more skilled roles which came with an wage upgrade. There were only 32 in the department.

    This was great as it removed a skilling issue through holiday and absence periods, it increased the number of people with machinery knowledge and fault finding skills and they began to contribute solutions.

    The result? fairly quickly labour costs went down (increased wages for some who upskilled, offset by a reduction across the department, staff re-deployed elsewhere though to maintain trust) output up by 7%, waste was down by 20%, staff absence went from a cnsitent 2 year average of 4.5% to zero within a week of starting to train staff.

    Within 1 year output was up by 23% and waste virtually eliminated, this was due in no small part to complete re-engineering of one part of the machines by a newly trained operator, not the managers. Within 18 months several of the staff had gone on to take more technical roles.

    Of course you hit the nail on the head when you MBWA you have to ACT! And in the above example it meant having a regular dialogue with 32 members of staff every day and following up with help, assistance, guidance, training etc;

    At the end of the year though the manager didn’t need to worry about the results – 32 other people were watching them and thinking “how can I help?” and telling the manager “you can help us/me by …….”

  4. Julian,

    Great ideas and I have seen them put into practice in some places so can I share an example of what we often observe.

    Often we see, competent, caring, interested managers who still can’t get the best out of employees because of the prior management “baggage” the employee brings with them – the “baggage” that tells them to say what they “think” is required not what they “feel”

    Taking the questions you propose, what might the employee hear?
    1. How can the firm help you achieve your potential?
    Employee Hears – What did I get wrong in my previous job? what was always on my development plan?
    2. What do you think you will have to do differently, and with our help and support, to achieve that?
    Employee Hears – Do I want to do another [time] management course?
    3. What is your biggest strength?
    Employee Hears? What am I paid to do, better answer with that + conscientious, hard working, driven etc, etc
    4. How can we utilise that for the benefit of others?
    Employee Hears – what can you do for this department, function, rarely do they equate themselves with the larger organisation
    5. [Later on in the role] Are you happy?
    Employee Hears – You are Happy!

    The “baggage” can be previous managers in the business, who may still be employed in another role or have even been promoted, it maybe a perception the employee brings with them from other employers.

    In order to make MBWA work managers have to be prepared to conduct the MBWA (or Gemba, as we call it) consistently and regularly, in fact we do have a target for managers to “walk the floor” and observe, take feedback, help individuals identify their skills etc and the target is 70% of their paid time. Seems a lot doesn’t it? it’s amazing how setting this target, achieving it and taking action with the input from staff rapidly allows you to really work with staff on their individual plans and drives the business forward.

    Imagine in a typical 40 hour week that’s 28 hours of listening, asking, observing, not doing, not going to meetings, signing paperwork, filling in computer forms etc.

    If I can share just one example ;

    6 weeks after starting MBWA in a department of a major business that had tried several change initiatives, we have 20 people raised their hand to be given some basic machine operating skills (as opposed to machine minding), 8 wanted to learn the more skilled roles which came with an wage upgrade. There were only 32 in the department.

    This was great as it removed a skilling issue through holiday and absence periods, it increased the number of people with machinery knowledge and fault finding skills and they began to contribute solutions.

    The result? fairly quickly labour costs went down (increased wages for some who upskilled, offset by a reduction across the department, staff re-deployed elsewhere though to maintain trust) output up by 7%, waste was down by 20%, staff absence went from a cnsitent 2 year average of 4.5% to zero within a week of starting to train staff.

    Within 1 year output was up by 23% and waste virtually eliminated, this was due in no small part to complete re-engineering of one part of the machines by a newly trained operator, not the managers. Within 18 months several of the staff had gone on to take more technical roles.

    Of course you hit the nail on the head when you MBWA you have to ACT! And in the above example it meant having a regular dialogue with 32 members of staff every day and following up with help, assistance, guidance, training etc;

    At the end of the year though the manager didn’t need to worry about the results – 32 other people were watching them and thinking “how can I help?” and telling the manager “you can help us/me by …….”

  5. Miriam Said says:

    Thank you for sharing in your comment Mark.

    This is a truly awesome example of what can be achieved in such a short space of time if a company nurtures it’s staff.

    Yo are also correct about the baggage.

    Just look at what we can achieve if we communicate and collaborate.

    Awesome.

  6. Miriam Said says:

    Thank you for sharing in your comment Mark.

    This is a truly awesome example of what can be achieved in such a short space of time if a company nurtures it’s staff.

    Yo are also correct about the baggage.

    Just look at what we can achieve if we communicate and collaborate.

    Awesome.

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