Friday, 12 April 2013

Building a Network

My alternative title for this blog was "Developing People Out The Door", but I was told that was rather negative, so...

I have been chatting to law firms this week about staff and fee-earner development. This is not really my field, but I'm able to discuss it at a strategic level and to put clients in touch with some functional experts. I've been interested to see that for most senior managers, staff development is seen as a pain and something that 'just needs to be done' - so far as I could see, there was no value placed on it at all.

I disagree with that point of view. Partners, fee-earners and staff should all be developed and trained as much as possible. It adds to the resources of the company, helps people to do their jobs better, can be a valuable asset for clients, and make those who have been developed and trained feel valued by the firm. In a classic piece of 'consulting-speak' it is 'win win'.

The point that is so often raised is that people take the training and the gain in experience and then leave the firm "and so all that good stuff leaves the building", to quote a client earlier this week. That is only true if you let it happen.

Training staff and lawyers is a good thing (see above) and if that means that they then leave the firm to get a new challenge then so be it. As the sponsoring firm, however, you do need to ask yourself why they are leaving. If they are good people, why haven't you been able to provide them with the challenge they are looking for? Why not promote the hell out of them and keep them in the firm?

Of course it's not always that simple. Sometimes there aren't any promotion slots for people, almost no matter how good they are. In that case you should be celebrating the fact that they are moving on. Make them feel great about it and help them in every way that you can. Keep in touch with them, whether during a period of gardening leave or afterwards in their new post. Communicate with them regularly and arrange meet ups - partly just to keep in touch but also so that you know what they are up to, what skills they are learning and what they are getting better and better at. That way you will know if there is a good time to entice them back to the firm.

A strong alumni network can be a great asset - but only if the firm works at it. I have been asked to join a few, but there has never been any follow up (to the point that I don't know if I am still a member or not). The communication needs to be regular, frequent and useful. In an ideal world, firms would work almost as hard with their alumni as the do (or should) with their client base.

So - work hard to develop and train you people. Celebrate their success - even if that means the move to another firm (even a competitor). Keep in touch with them. Even when they no longer work for you, they can continue to be an asset to the firm.

Attentive readers, and my blog stats assure me that there are some, will have noticed a bit of a gap since my last posting. The joy of the sole trader, self-employed consultant, is that jobs are 'lumpy' - I am usually either too busy or too quiet. For the last six weeks or so, I have been running all over the place both in the UK and on Continental Europe. I had some jobs 'stack up' - where a piece of work that was going to fit perfectly around other clients had to move suddenly. In those circumstances we all just work a little harder, or a little longer - and try to look forward to the quieter times coming!

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