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Hire the right fit the first time

Bad picks slow down plans, affect firm culture and shake client confidence
By Sandra Bekhor
November 13 2015 issue

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Most lawyers would agree that their biggest asset is their people. They’d probably also agree that their biggest vulnerability is their people. And yet when they get busy, the pace of the recruiting process doesn’t allow for a thorough assessment of, guess what? People.

So, predictably, some new hires don’t work out. The new hire eventually leaves or gets terminated and it’s back to the drawing board to search for the next recruit. In some cases, this process drags out for months, or even years, while principals or supervisors debate whether or not they should let someone go.

But all’s well that ends well right? Maybe. Or maybe not.

To make that call, the real cost of a bad hire, aside from obvious expenses like recruiting fees, time lost doubling up on interviews or training, and the downtime between hires, needs to be better understood:
  •  Bad hires can slow progress on business and marketing plans, potentially bringing the entire process to an indefinite, grinding halt. It’s difficult to build a business while key people are doing double duty simply running it.
  • Then there’s the impact on firm culture. How do bad hires make others feel during their stay with the firm? A problematic attitude can be contagious and enduring. It can derail motivation and loyalty. As well, a “revolving door” situation can leave people with a feeling of instability and dissatisfaction.
  • Should the bad hire have client contact, he or she can even change the service experience and shake up client confidence that took the firm years of consistency and reliability to build up. If it’s an ongoing issue, it could redefine the firm’s reputation for the worse.

Depending on the position, timing and frequency, for big firms and small the cost of a bad hire is potentially sweeping and substantial. So what needs to change in order to pick the right candidate the first time?

Introspection

A little belly-button gazing would help law firms get better acquainted with their goals, values and vision. It is through this introspective work that staffing plans and strategies supportive of the firm’s objectives emerge.

The gap between where a firm is today and where it would like to be in one, two or three years’ time reveals much about any critical resources that might be lacking. Such plans should account not only for the positions required to take the firm the distance but, specifically, what qualities those individuals would need to possess in order to succeed. Clues to obstacles along the way may be found in reflecting on failed hires or best performers, to better determine what went wrong or what went right.

Often, success has more to do with soft skills such as communication and emotional intelligence than technical know-how. These skills are better predictors about an individual’s ability to lead, manage and collaborate, significantly more important to the sustainability of a law firm than most acknowledge.

Broadcasting

Once clarified, the firm’s goals and plans need to be converted into a communication strategy, so any and all messages it broadcasts, whether through people or promotions, support those objectives. How should recruits be addressed when they call or e-mail? In an interview? At events? On the website?

As well, the marketing plan may need to be expanded or modified for the purpose of recruiting. Does the website need additional content that reveals the firm’s culture through video, pictures and stories? Does the social media marketing program need a group, a chat or page to answer questions about the firm or to allow engagement with the people that work there?

And, while the task at hand is to sell the job, balancing the discussion by appropriately including information about both the pros and the cons helps to avoid surprises after the fact for both parties. If it’s an entrepreneurial environment where everyone is expected to take initiative, wear multiple hats and stay nimble, that will be a plus for some and a negative for others. Same goes for a highly structured firm, as just a few examples.

Investigation

Even if goals are clearly laid out, a communication strategy is flawlessly executed and job descriptions are well written and well placed, the whole process could fall apart in the interview when preconceptions point the interviewer in the direction of the less qualified candidate. It’s a surprisingly common issue, especially when lawyers or other professionals step into this human resources role without training or guidance.

The problem is that, while objectively speaking, the best teams exhibit diversity rather than sameness, human beings gravitate towards people that remind them of themselves. So, instead of hiring people with an intention to balance out strengths and weaknesses with new perspectives, backgrounds and ideas, they widen pre-existing gaps with individuals that tend to face similar limitations.

The good news is that there is a science to putting aside preconceptions. It involves deepening awareness of our subconscious biases, establishing a structured interview process that allows sufficient time to get to know the candidates, inviting several people to be interviewers and asking the same questions in all interviews.

Hiring for the right fit is certainly a great start to solidifying the team. But it’s not enough. Even the right fit can get lost along the way without direction. So once on board, attention should be placed on setting new hires up to succeed with career planning, performance management, mentoring, coaching and training.

While the focus is on the new hire (and rightly so), it’s equally important to provide similar support to the rest of the team before, during and after such transitions. It may take a bit of time, and possibly when it’s a scarce commodity, but it does wonders in terms of cultivating strength, stability and job satisfaction.

Sandra Bekhor, MBA, president of Bekhor Management, helps professionals build and enhance their practices, through marketing and management programs aligned with core strengths. She can be reached at sandrabekhor@bekhor.ca or 416-969-9600. For further information, visit www.bekhor.ca.


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