Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Monday, March 10, 2008

Associate attrition in law firms - five bottom lines

I was rather struck by the quote from Bruce MacEwen:

The problem, in a nutshell, is attrition. Despite increased salaries and bonuses, more (professed) attention to work/life balance and associate development, more indisputable investments in stress management, concierge services, and day-care, by years three to four anywhere from 30 to 50% and more of associates are out the door.

This problem is not unique to the US, nor just to law. The reasons are complex and relate to the way many professional services firms are managed.

Bottom line one: too many firms take all the fun out of work.

They do so in all sorts of ways. Too much emphasis on narrow performance measures. Too little emphasis on recognising personal success. Limited grant of real professional autonomy. The list goes on.

Bottom line two: firms are inconsistent.

How many firms have you seen where a real gap exists between the firm rhetoric and the way that performance is actually measured? How many firms have you seen where a firm emphasises perfomance while actually accepting the opposite, especially at partnet level?

Bottom line three: give the guys a break.

Unrelenting pressure can destroy anyone. There has to be a balance. People require time to recharge, to gather their strength. This is especially true for the best performers, even if those performers themselves do not always recognise the need. So look for ways to give your best people a break.

Bottom line four: make things easy.

The single biggest impediment faced by many associates in getting their job done is their superiors. And here the biggest problem is the availability of scarce supervisory time. If you waste your associates' time, they will leave.

Bottom line five: recognise that your associates have a career outside your firm.

This one is hard. How do you invest in and support people who might leave? The answer is that you must.

We live in a cynical world. The reality in most western countries is that staff no longer have an automatic loyalty to the organisation. We - public and private institutions - have told them that they must look after themselves and they have taken us at our word!

In this world, trust must be earned and re-earned. Ignore this fact, and you will lose your people.

No comments: