50 Lessons for Lawyers

Make every day Administrative Professionals Day.

April 25, 2017

April 26, 2017 is Administrative Professionals Day. It’s a day to recognize the work of the administrative professionals in your law office. So, what are you doing to recognize them? Sending flowers? Taking the office to lunch? Buying a special gift? All of those things are great, and will likely be appreciated, but there is something you can do that will make a far more lasting impact. Say “thank you” every day, and mean it. Hey…that just happens to be the title of Lesson 46 in 50 Lessons for Lawyers.
How fortuitous!

Lesson 46. Say “thank you” every day, and mean it.

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
– William James

Why Appreciation is So Important

Developing and retaining great people is not as simple as saying “thank you.” And it’s not as simple as saying “I’m sorry.” (See Lesson 37. Say “I’m sorry” when you make a mistake.) But these two phrases, when said with sincerity, demonstrate a sense of genuine caring for other people. And a workplace culture that is supportive and caring is a culture that will help to create engaged employees. “So what?” you may be thinking. “What the heck is an engaged employee, and, more importantly, why should I care?” Engaged employees are essential to the health and growth of your firm. Engaged employees are happier, more productive, and more client-focused. That translates into more profit for your firm and a much more resonant environment – a place that people look forward to coming to each morning, rather than dreading. (For more on the importance of cultivating a resonant environment, see Lesson 41. Check your attitude at the door.)

Engaged employees impact your productivity and profitability line in a very positive way. Disengaged employees not only diminish productivity and profitability, they’ll drag other employees down, destroy morale, and drive away clients.

In the book, How Full is Your Bucket?,[46:1] authors Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton cite a U.S. Department of Labor Study which found that the number-one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated on a day-to-day basis. In other words, they are not engaged. But people who do feel appreciated are more likely to be engaged. An engaged employee shows up on time (or early), stays late when needed, smiles, shows enthusiasm, is a great team player, is an ambassador for the firm, and truly cares about the firm and its mission. And a great side benefit of having engaged employees is that they recruit other engaged employees!

On the other hand, people who don’t feel appreciated are more likely to be disengaged from work. A disengaged employee will not only make your life miserable, he’ll make the lives of everyone around him miserable, and he’ll tell others that your firm is a horrible place to work. You do not want disengaged people in your office.

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to create a firm culture that develops and supports engaged employees. Here are some characteristics that most engaged employees share:

  • They use their talents and strengths every day.
  • They are consistently high performers.
  • They are team players who build supportive relationships.
  • They have high levels of energy and enthusiasm.
  • They focus on getting their work done in a proactive way.
  • They are emotionally committed to what they do.
  • They are committed to the firm and the clients you serve.

Imagine for just a moment what it would feel like to walk into your office each morning and be greeted by a team of engaged employees. Yes, I can see you smiling. But having a team of engaged employees will do much more than just make you feel great and help you serve your clients better. It will make your firm more profitable.

 Engaged Employees Create Engaged Customers

In the book Follow This Path: How the World’s Greatest Organizations Unleash Human Potential,[46:2] authors Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina analyzed research from the Gallup Organization’s study of more than 10 million customers, three million employees, and 200,000 managers. According to the authors, engaged employees “are involved in generating all of an organization’s profits and customer engagement.” Customer engagement goes far beyond merely customer loyalty or satisfaction. Engaged customers are “A+” clients. They literally add value to your business by speaking well of you and your firm and referring other “A+” clients to you. They will return to you for legal work. Quite simply, they will generate more profit for your firm.

Here’s the bottom line: Engaged employees will improve your bottom line – significantly. Hundreds of Gallup studies have demonstrated time and time again the positive impact engaged employees have on a business. Businesses with employee engagement scores in the top half as compared to those in the bottom half have, on average:

  • 86 percent higher customer satisfaction ratings
  • 70 percent more success in lowering turnover
  • 70 percent higher productivity
  • 44 percent higher profitability

Did you get that last one? Forty-four percent higher profitability. Engaged employees are positive, happy people who work hard and treat your clients well. And they have the capacity to improve your bottom line by 44 percent. But even if engaged employees only improved your bottom line by 10 percent or 15 percent, wouldn’t it be worth having a team of these awesome people around you?

Enterprises that wouldn’t think of letting an accounting school dropout run its finances, a Luddite run IT, or a klutz supervise safety, routinely let dislikable, insincere, or aloof men and women assume stewardship for a crew of the company’s ostensibly greatest assets.
– From 12: The Elements of Great Managing[46:3]

Creating Engagement: Show Your Appreciation and Get Specific

So what can you do to help ensure that your employees are engaged and not disengaged? Begin by creating a culture that supports engagement and recruit and hire employees who will fit your culture. Then, make it a habit to show your genuine appreciation for the work they do. Not just one or two days a year, but every day. Giving sincere recognition is one of the most powerful things you can do to create engagement. Say “thank you” even for the little things. It’s okay – really – and it doesn’t cost you anything. Caveat: The key here is “sincere recognition.” People know when they’re being manipulated. If you’re saying thank you while at the same time perpetuating a miserable culture, you’re going to have problems.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re giving someone constructive criticism, you’re very specific? Yet, when you praise someone it’s likely a very general, “nice job!” Guess what? Our brains remember the specific, not the general. That’s why we often can remember a piece of stinging criticism for years, but have trouble remembering a time when we felt truly appreciated. So work hard to get specific with your praise. Be aware of how often you correct or criticize someone on your team, and make a conscious effort to look for ways to acknowledge them when you can. If you show your appreciation daily, and get specific with your praise, your employees will show their appreciation by showing up engaged. It won’t cost you a penny. And remember, all the money in the world can’t buy an engaged employee. Your firm’s culture either creates an atmosphere that allows engaged employees to flourish, or it creates an atmosphere that feeds disengaged employees. It’s all up to you. (See Lesson 44. Money matters, but it’s not the most important thing.)

 Living the Lesson

  • Make it a habit to look for ways to consistently acknowledge the people on your team. Make it genuine!
  • Start your day by sending a one-sentence email thanking or acknowledging a team member for work they’ve done. The more specific you are, the more meaningful and memorable your words will be. Caveat: Do this only if you are sincere. Don’t force it or be phony.
  • Ask everyone on your team whether they feel they receive the support and professional development they need to be their best. Listen to their feedback and provide them with additional resources, if necessary.

[46:1] Clifton, Donald O. and Rath, Tom (2004). How Full is Your Bucket? Gallup Press.
[46:2] Gonzalez-Molina, Gabriel, and Coffman, Curt (2002). Follow This Path: How the World’s Greatest Organizations Unleash Human Potential. Business Plus.
[46:3] Harter, James K., and Wagner, Rodd (2006). 12: The Elements of Great Managing. Gallup Press.

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