Tag Archives: mistakes

Employees Aren’t Honest With You. Why It’s Your Own Fault.

Whether it’s as a boss or as a colleague, you know that people in the office don’t tell you the truth.

At first, it started with sudden silence around the water cooler. Then, whispers turned into a hush as you passed in the hall. Finally, you noticed your subordinate employees giving you nothing but fake smiles with their positive feedback and blind “yes” responses to each assignment—even when you yourself thought the task seemed foolish.

Now you need advice and professional help, but you don’t know who to turn to. When consulting on a case, did your team truly agree with your big idea? When assigning a task to a first-year, did he really understand what to do and what’s at stake? During performance evaluations, do your employees actually appreciate your leadership or are they afraid of negative repercussions?

In the end, you’re forced to worry and wonder, why are your employees uncomfortable being honest with you?

Well, it’s likely your associates are picking up on some verbal and nonverbal cues that you’re sending across space like microwaves. Luckily, these mixed signals are all within your control to change so that the office can resume as a conduit for communication, not combustion.

The following are a few reasons why you may be driving the dishonesty at your firm.

1. You name names

Your idea of productive management is to know exactly which associate is responsible for which task. As a result, you find yourself frequently asking your teams, “Who wrote this?” And, “Who was in charge of that?”

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to these seemingly innocuous questions. Because, if the job was done well, employees won’t claim individual credit when most success, in truth, belongs to a group effort (and credit-hogs just look like jerks).

Also, in the event the job was done poorly, employees are especially hesitant to absorb total accountability when—once again—more than one person is typically involved in dropping the ball.

As the boss naming names, you may think you’re gathering specifics for management purposes only. In reality, your employees believe you’re asking them to betray peers and place friends in front of a firing squad (perhaps literally).

This would drive any loyal employee to bite his tongue.

2. You punish mistake-making

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, you’re the type who can’t forget mistakes.

So, when an employee finds an error in his work, he’s reticent to fess up.

Naturally, mistake making leads a boss to trust an associate less. Unfortunately, this can destroy—especially in young attorneys—a person’s confidence in their own work.

As a leader, it’s important to encourage employees to take risks, assume responsibility, and admit to failure. Then, good leaders help employees recover from mistakes and learn from them. Bad leaders stop assigning important work to that same employee in the future.

Don’t penalize people for inexperience. Cultivate their skills and help develop their career.

If you earn a reputation as an understanding mentor, you’ll see increased enthusiasm and productivity on the part of your associates, which will lead to higher performance at the firm in a more organic way.

3. You’re too busy

When it comes down to listening to employees, your schedule is just too tight to spend quality time discussing issues.

Usually a nod in consent or the shake of a head is enough to brush off the majority of requests. And, when somebody disagrees with your casework strategy? Well, you just don’t have the time to discuss alternatives.

As a senior attorney or law firm professional in a supervisory position, you must be an ace at time management. If you find yourself impatient during brainstorming sessions or client meetings, it’s time to reevaluate your caseload and priorities.

4. You aren’t social

Whether as a first-year associate or law firm partner, the quickest way to alienate peers is through anti-social behavior.

You abstain from happy hours. You shut your office door all day. You don’t learn the names of other employees—certainly not those in outside departments.

Law is a social industry that depends on personal interaction and charisma. Whether it’s to practice winning juries or to learn this week’s gossip, attend social functions organized by employees.

When you aren’t friendly, you won’t win friends. And, we all know that only true friends tell you the truth.

5. You can’t keep a secret

Finally, if employees aren’t honest with you, maybe it’s simply due to your inability to keep a secret.

Honesty and integrity go together. When a person gives you one, he expects the other.

Like with case information, confidentiality is vital to your reputation and success as a professional.

Since honesty in communication is key to running a successful law firm, be the kind of person that employees run to with juicy rumors, out-of-the-box ideas, and—because it’s bound to happen—casework mistakes (so you can fix them in a timely manner!).

Remember, what you don’t know actually can hurt you…

-WB

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So You Made A Mistake At Work. Here Are 5 Ways To Make It Worse.

Only four letter words come to mind once you realize you’ve made a mistake at work.

Then, following the profanity comes panic.

How do you tell you boss? Will there be professional repercussions? What are the real-world consequences to the firm? Are you solely accountable? You’re in hot water now…

According to a recent poll of 4,000 businessmen and women, an overwhelming 92 percent of surveyed professionals admitted they take ownership and set errors right in the event a mistake was made at work, reports Julie Shenkman for Beyond.com.

Unfortunately for law firms, however, that leaves a not-so-insignificant 8 percent of professionals who cover up mistakes, deny responsibility, or even blame errors on somebody else.

Mistakes happen. We’ve all made them. But now that it’s your turn, you don’t know quite what to do.

One thing’s for sure, if you want to go from bad to worse, consider doing the following:

1. Deny, deny, deny. Your boss walks into the office and questions your numbers. Instead of admitting—right then and there—that you may have made a mistake and need to crunch them again, you decide to remain steadfast.

When that doesn’t work, you claim another associate was responsible for the project. Finally, when the powers-that-be are still suspicious, you correct the numbers secretly, pretending your boss must have had an old copy.

Although you may actually get away with this maneuver, intelligent minds will suspect—if not fully believe—that you were dishonest. Lawyers should know by now that being sneaky is a tough and terrible game to play, one that almost never holds up in court (or the office).

Counter-intuitively, admitting you made a mistake to your boss now will convince him or her that your work product will be more careful and correct in the future.

2. Make excuses. All right, you made a mistake. Didn’t we decide that every man is fallible? What’s the big deal?

An error in the legal world can make or break the credibility of a witness or a firm. Mistakes are a big deal. Owning up to them does not translate into shirking responsibility or creating excuses.

Downplaying the significance of the error to your boss will only increase the probability he’ll be really, really mad. Becoming defensive, ironically, leads to more conflict among coworkers.

Be sincere in your apology and active in your strategy to correct it.

3. Wait too long to confess. You came up with a strategic plan to correct your error. However, you waited too long to concoct it. Now, it’s impossible to right your wrong and your boss is furious.

Legal services are time sensitive, so it’s important to inform your boss immediately when a mistake has been made.

Nevertheless, do approach your boss with a few, quick solutions that you can discuss and review together. Plus, they say that two brains are better than one.

4. Over-react. Often, when a person makes a mistake at work, they turn into a tyrant, ordering around their subordinate associates in a desperate attempt to right the wrong.

Don’t over-react. Mistakes don’t have to cost the firm or your reputation a dime if dealt with in a timely, well thought-out manner.

But, if you become emotional or frenzied, your fellow professionals will start to question your ability to handle the stress and pressure inevitable with the job. You’ll also put what could have been a subtle situation suddenly on the radar of everybody around you.

Why alert the troops of failure when they’re safe and naively unaware in their foxholes? Learn to work under fire with grace and composure.

5. Don’t plan for the future. They say not to dwell on the past. This is not one of those times.

It is important to decipher why the mistake in question was made for your own professional development, and it is equally important that you make your boss aware of the steps taken to ensure it never happens again.

What could you have done to prevent the aforementioned error? Was it a matter of proofreading? Could you have asked a third-party for help? Were you under-qualified for the task at-hand but afraid to admit it? Is it a time management issue?

Answer these questions and then come up with a plan for improvement. Past mistakes won’t break your confidence if you move forward with adequate and substantial future planning.

So, try not to make a bad situation worse. And, if in doubt, ask yourself, “What would a Boy Scout do?”

-WB

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Managing With The Right Mindset: Why Lawyers Should Get Off Their Laurels

Undoubtedly, the U.S. military teaches its members valiant skills of commitment, loyalty, and leadership. Although few service men andwomen will actually work up to true leadership ranks, the desire to achieve greatness for oneself, one’s family, and one’s country is still evident in every enlisted person.

Even within the military, however, successful leaders arenot all defined in the same way.

Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck,author of Mindset: The New Psychology ofSuccess differentiates two types of leaders, those with a “growthmindset” and others with a “fixed mindset.” Ex-superintendent ofthe U.S. Naval Academy, John R. Ryan, asks readers of Bloomberg Businessweek,“What’s your leadership mindset?” in reference to Ms. Dweck’s two types.

In the field of law, a similar question can be asked of firmpartners and administrators, “What is your managing mindset?”

A leading lawyer with a “fixed mindset” believes in his orher own natural talent. It’s possible to argue that leaders with a fixed mindsetare driven by their own egos and cower in front of difficult challenges for fear of failure. These leaders are only willing to go as far as they believe their mind and intelligence will take them.

Attorneys who manage with a “growth mindset”, on the other hand, believe more in their untapped potential than their exhibited one. These leaders are willing to work toward self-improvement and are eager to hone their skills and mental acuity through continued, arduous practice over time.

Convention and cliché would have us believe that most lawyers lay in the former category of fixed mindsets—attorneys who insist the combination of a killer instinct and law school will lead to success.

Find out what type of leader you are by asking yourself thesame three questions Mr. Ryan posed to the business community.

1. How effectively are you managing your organization’s talent?

“In the rush to get things done, especially during a severe recession, it’s tempting to single out your top 10% for development and forget about everyone else. But from the standpoint of a growth mindset, you’re letting a lot of potential throughout your organization go untouched,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

For law firms, this is an especially poignant idea in termsof tapping into the potential of first-year associates. Invest in human capital. Train your new associates and accept that there will be a slightly slower learning curve.

In a recession, it often seems like your firm can’t afford mistakes. But, investing in young employees now—providing them with theexperience and skills necessary to succeed down the road—will guarantee yourfirm stays as strong as its weakest (or not so much) legal link.

2. Does your organizational culture permit risk taking and mistakes?

“We of course don’t want the kind of egregious mistakes andcompletely irresponsible gambles that helped lead to our current economiccrisis. But innovation does require making some strategic bets, some of which will pay off and some of which will fail,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

Proactive strategies—especially in a recession—are vital inincreasing and sustaining your bottom line. These days it’s common to hear administrators say, “We can’t afford that right now.” But, if not now, will your firm still have a future in which it can implement needed change?

Investing in technology, despite high costs, will save the firm both time and money via increased productivity. Offering clients alternative billing arrangements may seem costly today, but not when you consider the long-term client retention ramifications.

Finally, if you implement a change and it fails, these mistakes are crucial to future growth financially as a firm and personally as a manager. Don’t let your fear of failure allow your firm to meet its ironic, non-innovative end.

3. Are you resting onyour laurels as a leader?

“It can be hard to stay hungry over time. The more experience you gain and the more successes you have, the more likely you are to believe there’s not much left to learn,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

Be an action-oriented leader. Law firm managers should investin their associates, accept and learn from their mistakes, and ensure—whether you believe in the natural talents of others or their general ability to adaptand learn— that every employee’s mindset is focused on the next, new idea to improve firm practices.

-WB

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Puppies and PR Strategies: Five Pitfalls Law Firms Should Avoid

Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

While it’s a wonderful experience to learn from your mistakes, clients hire those law firms that avoid making them in the first place.

Of course, it’s safe to say nobody is perfect. That’s why firms often trust in a third party dedicated to mistake-prevention and mistake-correction: the public- relations (PR) agency.

Television is rife with PR disasters: Tom Cruise and the couch-jumping incident, John McCain and bailing on Letterman, Ellen’s puppy fiasco… Law firms, however, are hardly immune.

Consider, for example, the firm King & Spalding.

In May, the firm received a fair bit of bad press after it agreed to represent House Republicans in defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). After gay-rights groups protested, King & Spalding withdrew from the case—but without any definitive explanation. Amid much controversy, King & Spalding experienced a snowball effect in terms of averse consequences and bad PR.

First, former solicitor general and firm Partner, Paul Clement (the attorney who brought King & Spalding the case) resigned. Next, the NRA and Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli—both clients of the firm—changed counsel.

Eventually, the dust settled on King & Spalding’s office politics. But, how much damage was done?

The following is a list of PR pitfalls—like King & Spalding’s—that your law firm can learn from to avoid succumbing to its own. Hopefully these errors in judgment will prevent your firm from being next in the negative, legal limelight.

1. Employing Hands-off PR Strategies. Though experts in their field, PR agencies should not shoulder all the responsibility and work involved in creating a positive image for your firm. Partners and associates must all chip in when it comes to managing the PR poker game.

After the New York Post broke the story regarding Worby Groner Edelman‘s marketing poster (and ploy) that used 9/11 imagery to advertise for plaintiffs harmed at Ground Zero, the firm referred reporters calling about the controversy to Barker/DZP—the agency in charge of the ad. The firm should have responded to critics directly. Although conceived in an office somewhere else in New York City, the image and reputation of the law firm and its attorneys is the one at stake, not the art directors.

Richard Levick, President of Levick Strategy Communications, writes of law firm PR strategy:

“Reporters are like stray cats –if you don’t feed them, they go to someone else’s door. Call them back first, even if it is to say that you can’t say anything. Reporters remember who calls them and who doesn’t. Not returning the journalist’s call  today, no matter what the reason, guarantees that you won’t get the call when you do want to be in the paper.”

Employing third-party consultants does not exempt an attorney from speaking to the press or being a model representative of their firm. A PR person does not substitute for a well-spoken (and sometimes apologetic) law partner.

2. Participating In Impromptu Interviews. Senior attorneys would never show up to a courtroom unprepared, so why would you do the same for interviews with the press?

Continuing on the 9/11 example, the band Blue never recovered from backlash resulting from comments made by band member Lee Ryan during an interview. He was reported saying,  “What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important,” among other insensitive statements, when asked about the events of September 11.

Lawyers are more poised than popstars. But, the point remains. Impromptu interviews to the press about a case can have disastrous consequences.

Implement a firm-wide policy that controls what lawyers are allowed to say to the press. This simultaneously controls what the press prints about your firm and its clients. Also, ask your PR agency to prep key law firm partners for difficult, public scenarios involving the media. Don’t forget, even an ill-prepared press statement can grossly misrepresent the voice of your firm.

3. Going On The Defensive. Managing your public image—like social media—is not fad. Both trends are here to stay. That’s why a PR strategy should become a permanent addition to your firm.

It’s tempting to outsource PR work only when there’s trouble. The key, however, is to prevent trouble in the first place.

Take, for example, Miley Cyrus’s PR people. After the underage singer posed in some racy photos by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, her PR company correctly issued a public apology to the many disgruntled fans (and parents of fans).

Nevertheless, Miley Cyrus’s family was present for the shoot and should have involved their PR reps far before the magazine was ever published. Printed material sets words and images in stone.

Richard Levick, advises:

“Law firms conducting press relations project-by-project are wasting their money. If Coca-Cola only engaged in publicity when they had a new formula, you would be drinking Pepsi. Publicity requires reach and repetition. That means lots of placements, lots of times. Getting press ‘every once in a while’’, has little value beyond soothing the ego. Publicity for law firms is about business development, not ego.”

Law firms should keep PR-agency opinion handy for both defensive and pre-emptive decisions.

4. Believing More Publicity Is Good Publicity. The fact is, more publicity does not equal good publicity.

The company Mutts & Moms can serve as a testimonial to that fact.

When Ellen DeGeneres adopted a puppy, Iggy, from Mutts & Moms, she had no idea the dog wouldn’t agree with her cats. So she gave Iggy to her hairdresser’s family. However, Mutts & Moms’ policy required Ellen to return the dog to it, and took aggressive measures to repossess Iggy.

Despite appearing in tears on her show, Ellen could not get Mutts & Moms to return Iggy to her hairdresser’s family. And, in turn, Mutts and Moms received thousands of scathing reviews and threats from furious Ellen fans. Now, opposed to “good service” and “cuddly puppies,” a Google search of Mutts & Moms leads to, “Mutts and Moms: Ellen Ruined Our Reputation.”

Lesson learned? Even when it’s non-standard practice, do what it takes to avoid negative publicity—within reason (see last pitfall).

5. Trusting In Total Denial. Finally, the strategy to “deny, deny, deny” is the same as “lie, lie, lie.”

Whatever ethical standards lawyers abide by in the courtroom, they should require in the press room.

-WB

Read more about the above celebrity PR incidents in “10 of the Biggest PR Blunders in Recent History,” here.

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Trial And Error: On The Fear Of Being Wrong

Law firms are lush with Type A personalities, perfectionists, and over-achievers. This may be because the practice of law is often resembles the practice of medicine, where any type of mistake is extremely costly and irreversible. As such, mistakes in these industries are rarely tolerated. A firm’s first-years do not speak up, act up, or go home for that matter; instead, they reread every brief, every motion until it’s flawless and they’re blameless. Nowadays, in the legal profession, associates get little experience in the courtroom where there’s no room for (trial and) error.

However, managers in every field agree, it’s vital for rising stars to gain first-hand experience. There will, of course, be mistakes. Attorneys are known for having tempers in these moments. But Kathryn Schulz—expert on being wrong (no, seriously)—would have us believe that a series of cultural and learned behavior has led society to believe “rightness” equals “goodness” and that this is a huge social and practical problem. Embracing being wrong is, in fact, a key to how our businesses and people thrive. According to Schulz, here’s why.

“Do you remember that Loony Tunes cartoon where there’s this pathetic coyote who’s always chasing and never catching a roadrunner? In pretty much every episode of this cartoon there’s a moment where the coyote is chasing the roadrunner and the roadrunner runs off a cliff, which s fine, he’s a bird, he can fly. But the thing is that the coyote’s fine too. He just keeps running—right up until the moment that he looks down and realizes that he’s in mid-air. That’s when we’re wrong about something…we’re already wrong, we’re already in trouble, but we feel like we’re on solid ground… [the feeling of being wrong] feels like being right.”

We’ve all had instances when we are over confident about our rightness. For example, we’ve discovered the best defense, the best argument for the case based on the facts. In these moments, generally, we assume anybody who disagrees with us is ignorant of the evidence or of the logic to which we ourselves are privy.

As soon as we become aware that these same opponents—either our adversary on the opposite bench or sometimes our own second chair—do have access to the same information, we assume it’s still a deficiency on their part. Correct puzzle pieces, wrong combination. If, in the end, these people still disagree, our last assumption is that they’re enemies, distorting the truth “for their own malevolent purposes.” It is this attachment to our rightness that leads to the mistreatment of colleagues and other unprofessional behavior in the office, but, just as important, it prevents us from making mistakes that can lead to breakthroughs.

Students attend law school because they are united in the same desires to problem solve. When presented with a case and facts in that case, attorneys must decide what is the best combination of arguments to convince a judge or jury to award a desirable verdict. Law students should be the first to admit cases are not always won by “rightness.”

So why the obsession with being right?

While it’s no goal to be wrong, an incorrect answer by a risk-taking associate, naïve first-year, or for any other reason should not be a punishable offense. Instead, turn it around. Many of the most interesting products and innovative concepts have emerged from trial and error (Also see, Duly Noted). A process you should consider rewarding at your firm.

-WB  

For Schulz’s entire March 2011 presentation, watch the video here.

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