Tag Archives: Productivity

Be Your Firm’s Rising Star (& Firm Productivity Tips)

If opportunity knocks—let it in! But for the rest of your work days, which seem to drag on, there are only the opportunities you make for yourself.

We’re told to be obsessed with productivity. On Wednesday, the height of the week, it’s easy to be obsessed with productivity. But Fridays, well, that’s another story.

But, what can we do specifically at law firms to improve productivity? Set the mood. Shut the door. Play calming music. Set a timer and work in 15-minute increments to keep totally focused.

At least, those are among the suggestions in an article by Forbes, “Five Ways To Be Amazing At Work,” by Steve Siebold, a corporate consultant and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class.

Productivity is often about time management. Allocate a certain amount of time to a task and then disconnect. Unplug the phone and put “do not disturb” on your office door. The fewer interruptions the better the creative flow.

The second step to being amazing at work is to solve problems says Siehold.

This is an easy one. At work, keep a running tally of problems at the firm and within case matters. Create a two-column page with one side “problems” and the other “solutions.” It’s amazing how such a short exercise can go a long way in solving problems with law firm management practices or with cases in particular.

Third, take risks. For law firms, this isn’t necessarily the best advice. Of course, risk taking can pay off. But, it can also backfire. Luckily, there’s a simple adjective that can solve this problem. Take calculated risks.

And, take calculated risks on people. Give young associates a chance to shine.

“The great ones never play it safe when it comes to leading their teams through change, knowing their job is to serve as a guide and coach,” writes Siehold. 

Fourth, have a strong work ethic.

For lawyers, it’s important to have a strong ethic in general. Don’t forget the right and wrong of cases you’re trying to win. Dedication to your work and believing in its ethic will go a long way to increasing your passion and productivity.

Finally, find a coach. For law firms, a coach should be a mentor, whether it’s a senior associate or law firm partner. Mentorship is an important part of the law.

“If a person works hard and gets a pay check he has a job. But if a person works hard, gets a pay check, and learns a new skill, she has a career,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

In any business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.

With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.

For more ideas about how to increase productivity at your firm, take C4CM’s audio course, “The Productive, Profitable Law Firm: How Agile & Lean Practices Can Reduce Costs, Increase Quality and Grow Profits,” on Thursday, February 11, 2016, from 2:00 PM Eastern to 3:15 Eastern.

In addition to real-life examples of how firms have used Lean/Agile methodologies to improve efficiency, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify and analyze your firm’s processes, and make incremental process improvements that can improve your bottom line
  • Develop methods to complete routine tasks quickly
  • Identify the bottlenecks that cause delays
  • Use ‘Increments’ and ‘iterations’ for improved legal productivity
  • Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that your firm should be examining (beyond billable hours)

-WB

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When Winter Storms Wreak Havoc On Employee Commute, Why Law Firms Don’t Have To Suffer

This weekend into Monday, the New England area underwent a bombogenesis… now there’s a term you don’t see everyday.

The term generally refers to a storm whose minimum pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours, according to meteorologists; in layman’s words? The storm was really strong and rapidly intensifying!

Snow and strong winds were proof of the bombogenesis that bombarded most of New England yesterday. Winter Storm Mars created blizzard conditions in a large part of Massachusetts, covering the city of Orleans with 10 inches of snowfall. However, Mars did not spare other States of its tempest, hitting Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine.

New York’s JFK Airport cancelled 50 flights; LaGuardia airport cancelled more than 300 flights; and airports and Boston and New Jersey faced extensive delays and cancellations, according to FlightAware.com.

Hundreds of public schools were cancelled on Friday and Connecticut alone witnessed 258 car crashes. If your daily commute was already slow, let’s face it, Friday and Monday were the worst.

All these reasons and more are why your firm should pay for your employees’ commute. When it’s cold or stormy outside, the last thing employees want to do is head to the office. In fact, the winter months most employees would pay to stay in bed.

But, with the right incentives, your firm can attract happy, productive associates to your benefit.

Retain the employees you value most.

Between heavy snowfall and gas prices, employees find it difficult to justify a long commute to work. What was once an easy freeway drive for 45 minutes can now cost employees as much as $20 extra per day.

The ability to live in safe, cheap suburb, coupled by the additional time necessary to drive to work is enough to drive away your best talent.

In order to retain the employees you value most, offer to pay their commute to work. It serves as real-money savings as well as good-will gesture.

Move your office to cheaper real estate.

If your firm is headed into the black, it may be time to move house. But finding more affordable real estate may lead to a loss in willing workers.

With the right location, the difference in rent should more than cover an offer to pay employee commuter costs.

Changing offices could be just what the doctor ordered to revive your ailing accounting. Travel stipends will limit the internal grumbling.

Incentivize your employees to work weekends.

Snowday Friday? Schools cancelled? No problem. Close up shop and move meetings to Saturday. Have the firm pick up the tab for food and transport. Friday can be spent with the kids who are home from school and Saturday will make up for lost time on the company dime. That’s something employees can stomach.

Allow the occasional telecommuting.

Bringing home proprietary or confidential client information is a real concern. It’s why a lot of firms force employees to be at the office for all casework. In these instances, use transport stipends to substitute for telecommuting options.

Provide monetary compensation—and get creative—for traveling to and from the office with extra dispensation for rush hour, after-hours, or weekends.

At the same time, understand that some weather-related (or child-related) emergencies just can’t be helped. Don’t throw a fuss when employees call out for the occasional telecommute.

Forbidding telecommuting totally will likely be ill-received by your staff.

Find a reason for hope (and savings) to transform snow days into productive, morale-raising days. Your firm, and its employees, can benefit equally from seasonal changes and tropical storms.

-WB

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Old New Year’s Resolutions? Why Senior Management Should Promote Work-Life Balance

According to a 2015 Gallup study, about 50 percent of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.”

On the other hand, half of those surveyed who fully agreed with the statement “I feel I can approach my manager with any type of question” are considered actively engaged in their work, reports Wall Street Journal, a strong indicator that manager openness may be tied to worker productivity, summarizes Forbes.

On average, almost a quarter of full-time employees plan to change jobs at year’s end. Can your firm afford this much employee turnover due to bad management?

“Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said offering frequent recognition, merit bonuses, training programs and clearly defined career paths are important ways to show workers what they mean to the company,” writes Chad Brooks, a BusinessNewsDaily contributor.

Career paths are often dictated, if not totally controlled, by an employee’s manager. So if communication is poor—so is, most likely, employee performance

In addition, of the 79 percent of employees who do not plan to leave their jobs at the end of the fiscal year, many cite work-life balance satisfaction—also a contributor to job unhappiness—as the source.

So if positive work-life balance, coupled with good management, leads employees to stay with their firm, isn’t it time your law firm reevaluate its promotion policies and perks?

Time and time again, companies, including law firms, have acknowledged the advantages of offering Flex scheduling.

This may mean working one day per week, or every two weeks, remotely.

“I work a four-day week which is incredibly valuable, and I’ve been really encouraged to see that some of my male colleagues have switched to working flexibly so that they can meet the demands of a young family,” says Lauma Skruzmane about her city law job to Yahoo News.

“For me, this also underlines the fact that balancing work and family is not to be branded a ‘women’s’ issue, but it is a challenge that all parents, or other careers, face.”

But parents aren’t the only demographic looking for flexible hours.

Working from home can be a relief for anyone. Perhaps your law office is experiencing temporary negativity in its corporate culture. Maybe the office has become of hub for gossip or distraction.

Whatever the reason, traditional workspaces may not be the most productive environment for all your associates. Allow them to take advantage of new media and technology, which often means anybody can be digitally anywhere at any time. Remind your management that good work doesn’t necessarily mean office work.

A healthy work-life balance also means adequate exercise.

Sign your firm up with a local gym. Give your employees incentive to work out at lunch or after dinner. Exercise will help improve efficiency and productivity among your staff by relaxing the brain and increase endorphins in the body. Exercise is one of those old New Year’s Resolutions–one that everybody tries and many people quit. Make it stick in 2016.

Finally, lead by example. Take coffee breaks. Make time for face-to-face visits with your employees. And, don’t miss your child’s first student bake-sale because you felt obligated to stay an extra hour at the office.

Let you employees take five every once in awhile or risk taking their two-weeks notice.

And finally, train your managers to understand that additional perks often lead to higher performance, as well as happiness, in their work force. In the end, senior staff should provide the model for team members to emulate and even admire.

New year, new laws, more headaches for employers.

Each year, the federal courts and state legislatures are busy altering the landscape of employment laws, and usually to the employer’s detriment. To avoid costly litigation, employers must stay abreast of annual changes impacting the workplace.

Figuring out how to adapt quickly to accommodate employee rights and manage employer responsibilities can be daunting. It’s even harder to comply with legal obligations you don’t even know you have.

Learn more in C4CM’s audio course here.

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Getting Over The Post-Thanksgiving Hump: A Few Organizational Tips For Cold Weather

Thanksgiving wasn’t a day to give thanks for everyone this year. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin was forced to declare a state of emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties due to the winter storm and flooding. The Governor’s office reported that nearly 100,000 homes were still without power Sunday afternoon as a result of freezing rain, ice and sleet, according to USA Today.

Rains continued in Kansas and North Texas, as well, where waterways swelled and flood watches remained in effect, the AP reported. Seven people were swept away in high water in the Trinity River in Dallas Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, they were able to be rescued from the swift water.

But don’t let a dreary holiday engulf your weekly goals. Through a few easy steps, you can salvage a productive and welcoming start to what’s likely to continue to be a wet week.

1. Concentrate despite the cold

Although the autumn weather is finally be turning, your office heat may still be turned off.

If you find yourself losing concentration in a cold office, try using the countdown method. Look at the clock and plan to work ten more minutes, read ten more pages, or write ten more lines of a brief. Then, reward your effort with a warm cup of tea or coffee.

Whether it’s due to temperature issues or end-of-the-workweek procrastination, don’t lose your focus. Counting down a few more minutes will help you finish that less stretch of work before heading home. Or, finishing that last memo before going to lunch.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve in just a few more minutes. More often than not, having a distinct, short-term deadline to complete a task will bring back your fat-waning concentration.

2. Do the most important task first

It’s easy to waste your day working on little projects—filing papers or filling out timesheets, for example.

But, procrastinating with the more important case-related matters you left behind will only lead to a weekend spent at the office.

So, today, find your most important task at hand. Complete this item first.

If you funnel your concentration and effort into one, single work item, you’ll be more satisfied with your progress, and you’ll have set a more manageable tasks to complete before the end of the week.

3. Ignore your email

Obsessing about incoming e-mail is the quickest way to lose your work momentum.

So, maintain your concentration by ignoring new, incoming e-mails—at least for awhile.

Create a schedule for checking them (say, every hour). This will also give you an occasional, much-needed break from completing your more important projects.

4. Don’t forget your to-do list

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your concentration starts to decline. There feels like just too much to do in so little time.

Creating a to-do list is one of those basic, old, but still valuable tasks for any professional. Create a to-do list for the day and for the week. If you can, assign dates to each task (you can modify them later).

Creating a to-do list will get you in the habit of writing things down.

After every phone call, e-mail, or in-person conversation, write down the project being discussed, along with the related-tasks.

This is one of the many reasons why Excel was created and can be used by lawyers.

At the end of the day, you’ll be grateful for the visual representation of all your work—especially once you see that none is urgent and hump day has finally transformed into the weekend.

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Laptops & Tablets For Notetaking: Law Office Distraction or Time-Saving Device?

More and more, people blame technology for poor performance.

A Cornell University study called, “The Laptop and the Lecture,” gave half a university class unfettered access to their computers during a lecture, and then imposed a strict “no-laptop” policy on the other half.

Clearly not the perfect experiment, the study nevertheless showed that overwhelmingly the disconnected students performed better on a post-lecture quiz, regardless of the kind or duration of the computer use.

“I banned laptops in the classroom after it became common practice to carry them to school. When I created my “electronic etiquette policy” (as I call it in my syllabus),” wrote Dan Rockmore in his New Yorker article, “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom.”

“I was acting on a gut feeling based on personal experience.”

And that’s the problem.

Whether it’s via the haphazard policies of university professors or the random experiment touted as “proof”, technology is getting the brunt of blame for poor performance in students and professionals when—in reality—technology is key to positive change.

The majority of issues with technology stem from the user. Cell phones, for example, are not a problem in movie theatres until somebody leaves them on or—worse yet—answers a call during the séance.

Computers can be great tool in class or the boardroom, until people become distracted by e-mail or surfing the web. Years of rock-solid research has shown multi-tasking leads to decreased productivity–but it’s the person, not the laptop, who is accountable.

Ultimately, technology is not the problem. Politeness is.

Whether or not we realize it, technology has made us less polite. When two people are talking, a third person would excuse themselves before entering the group conversation. Yet, when the phone rings, people won’t think twice before picking it up in front of a colleague or friend.

In meetings, dozing off is a definite no-no. But, for some reason, people won’t say no to spending an entire meeting or presentation distracted by the Internet.

The debate isn’t about which innovative technology to use, but rather, can we use it politely?

Last year, Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director for the American Humanist Association came up with “Five Recommendations for a New Politeness,” published in the Huffington Post. Here are a few of his ideas, summarized:

1. Stop fretting about political correctness. Instead, simply identify people in ways they prefer to be identified.

Remember the Golden Rule and treat people as they’d like to be treated.

2. State your opinions or critiques with respect for present company who may disagree.

“Politeness doesn’t mean censoring the flow of ideas or even respecting your opponent’s positions; just don’t forget they’re human, just like you,” explains Speckhardt.

3. Daily prejudice and discrimination exists, whether or not you personally witness it or experience it.

With that in mind, be aware of stereotypes and avoid speaking as if you endorse them.

4. Give in once in awhile.

“When you’re in the majority group, and most everyone is in some aspects of who they are, consider giving ground once in a while to someone who isn’t,” writes Speckhardt.

That means, lawyers: “Hit the brakes on your Beemer and let that minivan merge into traffic.”

5. Keep the behavior of others in check with constructive criticism, but maintain your composure and compassion while doing so.

So, before you make policies to stop smartphones in the workplace, start leading by example with politeness and see if behavior will change. It means more than just putting your cell phone on silent.

At presentations, if you decide to take notes on a laptop, alert the presenter ahead of time. Ask their permission. And, during the presentation, be sure to make eye contact and show your enthusiasm and alertness.

It’s tempting to jump at every ping, but condition yourself away from this sense of urgency. When in company, abstain from looking at your phone.

If you must, excuse yourself for a minute and explain why the phone call is urgent. Colleagues will be more understanding with a sincere apology and quick explanation.

Finally, follow Speckhardt’s five steps to politeness. When you practice politeness outside the office, it will become more natural to practice it within. Just because the environment is more stressful or busy at work, doesn’t mean you should get away with being disruptive, distant, or rude. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how small gestures go a long way to achieving a more pleasant workday.

Don’t restrict the innovation, re-condition your behavior as the user.

Forgot what it’s like to live on planet Earth instead of cyberspace? Practice your inter-personal communication skills with C4CM’s course, “Effective Interpersonal Skills and Communication Techniques.

According to the Stanford Research Institute, 85 percent of your success is related to people skills (communication skills/rapport skills), and only 15 percent is related to technical skill and ability. So pry those eyes away from the computer screen and into the eyes of your competition during court—learn how to excel outside Excel.

And, if you’re already sold on the value of technology, go here to discover more ways to use Windows 10 or MS Office efficiently and productively at your firm.

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The Beatles: A Business Model For Managing Difficult People at Work To Increase Productivity

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people,” said Steve Jobs.

Law firms are a team. Law firm success is a team effort. But–occassionally–there is a weak link: the annoying coworker. Your law firm’s ability to keep those negative tendencies of coworkers in check can become your firm’s competitive edge.

In a recent OfficeTeam survey, workers were asked, “In your opinion, which of the following is the most annoying workplace break room behavior?” Workers overwhelmingly stated, “making a mess for others to clean up.” In fact, that was 44 percent of respondents’ major complaint about colleagues’ behavior.

Neck-in-neck for second and third place come “stealing a coworker’s food” and “leaving expired/spoiled food in the refrigerator.”

But the break room is not the only source of people’s workplace pet peeves.

LinkedIn asked over 17,000 professionals “what’s your pet peeve,” and the survey found that break room faux pas, like leaving expired produce in the fridge, ranked only third.

It was the Negative Nelly’s of the world that came in second, and—drum-roll please—“people not taking ownership for their actions” came in first place among coworker pet peeves.

Interestingly, in fourth and fifth place were “starting meetings late or going long,” and “people who don’t respond to emails.” So while you may be annoyed by the constant build up of work-related emails in your inbox, you can find comfort in knowing that your counterparts are equally annoyed that you haven’t yet addressed them.

Certain employees require more “managing” than others. You know the type…the bully, gossip, whiner, slacker. And although they run the gamut from whiners and bullies to pot-stirrers and pessimists, all these irritating folks can be considered “Difficult Employees.”

Unfortunately, one of the most challenging parts of being a leader is dealing with these challenging employees. Yet tolerating these “thorns in your side” is definitely not the best solution. Because even just one difficult employee adds frustration and stress, and it can spread like wildfire attacking productivity and morale.

The biggest mistake your law firm can is not having a written, consistent policy or set of procedures for how to deal with difficult employees.

For example, create a checklist for how your prefer managers to address—first verbal, and then written warnings—difficult employees.  Make a template with objective, not emotional language for your law firm managers to use when written warnings are required.

Circulate these policies to your employees so that both sides understand the consequences for bad attitudes and behaviors in the office.

Also, don’t forget to be an advocate for your employees. Negative Nelly’s (the ones annoying your fellow coworkers) may have personal issues that are affecting their day-to-day work habits. It’s called presenteeism. Employees show up to work in body, but not spirit. It’s important to get at the root of the issue and care for, not criticize, these employees.

Presenteeism—which is defined as the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury or other distress, often resulting in reduced productivity—has been estimated to cost over $150 billion dollars per year, according to an HBR study. And a study by Statistics Canada alleges that lost productivity from presenteeism may be 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism.

What can your firm do? Discover powerful tools for dealing with difficult employees and managing conflict by utilizing the 15 cornerstones for handling constructive confrontations in The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar: “Managing the Most Difficult People at Work: 15 Cornerstones for Handling Constructive Confrontations,” online Friday, June 5, 2015 from 11:00AM to 12:15PM EST.

Loaded with practical solutions for managing challenging situations, this power-packed webinar delivers specific strategies for nipping conflict in the bud so you can get your team thinking positively and working toward results, including how to:

  • Handle the tough conversations that employees hate and managers fear
  • Trust that the employee also wants harmony and honest feedback
  • Be alert to rewards that an employee might receive for unacceptable behavior
  • Protect the self-esteem of employees regardless of how you personally feel about them
  • Confidently address employees with an “attitude” problem
  • Handle employees who lose their cool without taking their reactions personally
  • Make honesty non-threatening regardless of the nature of the problem
  • Give critical feedback without bruising egos and causing defensiveness
  • Know what to do with difficult employees when nothing works

This content-rich webinar is loaded with practical tips for providing responsible feedback. If you’ve already tried ignoring the problem with no success, or you’re determined to sharpen your communication skills before you tackle the next tough situation, this webinar is for you.

After all, we only all “get by with a little help from our friends” (and coworkers!).

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Why The Apple Watch (& Time Management At Your Law Firm) Works Best In Pairs

So it’s here: The Apple Watch. What’s the verdict?

“It’s a gorgeous piece of hardware with a clever and simple user interface and some fine built-in functions. It already has more than 4,000 third party apps. I will probably buy one,” writes Walt Mossberg after wearing a demo Apple Watch for more than one month.

“But it’s a fledgling product whose optimal utility lies mostly ahead of it as new watch software is developed. I got the strong feeling that third-party app developers taking their first swing at the thing simply hadn’t yet figured out how best to write software for it—especially since Apple, for now, is requiring that watch apps basically be adjuncts of iPhone apps.”

Because, after all, the best hardware comes with a variety of well-written, complimentary software.

It’s why, for example, in law firm management the best time savers are not thanks to Timex, rather thanks to coupling incentive pay plans with supporting innovative work practices.

Why? According to experts, the secret to project management has nothing to do with time at all. In fact, most managers speed past deadlines.

Forget the schedule. Key filing or court deadlines aside, it’s more important to be goal- and product-oriented than time-oriented.

“Why don’t more project managers sound an alarm when they’re going to blow past their deadlines?” ask Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Because most of them have no earthly idea when they’ll finish the job. They don’t even think it’s possible to know. Too many variables. Too much that’s out of their control.”

It’s true, law firm managers should focus more on what keeps the client informed and happy rather than exactly how long it took you to get there. Unfortunately, the billable hour and client satisfaction are inextricably linked in legal services industry.

For some companies, the Harvard Business Review advice may be sound. “If your customer doesn’t think you’re late, then you’re not late,” it states.

But, if the equity partner thinks you’re late, then you’re late. And, if the judge thinks you’re late, then you’re really, really late.

So, is time management a strategic variable that law firm managers can manipulate at all?

It turns out, a not-so-recent study from 1997 shows that innovative employment practices—incentive pay, flexible job assignments, and higher job security—increase employee productivity. Although employees may be in a time crunch to write that legal brief, those who work for firms providing non-traditional working hours or environments to do so are more efficient and effective at their job.

The study published in the American Economic Review by Ichniowski et al. investigated the productivity effects of innovative employment practices using data from a sample of 36 homogeneous steel production lines owned by 17 companies.

“The productivity regressions demonstrate that lines using a set of innovative work practices, which include incentive pay, teams, flexible job assignments, employment security, and training, achieve substantially higher levels of productivity than do lines with the more traditional approach, which includes narrow job definitions, strict work rules, and hourly pay with close supervision,” write the authors.

In addition, these innovative employment practices tend to be complements. Essentially, optimal incentive structures—like higher employment security but lower salaries, or higher training couple with incentive pay—come in pairs.

“That is, workers’ performance is substantially better under incentive pay plans that are coupled with supporting innovative work practices—such as flexible job design, employee participation in problem-solving, teams, training to provide workers with multiple skills, extensive screening and communication and employment security—than it is under more traditional work practices.”

So, if your law firm can’t pull back on its billable hours or push forward its many deadlines, at least it can manage the time of and human resource policy for its employees.

Consider implementing flexible scheduling, work-from-home policies, or other innovative management practices. Give your employees the opportunity to diversify their workload or work on a variety of departmental teams.

That doesn’t mean your attorneys won’t appreciate the Apple Watch as a firm gift during the holidays. In fact, as Mossberg continues to tout Apple’s genius: “While testing the watch, I was able to try it during a faux check-in at a W hotel in Washington, D.C. As I walked in, my room number appeared on the watch, and I was able to breeze by the front desk, go right to the room and use the watch as a key.” Undoubtedly your traveling lawyers will still benefit from quick-fix gadgets.

But, in the end, the more choices you offer your employees, the more hours they will bill—and happily—for your firm.

Not sure where to start? Check out ideas for innovative management practices for law firms here.

Reference: Ichniowski, C., Shaw, K., & Prennushi, G. 1997. The effects of human resource management practices on productivity: A study of steel finishing lines. American Economic Review, 87: 291-313.

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