Want a motivated Lawyer? Try a compliment sandwich.

Want a motivated Lawyer? Try a compliment sandwich.

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Want a motivated Lawyer? Try a compliment sandwich.

Sandwiched feedback

Lawyers want to do interesting work, secure a good salary and earn recognition for their contributions. But motivating them takes more than a good salary and an occasional “thank-you.

Lawyers want to do interesting work, secure a good salary and earn recognition for their contributions. But motivating them takes more than a good salary and an occasional “thank-you.” It requires a strategy and a better understanding of those that work for you.


1. Communication is everything

Communication is key to making members of your firm’s team feel included in major decisions. Get your staff’s opinions, they will most likely bring up things you hadn’t thought of. More importantly, your team members will feel part of the process and that their voices matter. Employees are more motivated when they feel needed, appreciated, and valued.

Getting employees involved can also help identify potential managerial talent, which could help grow the firm in the future – as well as retain talented individuals.

2. Ask what they want out of work

Just knowing that their boss is interested in their goals will make many trainees and associates feel better about their jobs. Just don’t always expect an easy answer to your question. Some lawyers may say that they want to work as part of a team on a transaction, for example, only to discover once they have been assigned to the deal that they are more effective when left to work alone.

When you ask staff what kind of work they enjoy, also find out about what they’re hoping to do in the future. Giving them opportunities to build the skills and make the connections they need to get ahead in their careers will build loyalty and motivation.


3. Money isn’t always the answer: give them responsibilities and let them soar

It is true that paying your staff too little can make them feel unappreciated and resentful, particularly if they feel you are taking advantage of them. However, motivation to work hard rarely comes solely from money. If your employees are being paid fair salaries and still seem unwilling to go the extra mile, throwing more money at them is unlikely to be the answer.

Instead, if you know you have good employees, make them feel empowered.  Give them real responsibilities and they’ll do whatever they can to rise to the challenge.  It may lead to new opportunities for both them and your business, but crucially, they’ll remember that you gave them the chance.

4. Help employees learn

It’s important that staff keep learning new skills on the job. In addition to CPD, there are classes and seminars in areas outside of transactional law that will help massively with development. However, in many cases, it’s a matter of listening to what skills an employee is interested in acquiring, then giving them a chance to develop those skills.

Otherwise, employees may feel that they are stagnating in their current role, increasing the likelihood that they will leave the firm. Staff turnover inevitably adds to business costs, not only in terms of lost productivity but also recruitment and training expenditure for the replacement worker.

Work with each employee to create their own personal development plan. Then, provide them with coaching and mentoring and help them increase their skills and their sense of competence and accomplishment.


5. Bring everyone together at the end of the week

Unless you are a small business of less than 10 people, lawyers are likely to either be spread over a larger floor area or are working in different departments, which means that they do not get to spend much time with many of their colleagues.  Weeks can go by without people catching up and it can foster a ‘them and us’ attitude between departments or floors.  So take opportunities to bring staff together and remind them that they are a team.  Whether it is first thing on a Monday morning for about 15 minutes, where people can chat over a morning coffee, or a few drinks at the end of the week, your staff will really appreciate the effort you have gone to for valuing the hard work they put in.

6. Always give a compliment sandwich

Ah, the compliment sandwich.  Valued by those employers who put their staff first.  And those who are fans of the TV show Family Guy!  Feedback is important, but too many employers think that giving feedback will hurt morale, or that so long as they highlight an issue, it is up to the employee to work out how to put it right.  Neither way gets the right result nor helps with motivating your staff.  However, the way you give feedback is hugely important and is a sign of how you value your staff.

A compliment sandwich is made in three parts: first, give your employee praise for something they have done very well or an area they have improved in (for example, the hard work they put into a transaction or the relationship they have developed with a key client); then provide constructive criticism: it’s one thing to point out what someone has done wrong, but it’s your job to let them know how they can put it right, to show them that you are working with them to provide solutions, not just highlighting problems; then end on a high note, again complimenting them on what they are doing, so they go back to their work with high morale, feeling appreciated and feeling that they will be even more appreciated if they can fix the problem in the middle of the sandwich.

7. Recognise that motivation isn’t always the answer

If your motivation efforts aren’t working, it may not be your fault. Not everyone can be motivated for that particular job. If an employee would really rather be doing something else or working somewhere else, it may be best to encourage them to pursue something new.

We can often forget that, as employers, we don’t build a business, we build people; and then people build the business.  If we lose focus on what (in fact who) has got us to where we are today, they will very soon move on.  As Richard Branson said: “If you treat your employees right, they will treat your customers right, and sustained profits will follow.”


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