Every manager dreads that conversation with a valued team member, often pre-empted by the email that reads ‘can I have a word?’ We have done a lot of research at Pro-Legal to help our clients retain their best people and being able to spot the tell-tale signs of dissatisfaction so that you can proactively manage the situation.
I am not going to be so facile as to list: short notice leave requests, dubious “Doctor’s appointments” (people rarely book a Doctor’s appointment for the middle of the afternoon, by the way) or furtive whispered conversations on their mobile in a meeting room with the lights off or in the stairwell. These are all signs that someone is at final interview stages and in most instances, that’s too late. As an aside, if you are on an interview, never take or make calls in a stairwell, impaired lines of sight and how far sound travels in a stairwell are the perfect ingredients for being overheard by someone you don’t want to overhear you! But I digress…
For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on those very initial stages when people are considering a move. How can you spot a festering dissatisfaction at an early enough stage?
Not wanting to talk about their career aspirations
If a team member is evasive or non-committal when asked about their career aspirations, they are starting to feel that you might not be a part of their career aspirations. Lawyers are ambitious virtually without exception. This is not to say that they all want partnership or to be a GC but they all want continuous development.
Bland appraisals and one-to-ones
I am always amazed by the number of times I hear something along the lines of, “The resignation came out of the blue, we had his/her appraisal about a month ago and he/she said he/she was everything was fine…” I have never known EVERYTHING to be fine! If we as managers are honest with ourselves, we often suspect that we are being fobbed off but we are scared of pushing the point and hearing something that makes us uncomfortable. No manager has a monopoly on reason or good ideas and consistently asking your team members what they would change about the current set up will open up the possibility of them suggesting improvements that could really make a difference and give you the edge. It also enhances communication and their feeling of enfranchisement. It will also give you an early warning of them losing their commitment to your cause.
They are ambivalent to change
Lawyers are, generally speaking, a risk-averse bunch. They will meet any change, such as those to working practices, strategy, policies, reward structures or hierarchical structures, with scrutiny. That scrutiny will result in them concluding that it is a good or bad thing for them and reacting accordingly. If the reaction is ambivalence they are not considering the change to be something that will affect them for very long.
They have booked a holiday for a few months’ time but not booked the time off
The situation here is quite advanced; they (possibly subconsciously) have an exit timeframe in mind. You have no choice but to confront them about this but do it in a way that will precipitate a meaningful, productive conversation. “You’re an important member of this team and experience tells me that when someone books a holiday without booking annual leave, they’re checking out…”
They have had the same job function for over 18 months and there is no sign of it changing in the next 6 months
64% of lawyers we surveyed said they would consider a move but that number rises to a whopping 86% when just surveying those who have been in their current role for over 18 months. If we exclude the lawyers who are currently in practice and want to move in-house, the most common reasons for leaving are to get more seniority, responsibility or complexity. In short, if an individual isn’t progressing internally roughly every two years, they start to think about looking externally.
It is all well and good to be able to spot these signs but dealing with them is another matter. It is important to remember that a) you may not be able to change their mind and b) the sacrifices you might have to make to change their mind may not be worth it from a commercial or personal perspective. It is also worth remembering that prevention is better than cure and that there is no panacea for the broad spectrum of staff disquiet. Moreover, nothing will eradicate staff turnover entirely but being able to spot these things will help you prevent departures in some instances and be it will prepare you for departures and enable to plan accordingly in other instances.
For more information about this article, or to speak to Nick about your recruiting needs or Legal jobs in London or Nationwide, contact him on 02072696328 or firstname.lastname@example.org