Automation & EfficiencyMay 31, 2016

How To Identify Your Top and Worst Performers

Woman on stairs

Personnel is often the largest line item in any law firm’s budget. Your employees can be your greatest asset, but they can also be your biggest liability. Maximizing this resource can give your firm a distinct competitive advantage. Failing to do so, however, can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars from high turnover and lost opportunity.

One of the most important investments any law firm can make in their future success is the investment in a good team.

That’s why it’s important to be sure that what you pay your staff is money well spent. What’s the best way to do this? By monitoring their progress and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. This should be carried out for all employees; not just attorneys and paralegals, but intake specialists and administrative staff as well.

The idea of keeping tabs on everyone’s professional development and ensuring their contribution to your practice may seem daunting. It’s a necessary evil, but one that can be accomplished with ease if you know what to look for. In this article, we’ll discuss how to identify your top and bottom performers and talk about what character traits to look for in new hires.

Why Employing Top Performers is Important

For your business to succeed, you need staff members that are dedicated to their jobs and focused on the success of the firm as a whole. They need to take initiative. They need to strive to be better. Complacency shouldn’t be in their vocabulary. Which brings us to this crucial truth:

Top performers are more likely to be leaders, while poor performers are more likely to be followers.

Leaders will guide a team and have the ability to work well on their own. They will inspire others by setting new standards of excellent behavior and stellar productivity. Leaders will create a ripple effect that will spread like wildfire within your practice. They are a benefit that is invaluable to any business.

Here’s why:

  • They care. They exhibit ownership, investment, attention to detail, and an unwillingness to cut corners.
  • They improve culture. Employees who care will motivate other employees to care more. They’re honest and ethical while remaining personable and easy to talk to. This attitude is contagious and can lift up even the most downtrodden of employees.
  • They help build your brand. They will not only keep current clients coming back, but increase the chances your law firm is referred to their friends and family.
  • They have opinions. They’re not afraid to speak their minds and are happy to offer their ideas when asked.
  • They contribute. They are always game for a brainstorming session and enjoy helping train new employees.
  • They are worth more than you know. Top performers add disproportionate value to businesses. Your productivity will skyrocket with a top performer in your corner.

Poor performers will probably not do any of this. They won’t take the reigns in a tricky situation. They won’t step up to the plate when it’s their turn to take a swing. And they certainly won’t be the propellant your law firm needs to flourish.

Top performers are responsible for success and you’re responsible for finding them. But how do you go about that?

Identifying and Measuring High Performing Employees

To identify the top performers you currently employ, you’ll need to take a look at your job descriptions. This will help you determine how you can measure success in any given position.

There are several critical positions within a law firm that require special skill sets and attributes: intake specialists, lawyers, and paralegals. The performance of an intake specialist depends on how likely they are to turn a lead into a case that pays.

Determining the success of your lawyers and paralegals can be a little trickier. For these team members, you need to look at the following criteria to make judgments about their performance:

  • What do they cost you annually? This can be calculated by subtracting their salary and benefits from the revenue they bring in through successful settlements and verdicts.
  • What is their average case time? Determining the amount of time spent on each case will let you know if the employee is taking advantage of you by drawing cases out.
  • What cases do they handle best? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Evaluating which attorneys and paralegals work better on certain case types (personal injury, workers’ comp, etc.) can help increase their productivity and yours.

Characteristics of Top Performers

Whether you’re evaluating a current employee or making a new hire, knowing what to look for is crucial. Below are some traits top performers are likely to possess. Bear in mind, a top performer may exhibit some of these traits and not others. It’s up to you to evaluate which characteristics will meet your firm’s needs.

If you’re observing someone who already works for you, the following can be used as a guide to learn more about their values as a person and a worker. If you’re interviewing prospective candidates, consider using the following as part of the job description:

  • Dedication to quality. The number one trait of a top performer is their belief that quality is 1000 times better than quantity. Not only will they understand this, but it will be something that shines through in their work.
  • They demonstrate the ability to think on their toes and change strategies or attitudes as the situation calls for.
  • Are they a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of person? They need to be able to maintain a positive attitude even when the going gets rough.
  • The ability to take initiative. Being a top performer requires the ability to spearhead projects and manage others when asked. They’ll also seek out opportunities to show you their gumption.
  • A desire to grow. They actively seek your input and feedback, positive or negative. They also want to improve their skills and are interested in opportunities to attend events that can continue their education.
  • Excellent communication skills. Top performers must be able to communicate effectively in person, via email, and on the phone, both with their peers and superiors.
  • A top performer will not need to be micromanaged. They will be more than capable of doing their own research and managing their own time.
  • They are the kind of person you can always turn to; the kind who will try their hardest and stay late if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
  • They aren’t afraid to fail. The only thing they fear is not trying hard enough.
  • While not the most important trait by any means, it is much easier to work with someone you enjoy spending time with than someone you don’t, something your other employees will agree with.

Keeping Top Performers Around

Now that you’ve identified who your good employees are, or made a few new hires, you have to keep them around. Top performers will be highly motivated, which may make them more likely to continually look for better jobs. You need to give them reasons to stay loyal:

  • Give them the wheel. Since they are motivated and fearless, most top performers will enjoy autonomy and the opportunity to take control and show you what they’ve got.
  • Make things harder. Not all the time, but occasionally hand them a difficult task. It will let you see how they handle it and keep them from expecting easy work all the time.
  • Communicate with them. Make sure you are articulating your expectations and values, and discuss how these goals can be best achieved.
  • Give them a reason to trust you. If they don’t believe in you as a boss, they won’t be around for long. Show that you care about their professional and personal well being and that you notice all of their efforts.
  • Don’t put them on a pedestal. While it’s true that you need to make your top performers feel appreciated, doing so too much can inflate their egos. Always acknowledge the positive contributions of all your employees and create a dialogue about performances that are lacking.
  • Include them. Give them the opportunity to attend important meetings or strategic planning sessions.
  • Make sure they have everything they need. This includes tools, resources, equipment, education, and a work environment that is conducive to success.
  • Provide mentorship opportunities. If they are just starting their career, give them an experienced mentor to learn from. If they are more seasoned, ask them if they would like the opportunity to mentor someone new.
  • Give regular feedback. Positive and negative feedback are important. If you sing their praises and respectfully bring up your concerns, you will develop a bond with your top performers based on trust and honesty.
  • Reward them. There aren’t many people who don’t get a confidence boost from being rewarded for their hard work. If you’re looking for a non-financial reward, consider a plaque of recognition or perhaps some extra paid time off. Financial rewards can be offered by means of an incentive program or a game-like system that gets employees bonuses based on tiered achievements.

Characteristics of Poor Performers

Unfortunately, identifying top performers is only half the battle. You need to evaluate your team and find out who the poor performers are. These people can be toxic to an otherwise successful team and must be weeded out whenever possible. They’re costing you more money than their contributions are worth.

Below are a few things poor performers might do:

  • Avoid conflict
  • Demand job security and guaranteed pay, no matter what
  • Undermine your authority
  • Get uncomfortable when change needs to take place
  • Place too much stake in their seniority
  • Do personal tasks during work hours
  • Waste working hours on social media or browsing the internet

Trying to “Fix” Poor Performers

When you find a poor performer who is costing the company money, you have two options: fire them or try to fix them. If the employee had multiple chances to redeem themselves and hasn’t met the call, you may elect to let them go. But if it’s an employee you see potential in, your best course of action may be a long talk about their future with your firm.

If you find yourself having this conversation, make sure you are clear about your expectations. Let the employee know that you can no longer tolerate the problem behavior. Remember, the longer you tolerate bad performance, the longer it will go on.

Be honest in this conversation. If the employee sees things from your perspective, they may be inspired to make a change. But if your honesty loses you an employee, it’s probably for the better. Consider the following tips when dealing with a poor performer:

  • Confront them. It’s crucial to bring up your issues and concerns and start a dialogue. The employee may have personal problems that are affecting their work life.
  • Keep HR in the loop. Be honest and let the employee know that HR is aware of any behavioral/performance issues. Having your HR department involved early on can keep things from getting too messy if you have to fire them.
  • Develop a performance appraisal system. This will help your employee identify goals and help you measure their success or failure.
  • Involve the employee in your action plan. After coming up with some goals and a way to measure them, put the ball in their court and give them an ultimatum. If they don’t take this well, give them the rest of the day off to consider their priorities and make a decision about whether they can/want to answer your call.
  • Be willing to teach them. Not everyone will have the necessary skills for success right off the bat. As long as they have the right values and are willing to take initiative, there is opportunity for improvement. You can always teach good skills, but you can’t teach good attitude.
  • Follow up often. Check in with the employee frequently. Provide feedback and review their performance as often as is needed.

Where Needles Comes In

With Needles Legal Case Management Software, you don’t have to worry about finding your top and bottom performers by yourself. Our innovative system offers multiple ways to track goals and evaluate employee’s performance, like our checklist summary by staff or time tracking report.

Identifying your best and worst employees with Needles makes it easy to reward and retain them. It can create a better culture within your firm and that makes for happier employees. Happy employees mean satisfied clients and more referrals for your practice.

Not sure how to get started? Take the Needles Tour or contact us at 410-363-1976. We’ll walk you through our program, go over our prices, and answer any questions you might have. If you like what you see, we’ll set you up with a Certified Needles Consultant and Trainer to help your firm implement Needles Legal Case Management Software quickly and seamlessly. Before you know it, you’ll be using Needles to fine-tune your team and increase your firm’s productivity.


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