As the Workplace Evolves, Your Performance Reviews Should Too

The performance review systems of the past will not survive—nor should they. They were built for a workplace that no longer exists. Performance reviews must evolve with the changing workplace.

Younger generations of empowered employees and the continuing proliferation of remote work are transforming the workplace. Much work today, especially knowledge work like the practice of law, is more flexible and less location dependent. Further, younger employees are more likely to seek work that is rewarding and leadership that is interactive, and they are less willing to accept the one-way command-and-control structures of the past.

One relic of this old worldview is the yearly performance review, with its emphasis on checklists and performance scores. Nobody likes traditional performance reviews. They are top-down, time-consuming, production-halting, anxiety-provoking, and sometimes adversarial, and generally look to record the past rather than develop future performance. Since these old-style reviews typically happen once a year, they are a blunt instrument at best, ineffective for course correcting in today’s fast-paced workplace.

“There is no evidence that these programs increase either motivation or performance.” states John Boyce, Vice President of Human Resources at Amsoil Inc. He recently instituted a new performance management system and says, “Our Performance Management (PM) program is the cornerstone of our retention strategy.”

By reimagining the traditional PM conversation and moving to a strength-based program, Boyce believes that everyone benefits. “Shifting the emphasis from manager to employee makes the PM conversation a powerful positive experience that builds trust and strengthens the relationship between the manager and employee.”

Toward a New Style of Performance Management

One of the biggest raps on the old model of annual performance reviews is that it brings work to a standstill, stirring competition and killing team cohesion and productivity. Employees stop working to fill out forms and stress about the meeting, while their managers lock themselves in their offices and struggle to remember who did what the previous 12 months and write the equivalent of term papers for each one. The process hits an even narrower funnel when the managers send their evaluations up the chain for approval.

This traditional performance review is inefficient and ineffective, akin to using a kitchen knife for scalpel work. Indeed, the traditional performance review is receiving a lot of criticism these days. In a recent SHRM article, a WTW survey reported that 72% of employers agreed that supporting the development and productivity of their employees is a primary objective, but only 31% said their performance management program was meeting that objective.

That’s great, some of you are thinking. No more performance reviews!

Not so fast. Rethinking performance reviews doesn’t mean getting rid of them altogether. Providing employees necessary feedback is still an essential managerial responsibility. Many leaders and businesses depend on performance reviews to reprioritize duties, clarify accountability, and deal with ongoing issues. Metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and benchmark goals are still the best ways to measure employee performance. We don’t need to change what we do—we need to change how we do it.

A new approach to performance management is required to lead employees effectively—an approach that is more frequent, less top-down, and more interactive. Many firms are adopting monthly check-ins regarding quarterly goals, addressing issues immediately as they arise, and closing out the year with a scaled-back but still formal annual review. These changes have increased productivity, team morale, and performance. Interacting with staff throughout the year cultivates employee success and engagement and attracts more motivated workers. Recruiting firms are finding that evolved performance management programs are a strong recruiting tool for younger workers.

New Strategies in Performance Review

What changes in the performance review process are most effective for today’s businesses? Here are six you can try.

  1. Talk, Talk, and Talk Some More

Don’t limit talks with your staff to once or twice a year. Schedule frequent conversations to discuss performance. And don’t be afraid of spontaneous drop-ins as well, not to catch out the employee, but to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship. Not only should the conversations be more frequent, they should also be more engaging and reciprocal. You want your employees invested in their own growth and performance.

These conversations don’t need to be marathons. Keep them short, focused, and simple. Set monthly or quarterly goals and priorities as a place to begin and use one-to-one guides to direct and document the conversations, during which you can discuss growth, customer feedback, and recognition.

Once the meetings are on the calendar, don’t reschedule unless there’s an emergency. When you reschedule or postpone, you imply the meetings aren’t a priority, and the employee will follow your lead.

  • Set Clear Expectations

Set clear performance goals and expectations at the beginning of the year so employees understand their responsibilities. This practice lends objectivity to the review process by introducing measurable targets. It also keeps the conversations focused on the future and gives employees goals to work towards. Having these conversations early in the year allows the leader to explain how the employee’s duties fit into the firm’s overall strategy.

Business in the 21st century is nothing if not fast paced. Markets change quickly and firms must adapt just as quickly. Last month’s job requirements may no longer apply. Remember to be flexible with your expectations, adapt your goals or metrics when needed, and explain these changes with full transparency.

Heather Parker, Owner of Parker Law, a woman-owned firm specializing in estate planning and business law, hosts a quarterly strategic retreat with her staff to establish procedure improvements and quarterly goals and to set personal and professional development goals for each staff member, which become part of the measurements used in her performance reviews. “These retreats are essential to our understanding of where we want the firm to advance over the next three months. No one is excluded from the process, and everyone has an equal voice.”

  • Simplify the Process

There is no need for your review process to be complicated or cumbersome, especially with more frequent conversations.

Older methods of the annual review process had long forms, extensive questions, and idiosyncratic ratings systems. They often took the leader days to complete and deliver, thus slowing the firm’s production. Missy Hirst, COO of Altitude Community Law, has created a simple questionnaire using Survey Monkey. The self-evaluation, as well as the questionnaire for the supervisor and peers, have approximately four (proprietary) questions. “The answers are anonymous, and the questions are thought-provoking and open ended,” Hirst says, “but they don’t require long-winded answers.”

Simplifying the process for the review, including more frequent conversations with your staff, addressing performance issues immediately, and involving your employees in the process, fosters a culture of transparency and accountability.

  • Use Self-Evaluations and Solicit Feedback

Self-evaluations are a great way to have your employees think about what they want for the year and a good starting point for learning what skills and resources are important to their success.

At her quarterly strategic retreats, Parker has each employee complete a self-evaluation for their last three months. “The self-evaluations are a way to treat your employees like the adults they are by giving them a voice in their own success or failure. We have found completing these self-evaluations on a consistent basis helps them focus on the bigger picture.”

Hirst involves the entire firm in performance reviews. Her short review questionnaire is sent to the employee, their immediate supervisor, everyone in the employee’s department, and everyone in the firm. Responses from the employee’s department are mandatory, but for the others they are optional. She has found that this process of inclusion has fostered an atmosphere of accountability. Adding input from employees’ colleagues or from other managers grants a fuller picture of the employees’ capabilities and contributions.

This 360-approach is not a lecture. It allows the employee to have an open, two-way conversation with their immediate supervisor. It also empowers the employee to have candid conversations with their leader about what resources and training they need to be successful. Hirst observes that the inclusion of other departments “adds value to the process and enhances the culture of mutual respect regardless of position within the firm.”

  • Create Forward Focus to End Recency Bias

Recency bias—building a review on an employee’s most recent performance while ignoring earlier efforts—is a sure-fire way to undermine your review process. Parker avoids recency bias by creating a “full open-door policy.” “We don’t wait for an annual review to address issues. We address anything, positive and negative, right away.” Hirst mentions that her review questionnaire has broad questions, so the focus is not on a single project.

Both Hirst and Parker establish their employee goals at the beginning of the year, which acts as a baseline and allows the employees and their leaders to map out a path for professional development that aligns with the firm’s strategies. Monthly, quarterly, and annual conversations are more impactful and effective when focused on the employee’s future actions rather than past mistakes. Performance reviews have the power to demotivate employees and destroy company morale if they are not forward focused. Focusing on the future instead of the past keeps employees engaged and goal driven, especially when backed with frequent and consistent conversations about those goals.

Before Hirst changed the firm’s performance reviews, she noticed that their legacy and high-producing employees were unengaged in the process. “Performance reviews are less impactful for great employees if they don’t have items to work on. Instead of focusing on what they did wrong, we focus on the future. Now we use the review process to encourage, retain, and stimulate our legacy and great employees’ performance.”

  • Divorce Merit Increases from the Review Process

When merit increases are tied to the annual review, employees focus on nothing but the bonus. Everything else is “Wah, Wah, Wah.” This inhibits employees’ growth and limits their ability to focus forward.

Hirst and Parker have untethered merit increases from their performance reviews. Hirst, for example, budgets for the firm in the third quarter, announces raises in the fourth quarter, and puts them into effect January 1st. “This change puts everyone on the same playing field and allows the employees to focus on performance and not money” for the rest of the year.

Parker bases merit increases on firm rather than individual performance and discusses such increases throughout the year. She doesn’t discuss money during the annual review, which eliminates drama and highlights performance and goal-setting.

Performance Reviews as Leadership Tool

Current statistics, surveys, and interviews indicate that millennials and members of Generation Z crave feedback and are focused on career development. The old-time once-a-year model is not going to keep them engaged. A revamped yearlong interactive performance review motivates employees, boosts employee engagement, and inspires them to meet the firm’s goals. It also prioritizes employee opportunities and clarifies accountability while helping leaders learn how to give feedback calmly and helpfully. As John Boyce states “People like to know their relationship to organizational goals and how these impact their future with the company and our revamped PM program facilitates that.”

The new generations of employees crave feedback from employers who are invested in their professional development. The yearlong performance review is not only a good model for evaluating employee performance, it is also a valuable tool for recruiting candidates who want to know where they stand, how to improve, and how to excel in rewarding and engaging careers.

*This article was originally written for the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) magazine.*

We all know that accountability in the workplace is one of the driving characteristics of high-performing teams and offices. If accountability isn’t part of your company’s culture, you will struggle with employee performance and engagement. Plus, if employees can always escape accountability by making excuses, you will have a stagnant culture and workforce.

Accountability isn’t a new concept; however, it is often misconstrued. It is not forcing your employees to work harder, or it isn’t writing performance improvement plans, or write ups, and it isn’t about yelling at your staff for everything they do wrong. It is about trust. It is about holding people responsible for their job duties, and it is about working together.

To begin, a leader needs to define what accountability looks like for their offices and teams. I think accountability is being answerable and taking responsibility for your actions and your decisions as well as delivering on your commitments.

Here are 4 ways to encourage accountability in your teams:

  • Accountability begins at the top. Everyone must be held to the same standards. With rank does NOT come privilege. One of the corporations I worked at the leaders had different rules. They could do what they wanted when they wanted regardless of the business hours. They could yell at employees and be unprofessional. They could wear things that weren’t allowable to the rest of us. You know what this did? Made us resent the leadership team in addition to not trusting anything they said or did.  If you, as the leader, want people to be on time for meetings – you need to be on time. If you want them to behave in a certain way – you need to as well. Leaders set the example. Set a good one.
  • Create daily accountability goals and standards. Remember when you got a gold star for doing daily things like brushing your teeth? Do you write things on a list just so you can cross it off? That is, you holding yourself accountable. Pass it forward. Production goals can be set, and behavior goals can be modeled. Remember to say thank you and give kudos to your staff when they do what you ask them to do. Yes, it does feel in the beginning as though you are saying thank you for them doing their job. Instead think of it as rewarding the behavior you want to continue to see.
  • Be outcome and solution focused. One of my favorite lines to use as a leader is “I don’t care who is to blame, how are we going to fix it?” Stop the blame game in its tracks by not allowing it to continue. In the end does it really matter who’s fault it is if the client is the one getting the short end of the stick? Find solutions, don’t create martyrs.
  • Are your expectations clear and concise? Do they make sense to everyone? Does your staff know what is expected of them. Make sure you repeat your expectations often, even if you think they know it. And if something changes don’t expect them to just know that. Tell them! Encourage them to know what they should be doing and how they should meet the end expected outcome.

The bottom line is in order to hold your employees, or your peers accountable, you need model the accountability yourself.

If your office is struggling with accountability, look to yourself and your leadership team first. Then give me a call and let’s find a solution.

Most people I have met, managed, and worked with want to be appreciated. They want to be appreciated for their hard work, for hitting a production goal, or for contributing to the company’s success, for showing up on time, and for being a decent person.  Even the person who says they don’t want the trophy, or the public recognition, wants to know their hard work is being noticed, and is appreciated.

The fast-paced day to day life many small business owners and HR Directors keep doesn’t always allow time for recognition. We get caught up in the hustle, the chaos, or the myth that you don’t need to reward people for “doing their job.”

I want you to consider recognizing your employee’s dedication if you want them to continue to work hard for your company. I can’t tell you how many times in my corporate career I heard people gripe about working their tails off and how no one seemed to notice. This gripe quickly turned to resentment against the corporation and the hard work stopped. It is not difficult to  end that toxic attitude before it begins. Recognizing your people doesn’t take as long as you would think. And it isn’t as difficult as you’ve worked it up to be either.

Things to consider about recognition:

  1. Create a program or a strategy with parameters, rules, and guidelines for every award and reward. One of the fastest ways to damage your employee’s morale is for someone to think the recognition is subjective. You like “them” better than “me” so that is why they are now your favorite. Having a strategy can eliminate that perception.
  2. What is worthy of a reward? Rewarding specific behavior can encourage and motivate your employees to continue to act / behave / produce the way they have been. It also sets the “winners” up to be role models for other employees.
  3. Recognition programs are a great tool to help your company engage and retain your employees. Align the awards /rewards / praise with your company’s vision and goals. This will encourage your people to be part of the company’s success.
  4. Tenure strategies. Recognize the employees who have dedicated years of their lives to your company. Acknowledge them and their tenure and let them know how much you appreciate their commitment.
  5. Empower your direct managers. Typically, HR is responsible for administering the recognition program but empower your managers, who work side by side with their teams, to nominate, suggest, and drive the rewards.  
  6. It doesn’t always have to be about the cash in pocket reward. There are other options such as small gifts, gift cards, stickers, paid time off, and the list goes on and on. One of my most successful reward prizes was the UGLIEST trophy ever. It was awarded to the highest producing team and my teams fought over that UGLY thing. I didn’t get it; this thing was hideous. But they all wanted to showcase it proudly in their space. Not sure where to start? Ask your staff what is important to them. They may give you ideas you never would have thought of.
  7. Remember not everyone in the office loves public recognition. Some people may be very shy or feel awkward when you thrust them center stage. Part of your strategy should be to ask everyone at their next one to one how they feel about recognition and public praise.

Whether you have a quarterly staff meeting where you hand out trophies, or monthly production award meetings, or weekly huddles where everyone gets a sticker – create a program that fits into your business structure, acknowledges the habits and behaviors you want them to continue to do, and makes them feel appreciated.

Want some ideas? Reach out to me or follow me on LinkedIn for ideas. 

Like many of my friends and clients, I am a corporate refuge. I spent years in the corporate world, and in that realm, the HR team was the core of the business. It served as the first touchpoint candidates encountered when applying for a job, it was the heartbeat for recruiting, and we dealt with the day-to-day drama of working in a large corporation.  

Most small businesses don’t need someone in-house full time. They don’t need a backbone for their organizational needs, or someone to define their company culture, or someone to invest in the long-term success of their employees. Why? Because the owner serves the purpose for all those avenues. The owner has a vision and does things every single day to create the business of their dreams. In a utopia that is. Most small business owners I speak with feel frazzled, are puzzled over their money leaks, and don’t have enough time in the day.

Most small business owners only reach out to find HR assistance when something goes wrong. That’s not all we HR professionals do. That is only the tip of the iceberg.

Why Small Businesses Need HR

  1. Bring outside HR into your business at any time. You don’t need to have employees. Once business owners begin to value their time, want help with focus, growth, or direction, it is time to bring in an outside perspective. This will allow you to focus on what you love and not the minutia of day-to-day business functions.
  2. Looking to hire someone or are you still nervous about bringing someone on? HR can help you decide when to hire your next employee, what position you (actually) need, and then help you decide who the best candidate is.
  3. Have a couple employees? Just hired a new one? HR can help you process employee paperwork and create company policies, job descriptions, and performance review processes.
  4. Someone show up in an outfit that is NOT office appropriate? HR can help you define your employee expectations. What do you want your employees to accomplish? How do you want them to dress? What are their production goals? Do they have phone scripts? What should they be doing all day long?
  5. Not sure how to plan, organize, or elevate your business? An HR consultant has years of experience in project management, workforce strategies, and how to get a grip on the “paperwork” that never seems to go away.

Although you may think you don’t need HR in your small business; the truth of it is you probably do. You may not be ready for someone in house, but an outside HR person can be beneficial to you in more than the “people drama” way. HR consulting, and someone outside your company will offer you a fresh perspective. This outside expert can help elevate a small business to the next level. 

Want help in evaluating whether or not your company needs an HR expert? Reach out to me and let’s have a conversation. We are here to help!

In today’s competitive, diverse, and fragmented workplace, conflict happens.
Different people, with different work styles, personal and professional needs, are bound to clash about what to do and how to get it done. 
There’s no need to fear conflict, resolved effectively, conflict and its resolution can lead to personal and professional growth, and a more resilient workplace. 
Before you go into any difficult conversation, regardless of the cause, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this conversation?  
  2. What do you hope to accomplish?
  3. What would be the ideal outcome?
  4. What assumptions are you making about this person’s intentions?
  5. What “buttons” of yours are being pushed? What about the employee’s “buttons?”
  6. Are either of you more emotional than the situation warrants?

The bottom line is you need to prepare. Yes, sometimes these conversations happen “on the fly” but you can still take 30 seconds to figure out at least one of the above questions.

Once you have a clear understanding of what you are looking to accomplish, and once you remove the emotion from the situation, you are able to look at the situation through the eyes of a leader and work towards a solution.

And above all, don’t ignore the situation. That is never healthy!
Want to prepare for a difficult conversation? Need a fresh perspective? Give me a call and let’s figure out the next steps!

If there is one thing the last few years taught us, it is how to be flexible. Now when someone has to reschedule it isn’t a big deal – we accommodate and make the adjustments. For us introverts, sometimes it is a blessing, sometimes it is putting off the inevitable. Either way we, dare I say, Pivot? If we are this flexible now with our calendars, why are so many people still resistant to change?

I think it is fair to say, there are many different types of personalities, working styles, and generations in today’s work force. Some employees thrive in a chaotic work environment that changes daily. Others are more productive with a continuous or repetitive environment. If someone tells me they work in a “fast-paced” environment, I often assess if that “fast-pace” is because the work environment is chaotic and unorganized, or if the work itself is pressure filled. The bottom line is “fast paced” should be translated into “change is the only constant.”

To be fair, that “fast pace” is often a natural change as businesses grow and change. Business needs can (and should) change. The office and its employees need to implement changes to accommodate this business growth. It is ideal if your employees are flexible and encourage the necessary growth and change – instead of fighting it.

Changes can be as simple as a change in procedures, or changes can be a shift that has a profound impact on the structure of the business and workplace. As your business changes and evolves, how can you go about encouraging flexibility and shift a process, procedure, or guideline internally without creating havoc?

Here are some quick tips for leaders to remember when making changes in the workplace.

  1. State your vision. Be clear and articulate about what vision you have for the change. What does success look like in this (new) situation?
  2. Be willing to explain the “why.” Employees will be more receptive to changes if they understand the bigger picture and why this change needs to be implemented.
  3. Lead your employees. Lead them into the change, don’t demand it. Be flexible as they adjust to this change.
  4. Ask for collaboration. Employees are more flexible with change when they feel they have a say and helped create this pivot.
  5. Lead by example. Model the behavior you want to see. If you have changed your policy to 100% in the office, then YOU as the leader need to be 100% in the office.
  6. Proceed in small steps. It is a reality that some people have difficulty with changes. Take small steps. Give your employees time to adjust and help them through the process.

Looking to make some adjustments to your business? Have you created a management strategy for the change? Do you have a goal that you are reaching for? Creating a strong office environment during the changes can help ensure employee retention and a more team-oriented workplace.

Want to work through your change management strategies? Give me a call and let’s figure out the next steps!

The Great Resignation brought on by Covid-19 and new expectations of work-life balance have drawn greater attention to a perennial problem for legal entities and business owners, particularly small businesses—how to maintain institutional knowledge in the face of record turnover.

In the April 2022 Gartner Business Quarterly, Linda Ruel writes that 71% of the CEOs Gartner surveyed expect to continue to lose workers in 2023, workers they won’t be able to replace easily.[1] These extended losses will not only continue to disrupt their businesses, but the resulting brain drain will wipe out generations of institutional knowledge. This challenge particularly affects smaller companies, such as law firms, which may not have had the resources or scale for formal institutional knowledge retention in the past.

Beyond retaining more of their critical employees, how can firms preserve institutional knowledge? By making it a priority and having a plan.

What is Institutional Knowledge and Why is it Important?

The editorial staff of Indeed defines institutional knowledge as “the collected understanding and ability of the institution’s workforce.” Such knowledge, also called organizational memory, can be tangible—the documentation of procedures and training manuals, for example—or intangible—the practical wisdom of seasoned employees.[2]

Retaining tangible institutional knowledge takes some work but is fairly straightforward—document processes and procedures and digitize them in an easily accessible format. Intangible knowledge is more difficult to preserve. When experienced employees leave, they take with them their best practices—their cheat sheets and rules of thumb, their key relationships inside and outside the company, how things truly get done and who does them.

The accretion of employees’ memories builds the organization’s collective memory, enabling the business to function. Long standing employees pass along this intangible wisdom informally, often by word-of-mouth. If best practices exist only in the employees’ minds or scattered on sticky notes, the chain of knowledge is irretrievably broken when they leave, especially if the exodus is massive and sudden, as with the Great Resignation.

This loss costs companies money, time, and efficiency.

How to Retain Institutional Knowledge

Workforce turnover is a natural, even a necessary, aspect of a company’s growth. Different phases of a firm’s life cycle require different skillsets. Strategic turnover prunes the deadwood and keeps the firm nimble and adaptable to market changes.

Turnover becomes a challenge, however, when it is no longer natural, when it comes as a tsunami rather than a predictable ebb and flow. In the face of such vast and unexpected change, organizations default to a reactive mode, patching the levees holding in their institutional knowledge with sandbags that will inevitably be washed away. Instead of throwing sandbags at the problem, companies should build better levees. By being proactive and strategic in combating institutional knowledge drain, organizations can minimize the risk of unprecedented workforce attrition and keep their companies from going sideways. How? By creating a culture of knowledge sharing and the systems to support it.

This proactive strategy puts the CEO and business owner back in control, and it won’t take a complete restructuring of your current processes to do it. It merely requires a renewed dedication to making institutional knowledge just that—institutional rather than individual.

Let’s explore seven methods to make that happen.

  1. Identify, Prioritize, and Educate

To preserve institutional knowledge, all employees must understand its importance. Create a company culture that values information sharing across the enterprise and has formal systems to support that sharing—information systems, data analytics, training systems. Avoid information silos and turf wars.

Examine all levels of the business and identify the value and volume of existing institutional knowledge. Then identify the key components and processes every team member should know, and prioritize what to capture and share. Think creatively. Do you only want to capture skill-based information or project management tools as well? Technology hacks or past strategic initiatives? Once you identify the knowledge you want to preserve, put systems in place to do so.

  • Involve All Employees

Holly Walters, Chief Operations Officer of Shapiro Law Team, a personal injury firm in Phoenix, Arizona, has implemented firmwide practices to safeguard information and keep their cases moving. “We want to ensure that everyone in our firm, from the receptionist to the managing attorney, knows what each team is responsible for.” Walters believes it is vital that all teams understand the important stages of any case from onboarding to settlement as well as the proper digital screens to complete to keep the pipeline moving.

The Shapiro management team works with each of their teams to create checklists, training courses, and desk manuals. “The desk manuals, whether physical or online, are step-by-step guides for each team member and are set to be updated frequently,” Walters explains. She not only shares these tools across teams but requires all new employees to cross-train with each team manager—new attorneys train with onboarding, new paralegals train with settlement, and so on. Walters makes it clear that this is a management initiative and gives the leaders ownership of the process development and information gathering. Not only do these practices encourage knowledge sharing, but they make for higher quality client service. When employees leave, the transition is seamless.

  • Cross Training and Transparency

The goal of cross-training—shadowing colleagues and learning other roles—is not to add to the employee’s workload but to expand their knowledge and engagement with the organization and create transparency about the demands and requirements of different roles. Transparency results when everyone’s duties are no longer shrouded in mystery and the culture is based on performance and collaboration, not competition.

Make cross-training a priority by incorporating it into the employee’s performance review. Create a quarterly goal with specific timelines, departments, and partners, and discuss what they learned. Such conversations let you know how well the firm is adopting the information-sharing culture.

When Holly Walters implemented transparent cross-training at Shapiro Law Team, the firm saw less competition and greater collaboration among departments along with more efficient knowledge sharing—and increased productivity.

  • Mentorship Initiatives

In any organization, mentors—veteran employees who help newbies learn the ropes—are often the ones passing down institutional knowledge. The problem is, most mentorships are ad hoc and informal. The answer: make them formal. Create a program that pairs veteran staff with less-seasoned employees.

Harleigh Jones, the former Firm Administrator of Christian Dichter & Sluga, a women-owned law fim serving the Southwest U.S., developed[MP1] [WM2]  a training program that relied on veteran employees. “Having a mentor training system reduced barriers to the firm’s knowledge preservation as it became a natural training tool,” Jones explains. Veteran employees pass along what they know, eliminating the temptation to hoard information that wreaks havoc on smaller firms.

For a mentorship program to succeed, it must be part of the job description, not an add-on. Make it a structured program. Create rewards and incentives for the mentors to do a good job, such as bonuses, extra PTO, recognition. Implant the value of mentorship in the DNA of every role.

  • Learning Libraries

Create a learning library. Encourage employees to build spreadsheets, folders, and drives thick with lists of processes, contacts, providers, referral sources, white papers, power points, articles, email chains, videos, and so on. Encourage employees to update the information as a matter of course.

Not sure where to begin? The line workers always know. Start by asking your employees what resources they need. You’ll be amazed how many workers have their own cheat sheets already set up. Create a general location for these lists and encourage people to use them.

To curate and disseminate the firm’s institutional knowledge, establish the role of Knowledge Librarian as part of the training team. This is a critical function in the Information Age.

  • Implement Succession Planning

Most firms have some version of succession planning at the C-level, but it is often overlooked at the employee level. At all levels, succession planning is an important strategy not only for replacing workers but also for passing on knowledge and skill sets. When applied to line workers, this strategy is a valuable tool for identifying and developing new leaders.

Harleigh Jones faced this challenge when she scheduled a long-deserved three-week vacation. “I needed to know who could take over for me at any given moment. I began looking at their strengths and weaknesses and distributed my workload accordingly.” Implementing this strategy in a formal way enables more seamless coverage for PTO, internal promotions, and turnover.

When a worker is promoted, for example, give them the time to train their successor. They’ll be happy to share their tips, tricks, and efficiencies to leave the role in better shape than they found it. Likewise, when an employee leaves the company altogether, have them train their replacement. Sometimes, though, for legal reasons, this isn’t possible. That’s why promoting a culture that requires an ongoing documentation of work processes and best practices is critical. If someone leaves the company today, their replacement should be able to review the documentation and get up and running by the end of the week.

  • Capture it with Video

Digitally archived written records are a valuable resource for retaining institutional knowledge, particularly in its tangible forms. But in the Visual Information Age of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and the like, more people learn by visual media. When you need to change the water filter on your fridge, you look up a video. The same concept applies to institutional knowledge. Video preserves intangible forms of knowledge more effectively than text because it allows for demonstration as well as explanation.

According to Forrester Research, 75% of employees would rather watch a video than read an email or manual.[3] Recording key project discussions, strategy meetings, and tutorials not only captures a team’s processes and[MP3] [WM4]  agendas, it conveys the hidden context and nonverbal communication between the lines.

Companies can incorporate video technologies into many of the other six methods outlined here. As an element of succession planning, for example, you can create an “Ask the Expert” forum in which retiring employees discuss their roles and best practices. Video records can also support cross-training initiatives without interrupting busy colleagues.

Grow or Wither—It’s Your Choice

Like human memory, organizational memory can grow or wither. Creating a strategy for preserving institutional knowledge not only makes your business more resilient when employees move on, it strengthens your business’s long-term innovation and growth, leading to greater engagement and less turnover. By engaging your employees as active participants in developing and capturing institutional knowledge, you not only preserve and build that knowledge, you encourage your employees to stick around.

This article was originally written for the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) magazine.





During my years in Corporate America, I didn’t give it a second thought when my offices had a birthday party for a team member. As my offices grew, we changed the ritual to once a month (from everyone celebrating individually), but the balloon, cake, and card were “normal” office policy. I learned the hard way celebrating a birthday isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a company standard.

To begin with, not everyone likes to celebrate their birthday. I know the extroverts out there may be shocked by this statement, but the fact is true. Not everyone enjoys celebrations and the thought of everyone knowing their personal details are not appealing.

 Here are some tips to help your office be inclusive, fair, and celebratory.

  1. Any office environment should NEVER make celebrating birthdays mandatory. Make all celebrations optional and allow employees to choose for themselves.
  2. Not everyone has disposable income to buy gifts. Do not take office collections to buy people presents, cards, or fancy lunches. It is presumptuous to assume that everyone has income to spare or wants to participate in a gift exchange.
  3. Consider allergies and dietary restrictions. I will never forget the year that some coworkers brought me cupcakes for my birthday that had nuts in them. It left me in a super awkward predicament. If I didn’t eat them, it would hurt their feelings or if I confessed, I would make them feel awkward.
  4. If your office does choose to celebrate birthdays, I recommend doing a large cake, for the entire office. Eating the treat is optional and each team member can choose if they want a piece or not.
  5. We recommend having a group party, once a month. This way no one person is singled out. I worked in a large office that had 17 birthdays in November. The simple “Happy Birthday” on the cake we had the first Friday of the month covered anyone who wanted to participate.
  6. Ask your staff if they want to be acknowledged via email, on the cake, or with a party. There is no judgment on their decision, you are information gathering. Then, armed with this information, choose a company standard and stick to it – for everyone.
  7. Try methods of celebration that aren’t about group food. Try electronic greeting cards, gift cards to food establishments or local stores (paid for out of office funds), a lunch out with the manager, or decorating their desk space. I used to grant a  “personal holiday” and allowed them to stay home (paid) on their birthday.

Choose the celebration that works best for your employees but be consistent about the implementation to ensure that no one who wants to celebrate, gets left out.

Welcome to Spring 2023. Yes, I said Spring. While the rest of the country digs out from yet another snow storm, we are truly blessed to live in the Southwest, with its warm days and cool nights (although it has been cooler than normal for us!). It is the land of the Early Spring—those rare weeks we don’t have to turn on the heater or the air conditioner, and we get electric bills we can live with.

Early Spring in Arizona brings out the cyclists, the dog walkers, and the runners, all eager to work up a little sweat without melting into the pavement. It is also time for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training, where both the rookies and the veterans eagerly renew their skills and work themselves back into playing shape.

How is your team shaping up this Spring? Though our winters are mercifully short and mild, we still have the holidays to deal with and the post-holiday lull. Has your “I’ll get to it in the New Year” morphed into “Maybe by March?” Are you happy with this Quarter’s evolution or is it time to shake things up a bit? With every team, every business and every family, change can be a scary concept.

Which brings me to the Newsletter tip of the month.  I challenge you to view change in a different light. Change means things are growing and taking a different shape. It means fresh ideas, fresh members, fresh direction, and a safe place where all are free to soar!

What changes do you want to make, to see, to be a part of in Quarter 2? Not sure? Want to talk it through with a new perspective for added clarity?

That is where we come in – give me a call and let’s hit your next three months out of the park!

It’s February, time for lacy Valentines, roses, and heart-shaped candies. It’s also time for overbooked restaurants, ditched New Year’s resolutions, and Girl Scout cookies.

I’m feeling the stress, how about you?

For businesses, February is the time to reach out to your leads and see how they’re doing, to re-visit former clients to see what they need now. Talk about stress. I can’t tell you how often this month potential clients have told me: “Yes, we want to move forward, but not right now.” REALLY? Putting off hiring or HR issues aren’t going to make them go away. Here’s my rule of thumb—if you know you need something done, you likely should have done it yesterday. But today’s good, too. Let’s get it done now.  

These delays got me thinking about my own business. Am I delaying as well? What are my current business needs, and how am I getting in my own way?

Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love, which reminds me that one of my goals for the year is to fully love where I am and celebrate my accomplishments. I call this business love. So why don’t you do the same? Take a few moments (or more) to celebrate what you love about your business. Not only will this temper the stress, it will reignite the spark while reminding you why you got into business in the first place.

Here are three steps you can take to shift into gratitude and refocus your February frustrations into business love:

  • Set boundaries. This can mean many things, but the most important is to own your business, don’t let it own you. Set call hours on your electronic calendar, take Saturday and Sundays off, block off time to work those long-term projects you keep putting off. Whatever you decide, make it right for you – and stick to it!
  • Treat your business as a client. Speaking of long-term projects, give your business one or more hours a week to work on the big picture. Maybe that means creating a marketing strategy and calendar, working intensely on your billing, or creating processes and procedures to automate your business. Whatever you need that week is what you focus on. And no matter what, keep the appointment with your business. You would never dream of canceling on a client, so don’t cancel on yourself.
  • Embrace the scary. I have news for you. You are never going to be completely 100% ready to take that next move. There will always be a degree of fear. Is this the right decision? Did I just ruin my business? Run with the fear rather than away from it. Think of it as that “Oh my gosh, here we go” feeling you get in the pit of your stomach at the top of a roller coaster. Instead of holding your breath, closing your eyes, and hoping for the best, throw up your hands, scream at the top of your lungs, and enjoy the ride. Then give your business the love we’re talking about when you reach the end safe and sound.

This Valentine’s Day I wish nothing but love and abundance to you all. Here’s to reigniting the business spark.