When I started The Law Studio, I had only been practicing law for a little over one year. I got a lot of trial and litigation case management experience in that first year, and I knew I wanted to eventually have my own law practice, but I imagined I would work in New York City approximately six years to build the necessary skills and move someplace closer to my Kentucky birthplace. I had operations, marketing, and human resources management going into law school, and I was fascinated by the business aspects of the industries I worked in (e.g., sport, transportation), but nothing prepared me enough for hiring the first employees in my business.
I got lucky with the first couple of hires. The first had worked with me at my prior law firm. She was exceptionally bright and professional, so much so that she went on to get her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. After she left, I was blessed with another great assistant, who was assigned to me by an agency for two years. I deeply enjoyed our strategic partnership and wanted to hire her as a Law Studio employee, but she also had advanced degree aspirations. When she left, she told me that the way I cultivate people gave her the desire to keep reaching for her dreams.
I was touched by her acknowledgment and encouraged that she understood one of my goals for the firm. I assumed that I could continue to cultivate other employees in similar ways, so I quickly hired three part-time workers to replace her and expand the business. I made a lot of costly assumptions that all who worked for The Law Studio would be as good as the first two. I hired a friend of a friend and two people from the agency I had previously used. One from the agency quit to pursue other opportunities within the first two weeks. The other had such a bad attitude during her training and orientation that I knew not to continue her assignment. But I had a much harder time releasing the friend of a friend. I fed her, made excuses for her poor attendance and substandard work product, and exhausted myself training and re-training her to succeed. It cost the business a lot of money, and it cost me a lot of mental energy. Two years later, I sat her down and asked her if she could honestly say she had been giving me her best work. She admitted she had not, and we created a powerful plan that would leave us both in positions to move forward with ease, at least in the short-term. It took me another two years to pay off the debt I incurred to cover her wages, even when I wasn’t being paid.
The worst aspect of this first big hiring mistake is that I hired two of her friends, and I hired her back for a short period, only to loan her a scanner that she never returned. It took me a while to practice what I preached, or use my prior HR skills. It was a lot easier when I was doing this work for United Parcel Service, which has well-documented processes and highly-effective programs of ongoing training. But I’ve learned. And I am constantly learning more each day. Today, if you contact The Law Studio, you will probably be greeted by my wonderful assistant and strategic partner, Tyler O’Keeffe. We both have our moments of disorder and miscommunication, but my careful selection of him from the candidates sent by his prior agency was an excellent investment of time, as is our ongoing investment in continuous improvement. Hopefully, you will notice some of this throughout the year.
There were some bumpy years after my first assistants moved on. Fortunately, I know to practice what I preach, and I regularly make Choice #1: Forgive Yourself for Having Conflicts. Sometimes, I have to re-choose it, but I remind myself that I will never advance, if I don’t stop judging and punishing myself for mistakes of the past—even (or especially) when others want to keep holding me down by reminding me of them. Are you ready to forgive yourself for what you have been deeming a mistake? Will you look for the lesson and let it guide you to the next phase of your unique life?
Remember, we all experience conflict. In our relationships. With our bodies. With our finances. With our words. At home. At work. In our communities, and in our everyday activities. Punishing yourself for being human is a little crazy.
Forgive yourself for that, too. We’re all a little crazy. Allow that to make your life fun.
Some actions you might take to forgive yourself for hiring too quickly and firing too slowly are:
- Make a list of the contributions the employee made, even if the overall performance was not up to your standards.
- Draft a job description with clear performance indicators—and use it!
- If you have employees who aren’t performing at the level you want, request a meeting to create an action plan you can work on together. Keep the tone positive, and focus on mutuality. Use the performance indicators from the job description. Set clear goals with deadline dates and objective measures. Allow the employees to self-select what is right for them after the retraining period: improved performance or resignation.
Click the link to Master Your Employment Relationships from Job Post to Termination.
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).