(Originally published in Enterprising Women Magazine, Fall 2015 issue)
I am often asked what has been the biggest challenge in my business. I am almost always embarrassed to admit that my answer is usually related to staffing. Despite the exceptional training I received in United Parcel Service’s Management Training Program, The People’s Workshop, and Human Resources Department, I have difficulty finding qualified and committed employees to help me further The Law Studio’s vision.
I have been mediating employment-related disputes since at least 1992, and I’ve been fairly successful at getting people to produce results—for others.
But I’ve spent many of the past 12 years of self-employment frustrated by workers who:
- Hid filing they didn’t want to do (back when we had paper files)
- Rarely came to work on time
- Stole from me by over-reporting their hours worked
- Resented that I got seemingly better work assignments than they did
Sometimes, I get very angry about what I’d like to blame on bad luck or bad attitudes. It’s as frustrating as it is embarrassing.
Can you relate?
If it’s any consolation, we are not alone. As Delia Passi, CEO of Women-Certified told Business News Daily last year, “We get emotionally connected, and that can hold us back from making the tough decisions.”
We hope our relationships with our employees will lead to the results we want, and that alone isn’t going to do it. Your friend’s unemployed boyfriend who is on the verge of eviction isn’t necessarily going to show up for work when he’s scheduled to—or do a great job. That powerful co-worker from a prior project might not be as committed to your vision as she was to being the leader on that prior project, and she will certainly be more committed to her wants and needs than yours.
That’s understandable. How honestly committed are you to someone else’s wants and needs when they seem to make it harder to honor yours?
Fortunately, these conflicts aren’t inevitable or permanent, especially when we start resolving them before they begin.
The Job Post
I have tried a lot of different job post templates, including one by Basecamp Founder and Inc. Columnist Jason Fried. See here. When I needed quick administrative help, I focused on the skills I wanted or thought I needed and the salary I thought I could afford. I generally paid at least 30% more per hour than other small businesses or solo law practices, thinking that would attract a higher quality worker.
I have abandoned the application process at times, too, assuming that I could train nearly anyone to do much of the work I needed to be done. That was true to some degree, but I repeatedly found that I didn’t have the extra time necessary to train inexperienced workers to use MS Office, write a professional letter, or effectively communicate with my colleagues by telephone. I assumed everyone had these skills because I had them when I was in the early stages of my career.
Do you have similar assumptions about people who come to work for you?
It’s true what they say about assuming. I put myself and my employees in no-win situations. That was not at all what I wanted.
Just as I had been told about many things, it takes a bit more planning and preparation to gain the interest, applications, and high-quality work product we want from our employees. It also takes some patience that I am still developing, but that is also improving my relationships in other areas of my life.
The extra effort I put into my job posts, for example, now has me hiring qualified employees who share The Law Studio’s vision and who see themselves contributing to a more unified world culture through private conflict resolution and entrepreneurship.
In my job posts, I define the conflict in specific terms.
The Law Studio needs a part-time content manager to keep our materials flowing regularly to followers worldwide and to increase sales of products and services that meet their current needs.
Notice that although I have a conflict because my last brand and content manager abandoned her job, I kept the conflict statement focused and positive. Conflict doesn’t have to be emotionally-charged; conflict resolution it is about effective action.
Before I post all of the required and desired skills for the job, I identify my interests in hiring someone to do this work.
I look at my beliefs and expectations about the job and the person who will do it.
I think…I have an inspiring vision and that this is a great job for someone who wants to work part-time while getting leadership experience and build conflict resolution skills.
I want…someone who is inspired by my vision and wants to be a part of it, contributing his or her own creativity and success skills.
I expect…people to respect me, The Law Studio, and the opportunity to work here with my impressive clients.
I believe…I offer more than most part-time employers and should get “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”.
I consider that I might have preconceived notions that limit who I might hire, and I clear my mind so that if I assume anything, I assume I know nothing about who the ideal candidate is (two of the Seven Choices of a Master). This is not to say that I won’t still screen for skill and attitude, but it has me releasing unrealistic expectations and limiting beliefs before they are unmet or disproven. The result is a pretty clear description of what it is like to work here and what you’ll actually need to be successful.
Excellent grammar and editing skills
Ability to work remotely and deliver work within deadlines
Blogging, Leadership, Legal or Technical Writing, Mailchimp, MS Office, Patience, Project Management, Sales, WordPress
In the job posts, I now play with the possibilities.
I describe, as Fried recommends, what the work would have been like yesterday or last week, if the potential applicant had already been hired. This helps me see if I am asking too much (or too little), and it allows the applicant an opportunity to see himself here (or not).
If you had been working here last week, you would have edited and shared a few posts about workers’ compensation fraud, restorative justice, and Nance’s bicycling accident. You would have posted them on the website and social media sites for maximum exposure. Then, you would have looked for other sites or organizations that discuss similar topics so you and Nance could determine who she should meet, where else she could be writing, and when she might have additional opportunities to speak on the topics that matter most to The Law Studio.
Even before we meet, I ask them to create our future by addressing two key inquiries in their mandatory cover letters.
I don’t accept resumes without cover letters. I invest a lot in my employees, and I want them to exhibit that they will invest in The Law Studio. Thus, I ask:
Besides your paycheck, what is the #1 asset you could gain from working at The Law Studio?
If you are hired, what Law Studio achievement would you like most to experience and contribute to?
I stay on PARR.
As discussed through the end of this article and at the end of my brand manager’s employment, I plan, act, revise, and repeat until I get the results I want.
Admittedly, I skipped some steps with my brand manager, who was also to be my executive assistant. I posted the job on several websites and with most of the local business colleges. I only got two applications, and neither offered exactly what I was looking for.
Rather than take the Fifth Action of a Master, I set up a relatively informal interview with one of them—a woman who had been my accountability partner in a leadership development program. She was so powerful in that role that she was guaranteed to bring her best work to The Law Studio, too. Right?
At that informal meeting, we discussed our reservations about entering an employer-employee relationship. We wondered if we could respect each other’s professional role and produce the results we wanted, but we ultimately agreed that we were both trained and skilled enough to have the discussions required when work wasn’t going as planned. For the most part we had those conversations, but we had also assumed a lot about our relationship and didn’t proceed with the same caution that we might have if we weren’t acquainted before we began our employment relationship.
I assumed she knew some of the Key Performance Indicators (“KPI”) for her position, even if I hadn’t actually documented or shared these requirements with her. I thought she knew she was required to deliver complete work on time or communicate her needs to complete assignments when she couldn’t deliver on time. She assumed she was doing a great job as long as The Law Studio was making progress, even if that progress wasn’t a direct result of her work. She might have even thought she was doing a great job as long as I hadn’t fired her.
We both knew a few weeks before we terminated our employment relationship that neither of us was operating at our highest capabilities. Neither of us was operating with integrity; we were doing enough to look like we were committed to her employment, but neither of us was taking full responsibility for creating what we said we would.
By taking the time—before I hired her—to document the KPI, I might have prevented an awkward change in the ways we see each other. I might have avoided frustration and distraction by having clear, direct conversations about the KPI on a consistent basis. Instead, I was left agonizing for weeks over The Law Studio’s missed marketing deadlines and wasted resources (time and money we didn’t have to lose).
I learned my lesson and now conduct interviews that seek to determine a candidate’s true interests, and I don’t hire her if she admits she’s really just interested in my job posting until something she deems better comes along. I also implemented KPI and bonus plans for each position within our organization.
- I will maintain the highest levels of confidentiality for Law Studio client lists, client matters, finances, intellectual property, operations, passwords, processes, and strategies.
- I will be on time for calls, meetings, and work.
- Each week, I will submit assignments and timesheets by 5 PM on Friday and absolutely no later than 7 PM on Sunday.
- When I cannot be on time due to an emergency or something I could not have planned for, I will notify Nance as far in advance as possible, and I will create a contingency plan to avoid or address future similar occurrences.
- When I cannot complete an assignment on time, I will notify Nance and any teammates as far in advance as possible, and I will create a contingency plan for completing the work.
- I will do complete work.
- I will follow Law Studio procedures. When I have a suggestion for substantial change to a process, I will discuss it with Nance—after first completing the current process as written.
- I will not take matters personally and will give others the benefit of my doubt. When I have a concern, I will discuss that concern only with the person involved or Nance. Where there is a conflict, I will make every effort to create with my teammates the next best action for resolving the conflict and for achieving our goals (individual, mutual, and Law Studio goals).
- I will give my best and get The Law Studio’s best in return. When either of us is not giving or getting the best, I will speak up constructively and make every effort to determine the next best action.
- I will check my assumptions regularly, or assume I know nothing about anything.
- I will be responsible for my success at The Law Studio and in my life.
- I will have fun!
Content Manager Monthly KPI
- Consistently keeps the 12 Core Agreements.
- Produces content free of spelling and grammar errors.
- Generates at least the minimum acceptable product and services sales.
- Cultivates the minimum acceptable number of new followers and sales leads.
- Maintains excellent relationships with clients, colleagues, followers, media, referral sources, sales leads, and vendors.
Unfortunately, my skipped steps in the past resulted in what I call my “Murphy Brown Stage”, during which I, like Candice Bergen’s 1990s sit-com character, fired several employees. I wasn’t quite as brutal as the Murphy Brown character. I let one employee stay on an additional six months or more beyond her productivity, and I lived off of my credit cards while I paid her instead of myself. I even fed her—again with my credit card funds! I also used the “I’m too busy” excuse for not holding her (or myself) accountable.
Do you see where you might have done this with some employees, too?
The outcome was the same, regardless. Some really nice people with great potential in varying areas were mismatched and left with unemployment. Unlike Murphy Brown or Donald Trump, I hated (and still hate) firing people. I have since learned that when expectations, goals, and requirements are clear, termination is almost always self-selected. You give your employees full disclosure, and they either figure out how to do what works. Or they wait for you to notice and decide for them that the job’s not a good fit for them. (They probably will not come to you with this information until they have a better job secured.) Remember the last time someone resigned or abandoned their job with you?
Even if you skipped steps like I did, the Five Actions of a Master can get you back on track.
Here’s how the situations played out with my former Associate Attorney, Production Assistant, and Brand Manager:
I defined the conflict.
Each wasn’t producing the results The Law Studio needed.
I identified my interests, and I tried to imagine theirs—without assuming I was accurate.
(I knew I still had to have candid conversations with each of them.)
I think…I have been more than generous with them.
I want…this to work out for each of us and The Law Studio.
I expect…higher quality from them than I am getting.
I believe…they are capable of producing far more than I am receiving.
It seems my employees think…I owe them more than I do or that we are more profitable than we are.
It seems they want…to be paid twice as much, so they work half as hard.
It seems they expect…to get more than they give.
It seems they believe…they should have my job, or that I work for them.
Together, we played with the possibilities.
Once I spoke to each of them, I learned that I was getting the wrong message and assuming the worst. In actuality, they each cared deeply for me and The Law Studio. If they could have had our conflicts resolve in any way possible, they would have been able to pursue their true dreams of performing, writing for the entertainment industry, and working for a large corporation without me losing. I laughed with each of them when we acknowledged that I wasn’t exactly winning when they weren’t producing the work I needed them to! We were all effectively losing in these deals!
So, we created our futures.
Only one of these employees left her work completely undone. Apparently, she was so relieved to be free from her job that she just dropped it and started working on other projects, which she had probably done even before our discussion. I forgave her, started searching for a candidate to replace her, and kept moving forward on my goals.
The others fulfilled on wrap-up plans so I met all deadlines and was set up powerfully for their replacements. They got recommendation letters and my blessings. Another got a folder full of more compatible job opportunities.
We learned some valuable lessons and are back on PARR: planning, acting, revising, and repeating.
The termination process was not fun at all, but where it was executed with insight and compassion, we were all left with skills and courage to pursue what matters to us. I now have film screenings, plays, and other events to attend, too!
In sum, there is always more to a conflict than meets the eye. As you develop your third ear, you will discover the interests on which you can build win-win solutions. That’s great business!
Need to discipline or terminate an employee? Request coaching
Learn more about good hiring practices:
- Sympathy is Not a Good Basis For Hiring
- Three Ways to Balance Fit and Inclusion When Hiring
- Forgive Yourself for Hiring Quickly and Firing Slowly
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. As a survivor of abuse and crime, who also grew up poor in Kentucky, she went to law school to deliver on the liberty and justice for all that was promised. In addition to her law license, she was 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 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 featured in a number of global publications.