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Associate Development: Nine Lies About Work – Deborah Glatter

Reading the new Harvard Business Review Press publication, Nine Lies About Work, it was lie #5 that struck me. Lie #5 declared that millennials do not yearn for feedback. My immediate reaction – that’s just not true. I’ve spent the last two decades relentlessly systemizing and tweaking a virtual feedback machine at a national professional services firm. Up until now the business literature universally extolled the virtues of feedback and urged us to provide more of it and more often. I duly complied, resulting in partners spending countless hours over countless years filling in performance review forms. I then spent countless hours with associates presenting and discussing the amassed feedback. This enormous expenditure of time and effort couldn’t possibly be for naught. But I couldn’t stop thinking about those endless performance review meetings. If this is what millennials crave, why did most arrived looking like they were about to have their molars extracted? 

Authors Marcus Buckingham (Head of Performance Research at the ADP Research Institute) and Ashley Goodall (SVP, Leadership and Team Intelligence, Cisco) explain that it’s not feedback that millennials crave, it’s attention. That immediately rang true to me. In my current role as a management consultant, when I speak to my clients about modifying their performance management systems to reflect this view, the response is the same: a long pause while it sinks in, and then a quiet nodding of heads in acceptance of the fact that we’ve all been drinking the feedback Kool-Aid.  

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t correct mistakes. It means that we should correct mistakes in real time as they occur. Ignoring people is worse than giving negative attention and, obviously, can lead to a flawed work product.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where the characters debated the merits of the “pop-in”? As far as associate development goes, I personally don’t think there’s room for debate. A five- or ten-minute pop-in is exactly what partners need to do as frequently as possible. Your firm can head off small problems before they become large and give associates course corrections in real time to avoid disappointed clients and improve work quality.  

Instead of talking about people (via a feedback form) talk to them. Sounds simple, but many lawyers don’t do it. They need to be trained to pay attention to their reports and communicate directly to them as they complete assignments. Mistakes need to be corrected as they occur. 

In addition, replace performance reviews with regular check-ins. Focus on what’s next for the associate – which skills and experiences do they need to advance in your firm?  Instead of spending countless hours evaluating your people, spend time developing them. 

Copyright © 2020 Deborah Glatter. All rights reserved.