Olivia Parker, Careers Development Officer at the Law Society, talks to business leaders, partners and managers about how best to invest in their junior workforce to boost morale and grow a committed, highly-skilled next generation of leaders.
As a business owner, a manager or a team leader, you will generally be accountable for overseeing the development of junior members of staff. This is probably one of the toughest responsibilities you have. After all, everyone in the workforce has their own motivations for what gets them to work in the morning and very different personalities to boot.
How to motivate today’s young workforce
The legal profession is filled with ambitious and technically capable people, all driven by wanting to progress up the career ladder. It’s your job to recognise talent and allow it to take hold, so that you have people ready to take the reins in future.
Succession planning is essential but in today’s millennial market, it’s getting harder. Baby boomers were characterised as loyal subjects who were content with a job for life, while studies predict that today’s emerging workforce will freely flit to pastures new on a regular basis. Retention has become a big problem. How do we keep people committed to our firms and organisations?
For me, the answer is ownership of their own work. Give them the opportunity to make an impact. Whilst learning the basics of business is undoubtedly essential, the days are gone of arbitrarily making people ‘do their time’ before they can be exposed to more important work. What’s the harm in letting people do both?
By all means make sure they do the administrative and process-driven work so they know how the business runs from the ground up, but also get them to go to client meetings and run projects. That way, trainees and NQs will naturally feel more valued, because they’re doing more valuable work. The real danger is clipping anyone’s wings in the junior workforce because realistically, they will simply move on to somewhere else.
'My NQs are technically skilled, but they don’t have the business skills to do the ‘other stuff’ yet'
The technical capability needed to practise black letter law and the skills that spell success in a business leadership sense can be completely different.
You’ll know that the higher you move up the proverbial ladder, the less law you actually end up practising. Your focus shifts to people management, wider strategy, financial considerations and, in smaller firms, managing everything from HR to finance. Making a leap to suddenly obtain these skills when it’s time for a promotion is impractical. You can’t effectively pitch to clients just because you’re now a partner, or network because you’ve been invited to your first client drinks reception, or have a difficult conversation with junior colleagues because you’ve been made their manager. Wouldn’t it make sense if these skills had already been embedded from the outset?
Soft skills that make you a business person who practises law
Some of the most essential soft skills for commercial success are networking, presenting, business development and negotiation. These abilities allow you to attract new clients and account manage existing ones, run successful meetings, navigate complex situations and nurture internal and external relationships. These are skills that recruiters and business owners say are lacking from prospective candidates’ CVs. NQs too are aware they can be weak in these areas and worry about their development.
Our new 'Commercial Skills for Young Professionals' series
It is in response to this skills gap that we have launched a brand new series of training in partnership with Sandstone Communications, 'Commercial skills for young professionals'. The Sandstone team are experts in delivering high-quality, practical training that will give NQs a grounding in skills they can take back to the office and immediately start using effectively.
We’re launching the series themes one by one. Watch our first video on presenting now, which gives a ten-minute practical introduction on how to be a great communicator. The next step is getting practical training as after all, if you’re learning to communicate with people, the best way to do that can only be face-to-face.
Our first half-day training course on April 23 in Edinburgh will see attendees walking away with the know-how to be more confident in any situation from a phone conversation to a client pitch.