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Surviving a Bad Performance Review

Surviving a Bad Performance Review

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Published by LawCrossing
Recognize yourself, manage emotions, identify and establish comfortable feedback relationship without avoiding performance appraisals and professional criticism, evaluation system is needed for performance reviews.
Recognize yourself, manage emotions, identify and establish comfortable feedback relationship without avoiding performance appraisals and professional criticism, evaluation system is needed for performance reviews.

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Published by: LawCrossing on Sep 20, 2012
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WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK
1.800.973.1177
PAGE 1
continued on back
Many lawyers, doctors and other profession-als prefer to think of themselves as in busi-ness for themselves, merely using a groupto provide office space, support services andoccasional camaraderie. This assumed senseof personal independence undergoes a rudeawakening when a senior partner calls youinto his or her office to detail for you, withoutyour asking, how you are perceived. Some ofthe thoughts that may go through your headat a time like this are:“Just who the hell is (s)he to be judging me?”“All that negative stuff has been coming fromX, who has been talking behind my back. Iknew I couldn’t trust him/her.” “(S)he actedas if (s)he thought I was pretty cool. Now thetruth comes out!” “I feel dirty. I am neither asgood or as bad as they say.” “Why is all thisancient stuff being drudged up and thrown inmy face?”This article examines the following businessrealities of yourlegal career. First, I examinethe fact that your legal career, like any busi-ness, needs to have a marketable product.Second, this article looks at the importanceof your “brand” to marketing your product.Third, this article concludes by exploring howto market your product for the maximumpossible success. While this article has beenwritten specifically for attorneys, most of thematerial here also applies to individuals inother roles within the legal profession.
Recognize yourself in any of this?
Had similar feelings? They are normal. Byunderstanding anyone’s normal self-cen-tered and defensive reaction to being judged,and realizing that your feelings are automati-cally programmed to respond self-protec-tively in such situations, you have won halfthe battle; because with understanding cancome a modicum of control.
You can’t avoid professional criticism.
You may have strong opinions as to the innatefairness of the appraisal process. You maybe unfairly damaged and have documents toprove it. You may be thinking that you’re be-ing criticized for stuff that happened monthsago and is no longer relevant. Regardless,the criticism hurts and remains potentiallylethal as long as it sits in some partner’sdrawer already signed off on by otherpartners. Well, if you’ve ever felt abused bythe performance-review process, you’re notalone. Such ‘heart-to-heart’ talks troubleeverybody. What you need is a survival strat-egy to deal with performance appraisals.Otherwise they can drive you nuts.
Then there is this alarming news 
: As lawfirms continue to be operated more like busi-nesses (as opposed to being run like privatemen’s clubs), the performance appraisal be-comes an important tool for weeding peopleout as well as identifying top performers.According to Ellen Wayne of the New YorkLaw Journal, “Evaluations have taken on animportance they never had before. Associ-ates are not only judged on the basis of theirwork skills and performance targets but nowhave the added anxiety that termination couldbe the result of a less than glowing review.”
Most of us would agree that some sort ofevaluation system is needed for everyone.
The problem is how to construct a systemcertifiably free of bias. This may be impos-sible: Evaluation systems are constructed byhumans and humans are fallible. Further-more, it is difficult if not impossible tocategorize and quantify the qualities thatidentify perfection in professions such asthe law, meaning billable hours alone donot tell the tale. There is something called‘partner potential’ which remains both on theappraiser’s mind and on yours. How does oneevaluate that?Let’s deal first with the emotions thatsurface any time you receive a performanceappraisal. Unless these emotions are wellunderstood and contained by you at the start,a rational discussion of the performance ap-praisal as an institutional tool -and how youcan successfully deal with it-- cannot takeplace.
Reason Versus The Emotional Self
Nothing is more threatening to one’s invio- lable sense of self and its importance than to have a relative stranger sit down and dissect  you both professionally and personally 
. Firstof all, the mere fact of delivering the apprais-al solidifies that person’s superior rank. Thisrelative stranger also is acting summarily as judge and jury, dispassionately (hopefully)enumerating your strengths, faults, suc-cesses and failures and summarizing all thiswith either a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’that leaves you either euphoric, confused ordevastated. Even when an appraisal is flat-tering, there remains an uncomfortable edgeto the process. You may wonder why you feelso uneasy and perhaps even embarrassed.
Surviving a Bad Performance Review 
[by Jamie Barnes]
 This week, we examine a scenario that we hope you never have to face: a poor performance review. The impact of such a review can be lessened if you fol-low the advice offered in this article. In addition, you can even prepare yourself for the worst and arm yourself with useful replies to the criticisms you may expect.
 
WEEKLY RECRUITER SPEAK
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continued 
Such a reaction is driven by your knowledgethat no one can know you as you do; nor cananyone else understand what you were goingthrough when you wrote X, did Y or said Z.
To further muddy the waters, performancereviews can often be subjective.The Appraisal RationaleMeaningful feedback
The idea here is thatif you know what more experienced othersthink of your work product and concludeabout you personally, you’ll want to moldyourself into what is expected, and paren-thetically, if you don’t want to mold yourselfinto this image, you’ll leave. Either way, thefirm benefits. In this instance the perfor-mance appraisal is ‘meaningful’ as a tool forgenerating conformity and weeding out mis-fits. Before you raise a cry of outrage, thinkabout this a moment. The goal is not to turnyou into a Stepford Wife. You can be a crossdresser outside work and secretly pull thewings off of live flies for all anybody cares.The purpose is to encourage you to becomepart of a team while at work and not a planetcircling around some distant star. On yourown, you can be as counter-cultural as youwish, unless, of course you bring unfavorablepublic attention to yourself and your firm. Dothat and you’re likely to hear about it on yournext performance appraisal if not before.
Improved communication
This is a dubious claim. It can happen, butfrequently the opposite occurs. Bad vibes aregenerated. Yet, if lawyers can be convincedthat the system is unbiased and the appraisalprocess conducted dispassionately, the oc-casional bad feeling will not become part arising chorus of smoldering discontent. Thecomponent missing here, and it ought to bementioned, is discretion. Rather than createimproved communication, which smacksof corpspeak, the goal of the appraisalprocess should be to remain confidential-a private summing up between appraiserand appraised that hopefully clears the air,establishes baselines for future on-the-jobconduct, and sets the agenda for a less frac-tious future.
Maintenance of Standards
Hard to argue with this one. A firm has aright to set standards and it has a right toexpect you to adhere to them. The problemcomes when these standards are not clearat the start. In an article on the performanceappraisal in the March 17, 2003 edition of theLos Angeles Daily Journal, which specializesin local legal news, the writer, ConsultantIda Abbott advises any law firm to first as-sess the competencies desired and then:“…identify five to 10 specific componentsto be evaluated for each key performancestandard. If one of your standards is ‘profes-sionalism,’ it must be dissected into specific,observable tasks, skills, attitudes, behav-iors and attributes that characterize what alawyer must do to demonstrate that quality.For example, one component might be ‘at-tention to detail: Is thorough and tenacious incompleting complex and multifaceted tasks;work product is neat and free of errors.’”
Facilitates Career PlanningOkay, So The Appraisal Process Is Not Per-fect! How Do I Proceed?
Your first battle is to win a fight with your- self 
. As we have said, you are emotionallypredisposed and programmed to protectyourself from bad news, especially if throughyour actions you caused the bad news tohappen. Your mind will deliberately rational-ize your mistakes. It will attribute them toevents beyond your control. It may even shiftblame to others. In short, your brain willdo almost anything to avoid confronting thetruth of your own error. So, your first job is toconfront this aspect of yourself and attemptto override it. Easier said than done, right?Well, awareness is half the battle. When youmake a mistake, go ahead and rationalizeit all you want, but allow part of your brainto recognize it for what it was, a blunder.
Start with prevention. Where attorneys get themselves in needless difficulty is not own- ing up to mistakes.
Most mistakes can befixed quickly. If you find yourself making thesame type of mistake over and over, you needto be on the outlook for this predilection.Then your brain can start building fail-safemechanisms to guard against similar futuremistakes.
Learn the system 
. Every firm hasits idiosyncrasies.For instance, in your firm, what is considereda respectable amount of billable hours? Arepartners down in the trenches with associ-ates or do they have a tendency to remainaloof? How is work assigned? How is itevaluated? If you get in the flow sufficientlyto operate automatically, then the aspects ofthe system that seem petty or unnecessarywill eventually be forgotten.
Get feedback 
.But don’t do so too often. Don’t go runninginto a supervising partner or senior associateevery three or four hours to ask ‘How am Idoing?’ Your insecurity will soon cause irrita-tion and you will look like a whiner and nota ‘take charge’ individual. Instead, choosequiet times, outside the office if necessary, toask the assessment of someone senior whomyou trust. There are good and bad ways to dothis. A bad way might go like this: You: Well,how am I doing? Partner: What do you mean?You: You know, my work performance. Is itokay? In your opinion, am I partner material?What does the bonus situation look like thisyear? How much do you think I will get?
Here’s what you did wrong in this conversa-tion
.First, you put the partner on the spot. You didnot give him or her enough time to reflective-ly respond to your first question before youasked the second question. As for the secondquestion, if you have only been with the firma few years there may be no way of tellingif you are or are not partner material. True,impressions about you have begun to form.
 
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But those impressions can and will changeover time. So, the first piece of advice is toavoid asking about partnerships.
Instead, Keep your questions specific to aparticular assignment or series of assign-ments.
This is only reasonable. The long-term deci-sion regarding your competency and partner-ship potential is the result of many privatediscussions by others that eventually result ina consensus after a period of years. A betterway to inquire about your performance mightgo like this: You: Do you think I did okay on theLaughingbod Case? I’m only asking becauseI respect your opinion and your feedback canonly be helpful. (Pause)Partner: I thought you did okay. (Pause) Youmight edit your stuff a little more carefullybefore turning it in. You write persuasively,and I’ve complemented you on your citations,and you’re great at meeting deadlines, but, asyou know, I’ve also pointed out some problemsfrom time to time, not serious, you under-stand, but an indication that your languagecan use some tightening. I’ll work with you onthis. It was a problem I also had when I firststarted working here. I had to learn how thelaw firm did things. I might add that othershave noted how well you handle the client.You’re very relaxed and professional and I’veheard a lot of favorable comment.You: Thanks. Now, about the LaughingbodCase. I next plan to…..etc.
Here’s What You did right in this conversa-tion.
(1) You asked for advice, which flatters thepotential advice giver. (2) You didn’t bombardhim/her with additional questions. You askedan open-ended question that gave the otherperson wide latitude in how to respond. (3)You got the advice giver to point out problems;but more important strategically, you got himor her to partner with you in working on theproblem. You moved the advice giver into yourcorner as a helper/facilitator. (4) Finally, youdidn’t become a pain in the ass by dwellingon the subject. You moved on, allowing thesupervising attorney to do the same.
The above hypothetical conversation may ormay not be difficult to replicate.
It suggests an already comfortable rela-tionship between supervising lawyer andassociate; but a loose approximation of sucha discussion can be conducted with anyone aslong as you remember to keep your ques-tion simple, open-ended, and focused on aspecific task or tasks. Your primary task: Geta supervisory attorney to take some respon-sibility for your development. This does notmean mentoring in the classic sense of theword. You’re merely asking for occasionalon-the-job critique from some one who mayeven busier than you; so you cannot ask forthis directly but only hope that it is offered. Ifit is, this person could eventually evolve intoyour mentor.
Constantly evaluate yourself.
The first and most important question youmust ask is,
Would I want to work with me or for me 
? You can decide this by asking suchquestions as ‘Do partners, other associatesor people in the support staff avoid me? Ifso, why? Am I brusque in my professionaldealings? Do I complain a lot? Do I pick argu-ments? Do I fail to say ‘Thank you’ whensomebody goes out of their way or does some-thing nice for me? Am I absent more than Ishould be? Do I fail to return calls promptly?Being aware of others is often difficult whenwe have spent all of our lives focusing onourselves, with our noses in books and withone test hurdle after another always star-ing us in the face. But the truth is, in a workenvironment it is all about interpersonalrelationships. You don’t have to turn yourselfinto a back-slapping life of the party, but youneed to be moderately skillful socially whenat the office. You may arbitrarily dismiss suchsocial niceties as ‘office politics.’ But the factof the matter is that all work life involves hu-man interaction and all of human interactionis political in the sense that to work and livetogether we must make accommodations andcompromises in order to get along.
Periodically, force yourself to evaluate yoursocial interactions.
What aspect of these interactions can youmanage better? Which relationships seemto be working best? Why might they be? Dothese relationships work solely because yougenuinely like these particular individuals?Because you share some interest no matterhow banal? Or is it because you take the timeto recognize them as unique individuals?Proactively, always find something aboutsomebody else to compliment, but do so judiciously. Don’t just make up something. Thecompliment has to be sincerely felt or noticedor the other person will likely intuit yourdeception and react unfavorably to you. Moni-tor yourself to see if you are walking aroundlooking distracted or unpleasant. If you are,a smile can fix the problem even if you areboiling inside. In an article in JD Jungle, theauthor (anonymous) comments as follows:“Success at a law firm is about humanrelationships,” says Peter Sloan, a career de-velopment partner at Kansas City’s BlackwellSanders. Every time you meet someone new-a partner, another first-year, your secretary-smile. Introduce yourself. Take the time to askthe person a bit about herself. Be the kind ofperson people like to work with, says Sloan.“You’ll lay the groundwork for the relation-ships you’ll need to get ahead.” Sloan makessmiling sound like a cynical career move,but it is more than that. It may not help youget ahead, as he assumes; but smiling canreshape your approach to work, to your fellowlawyers and life in general. Like physical exer-cise, it is necessary for a healthy existence.So look upon smiling as producing multiplebenefits, some of which may be that people

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