Following is a sample of the troubleshooting section featured in Hire Slow, Fire Fast, which contains many of the most difficult scenarios that attorneys face when dealing with team members.

The Problem: A new team member, either an associate, paralegal or clerical person, comes in late with increasing frequency.

When a team member begins showing up late for work – and it is not immediately addressed and corrected – it often leads to the rest of the team to conclude that the rules don’t matter, that certain team members get special privileges or worse yet, that firm management is weak. None of these conclusions are positive and none leads to an atmosphere of high morale and mutual respect. Other team members may react by testing the limits and coming in late themselves, or by gossiping about the team member whom they believe has special privileges. All will react by respecting firm management a little bit less.

Determine the Cause:

Which situation applies in your case?

The new team member has been allowed to come in late without experiencing any consequences. The team member feels like it doesn’t matter if she/he comes in late, because no one has addressed the issue with them.

The team member has increased family responsibilities that take extra time in the morning. The family responsibilities may have changed (spouse has gotten a job) and this person may need to drop off his children for school on a daily basis.

The Fixes

The new team member has been allowed to come in late without experiencing any consequences. If firm management has been silent on this issue and the team member consistently feels like it doesn’t matter if she/he comes in late, this situation needs immediate attention. Like it or not, the rest of the team is watching and waiting to see if the problem will be addressed. Firm management should talk to the latecomer and not only ask them to come in on time, but admit that they have been a little lax in patrolling this problem in the hope that it would go away on its own. Management should firmly state that coming in late is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.

If the team member tests the new limits by showing up late again, immediately address it. Management can even write up a report for the employee’s file (Employee Warning Notice Form 5.07 in the back of Chapter 5) so it will be considered in the next review. Many firms adopt a “three strikes and you’re out” policy with tardiness.

If the person delivers a good work product, exhibits a good attitude and a willingness to improve, this team member can be salvaged. If the person doesn’t have good self-management skills, exhibits poor work habits, and doesn’t value the job highly he may not do what it takes to keep his job.

The team member has increased family responsibilities that take extra time in the morning.

The family responsibilities of team members can and will change for many reasons outside of their control – their spouse has gotten a job, or has been given a different schedule in their existing job; they acquire full custody of their children in a divorce case, the children change schools, or there is an aging parent who needs care in the morning. More and more men are taking on care-giving tasks that used to be the responsibility of their wives as fewer and fewer are the sole breadwinners in the family.

Whatever the reason, by coming in late and hoping to escape notice, the problem is that the team member is not communicating well with firm management. If the team member has a good attitude, delivers good work and is worth saving, firm management should step in and directly address the problem, first asking why s/he didn’t come to management in the first place to discuss the issue. Management should stress the importance of honest, pro-active communication to solve these kinds of problems.

If the reason for the late arrivals is important and will continue, there may be some reasonable “flextime” accommodations the firm can make such as: starting this person’s workday a ½ hour later than the rest of the team with the extra time either tacked on to the end of the day, or taken out of lunch (this concept is discussed in Chapter 6). Whatever the accommodation, the team member should be monitored to make sure s/he is holding up their end of the bargain and no “slippage” is occurring.

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