“Are you the biggest producer in your firm?” we asked.

“Absolutely,” the attorney told us with pride.

He was a new Atticus client, but this was not a new conversation for us. In fact, it was all too familiar: the owners of most small firms are typically the firm’s largest producers, along with the firm’s biggest marketers. Then they wedge the firm’s many management tasks into any time that’s left – meaning they don’t have much of a personal life. And the fact that they are not well leveraged means they aren’t producing much of a profit either.

“How many associates do you have?” we asked.

“Two, but they aren’t that productive. In fact, I out bill them both,” he answered – again with a hint of pride.

“Do they have daily or weekly billing goals?”

“No, but they do have yearly billing goals,” he said.

We expected as much. “How effective is that at motivating them?”

He paused and said, “Not very good, I guess.”

Not very good indeed. In order to train good producers, it’s best to take their large production goals and break them down into small goals, which are reviewed often. Large goals discussed once a year tend to fade away in the minds of team members and become meaningless to all but a few very self-motivated individuals. Annual goals simply don’t create a sense of urgency. Only smaller, interim goals monitored with greater frequency create the kind of urgency that moves people into action.

This is a universal fact: any behavior that you want to manage must be measured. Think about a weight loss program. The awareness created by stepping on the scale once a day is much greater than stepping on the scale once a month. There is much more awareness of how far away you may be from your weight loss goals.

The same psychology applies to changing the behavior of your team members. A weekly or monthly review is best for those just getting used to being held accountable for their production numbers. For firms with employees who are entrenched in long-term bad habits, there may need to be a daily review until the team member is sufficiently motivated on their own – or leaves the firm because they can’t keep up. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you have unmotivated team members.

This structure of accountability applies to hourly billing firms as well as contingent and flat fee billing firms. Each type of firm, no matter what its billing arrangements are, has its own metrics to measure productivity. It could be the number of hours billed, the number of demands submitted monthly, the number of files worked monthly, or the amount of revenues generated monthly or quarterly.

In order to experience real profitability it’s up to the small firm owner to keep these goals front and center for their team members. It’s not micro-managing; it’s what real managers do on a regular basis. Small firm owners who can’t leverage themselves are condemned to be the firm’s best producer for life and will have no life of their own.

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