How to kill an Associate (Not literally!)

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Your firm spends thousands on building its reputation to attract the stars of the future.  You invest valuable resources in the ‘milk round’.  Your highly competent HR team invests time and money in the most rigorous selection process.  Your partners get involved to assess candidates to ensure that they will be both a great fit (and a high earner) for the firm.

Slowly but surely you entice and enthuse the very best candidates to join.

They say “yes” to your offer!  You are excited you have recruited the best! They are excited and enthused about joining your firm. They are highly motivated, ready to learn and willing to sacrifice much of their young life to build a great future for them and the firm that they already have huge respect for. 

The professionalism and engagement they experienced through the recruitment process is further reinforced on joining day.  A warm welcome is received from HR and Partners.  Everyone introduces themselves.  Everyone is eager to help. Your new recruits feel valued and cared for. They feel alive, motivated and ready to go!

Then slowly but surely over the next few years your firm kills their excitement, kills their motivation to a point where they don’t feel valued.  Then they leave.

Let’s have a reality check for a moment.  We are not suggesting that all firms get it wrong.  Many firms have outstanding leadership and management and are robust in their approach to nurturing and keeping their talent to ensure new recruits become a valuable long term asset for the firm.

But there is no room for arrogance.  The one experience I want to share here is that of an Associate of a sophisticated International Firm.  This firm has a strong reputation and highly developed approach to HR and talent management.  They invest significant time and money in recruiting the best.  Their training is exceptional. Investment in new talent runs into many thousands of hours and pounds.

Yet consider this.  They are just about to lose a very talented high potential lawyer and have absolutely no idea it is about to happen. 

This lawyer is academically sharp. Top tier in every exam they have ever taken. They have a First from one of the two top universities in the UK (they both have rowing teams!).  They have huge emotional intelligence.  This is the kind of person that captures attention in all situations both professionally and socially. They already show signs that they will be great at winning business and building fantastic client relationships.  

This person is also totally independent and self-sufficient.  Their career is everything to them. Without a shadow of doubt this is someone who has all the skills and attributes to be an outstanding asset to any firm.

So what went wrong? 

The induction was first rate.  Their experience throughout the training period was exactly what was promised.  The people who were guiding and supporting them through that period were great leaders: inspirational, encouraging, appropriately tough and demanding.  They were communicative.  Expectations and objectives were crystal career. So far so good!

From the moment they became an Associate things changed rapidly.  Now in the hands of a Partner and Senior Associate the behaviours required to get the best out of a person disappeared.

Work was handed over with little guidance and clarity of context.  Communication was now simply an order to do something.  There were no thanks, no negotiation on volume of work and consideration of what support and help would be needed to help the individual deliver. When work was taken to a Partner this often resulted in a series of red lines through a document with a clear message that some clauses were wrong.  Fair enough! But no explanation of why was given. No knowledge transfer. No nurturing. No attempt to help the lawyer do better work next time.

As the first year went by this star of the future was no longer shining brightly.  They started to get that horrible feeling on a Sunday about walking into the office on Monday.  This sharp self-confident individual was now becoming frightened about knocking on the Partner’s door or asking a Senior for help.

So they took action. This is the type of person who believes that it is their responsibility to take action if circumstances do not suit them.  This star of the future is just about to join another firm, for £15k less than their current salary!

So what can firms learn from this story? It’s simple. 

If you want to stop wasting thousands of pounds investment by losing people as they progress through the Associate career path it is essential that those Partners and Seniors responsible for the individual believe, and are competent, in the skills and behaviours of leadership demonstrated during the recruitment and induction process.

It is only when these skills and behaviours are in place that firms will recoup their original investment and gain significant long term returns from recruiting and developing the best young professionals.

Are any of your Partners and Seniors ‘’killing’ your Associates?  If they are, take action now before it’s time for a post mortem!

See blog post here

How to kill an Associate