Workplace Personality – It Matters!
Let’s assume that your law firm has decided to quit calling everyone by their names. Instead, they will call each person by a title that describes their dominant office personality. Which one of the following types might be bestowed upon you?
Mr./Ms. Positive or Negativity? Decisive Dan or Debbie or Procrastinator Paul or Penelope? Assertive or Aggressive? Team Player or My-Way-Or-No-Way? Disorganized or Planner? Calm or Hyper? What’s-Best-For-The-Client or What’s-In-It-For-Me? Our Resident Technology Nerd? Mr./Ms. We Can Do This or It Won’t/Can’t Happen!
Most of us are some mixture of these and other types, but one of personality layers usually dominates (or at least seem to take center stage more often than not). Taking a moment to consider what best describes our dominant work personalities can be very helpful in making career decision and workplace decisions.
I see the office personalities listed above and plenty of other types in offices across the country in my consulting work with attorneys and staff. There are offices where it seems the less desirable personalities outnumber the good ones. Worse, they can be allowed to not only survive but to thrive in too many situations. Firm leaders may enable the perpetuation of negative behaviors by ignoring them and not holding folks accountable for the damage they will inevitably cause. Conversely, positive personalities are rarely rewarded adequately. Their upbeat natures reap so many benefits from their morale boosting, can-do attitudes, thoughtfulness, sense of vision and smart business planning.
So! What are the potential harmful results of allowing negative personalities to repeatedly spread their toxic vibes amidst the troops? Some of the less desirable office personalities may ask, “So what if I’m Mr./Ms. Negative? I do my job well and bring in plenty of income for the firm. Plus, I’m not here to win a popularity contest.” And other naysayers work hard to convince us that things are just fine as they are….plus needed changes won’t ever happen. They claim people won’t change or if they do it won’t last. They go on to suggest it’s a waste of time to do things for the sake of building a more positive office morale. They call it “warm and fuzzy stuff” and not fitting for real lawyers or legal assistants.
Such an approach can do serious harm to productivity, creativity, morale and so much more. Rewarding negative personalities while taking positive ones for granted can lead to firms with destructive communication deficits, ongoing internal feuds, behind-the-times technology, sloppy, if any, marketing, inadequate associate development, dangerously poor risk management systems and procedures and so much more.
There are all too many examples. And equally dangerous — indecisive and/or timid leaders. These folks can leave important and desperately needed changes hanging in limbo for waaaay too long.
Deceitful attorneys and staff put their firms at a much higher risk of malpractice claims and disgruntled clients. In addition, other honest, hard-working employees leave because they eventually have stomached all they can take.
Procrastinators and lazy employees cause all sorts of problems, both daily and long- term, for the firm and its clients. Promises are repeatedly broken, deadlines are missed and the aggravation, chaos and stress suffered by co-workers and client causes costly decreases in productivity, increases in malpractice risks and more.
Why then are attorneys and staff members with destructive personalities not held accountable? Usually, it is because (1) the firm’s leadership has never defined accountability in the first place and/or (2) they want to avoid the discomfort of holding others accountable even if they have indeed established rules and policies for acceptable behavior and identified consequences for noncompliance.
Simply put, it is a difficult task to hold employees accountable. But, a courageous and “accountability is alive and well” management style is an absolute must in the well-run, successful office. This means law office leaders must have the foresight, courage and willingness to make and carry out the tough decisions that inevitably arise in the development of a successful firm and in dealing with destructive personality types.
Tough management does not, however, mean that impulsive or disrespectful behavior is warranted or okay when it comes to problem attorneys or staff. It can and should be done respectfully, consistently, clearly and in a timely, thoughtful manner.
A lawyer’s plate typically overflows with “to do’s”, deadlines imposed by third parties and other professional and personal responsibilities. It’s easy to rationalize that “It’s someone else’s job to hold folks accountable” or “My client work is far more important than bothering with silly administrative matters.” The bottom line, however, is that if firm leaders don’t step up to the plate and take effective management and accountability seriously, why should anyone else? And if everyone can do their “own thing” whether it’s in the firm’s best interests or not, why go to the trouble of establishing goals, systems, rules or policies in the first place?
As with most of our management choices, in the end it is a simple decision to make. Do we hold ourselves and others accountable to do what’s in the firm’s and clients’ best interests?
Do we allow each person to set and follow their own rules and standards regardless of the consequences to the firm and its reputation, its employees and our clients?
In wrapping up, think about the different office personalities in your firm. Are there more positive ones than negatives or is it the other way around? Are positive personalities appropriately acknowledged and appreciated? Are the folks with negative personalities in your firm allowed to spread (and re-spread) their poisons regardless of the consequences?
And finally, how would your co-workers characterize your dominant office personality? Would they say you make a positive or negative impact on the workplace (most days that is!)? Why or why not?