In the previous installment of Managing, talent management expert Terri Mottershead, principal of Mottershead Consulting and former professional development director for DLA Piper, provided insights on the top issues in talent management for 2011. In this edition, the conversation continues to help guide your firm’s strategy.
How should small law firms approach talent management, especially when they don’t have staff to oversee it?
Terri Mottershead: Most firms already have some elements of a talent strategy. By which I mean they recruit, train, compensate and probably evaluate lawyer performance and also move partners into leadership or management positions. So usually, even small firms will not be starting from scratch, and there are likely many good building blocks that can be drawn together to create a solid foundation for those willing to build on it.
However, a solid foundation alone is not enough. The construction that follows needs to be planned via a strategic framework to help identify the firm’s priorities and focus resources (human and financial) on those priorities. Random acts of hiring and training will not make the cut in this sort of framework. Similarly, if the firm lacks the professional staff, or responsible partners, or a firm committee that can focus on talent management, then the firm will know when and why it needs the support of consultants and can define their tasks with greater clarity.
I am a big fan of the SWOT analysis to kick this off. Using the SWOT planning process, you look at your firm’s internal strengths and weaknesses. You also look outside the firm and determine what opportunities you see and what threats (or challenges) the market presents. You want to look at what has been working for you in terms of talent management and what has not. The goal is to identify your gaps. Determine what the marketplace looks like for you, now and in the near future, and what talent you will need to deliver services to it.
Bring together your leadership team, associates, senior support staff and talent professionals if you have them (either internal or external) to talk about this. Agree on four or five priorities for the coming year. Each priority should build on your strengths and opportunities but minimize your weaknesses and threats. This will provide your strategic talent direction. The best part will then be ahead of you—the implementation and communication!
You’re a proponent of the competency model for talent development. What do firms need to consider before moving to such a system?
TM: I do favor competency models because I believe they provide a good blueprint for career development—one that is transparent, fair and informative. I do not, however, believe that any “off-the-shelf” competency model will do. So before moving to a competencies-based system, I advise firms to do the following:
Anything else for our readers as their firms consider their talent management strategies for 2011?TM: Don’t be intimidated. You can take time to develop a talent management strategy, but you can also achieve many quick wins along the way. There is much to think about, but a lot of talent management is not new—it’s just that thinking about it and equating it to the same level of focus and funding as business development and technology is new. Ultimately, talent management has a beginning and a middle but no end. And that’s the way you want it to be because it means your firm is constantly learning and enhancing knowledge so it can continue to prosper in an ever-changing marketplace.
Marcia Pennington Shannon is a principal in the Washington, DC, attorney management consulting firm Shannon & Manch, LLP. She is coauthor of Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent (ABA, 2000).
For more on professional development and how to boost your firm’s talent game plan, see the features in Law Practice magazine’s September/October 2010 issue at www.lawpractice.org/magazine.