Relationships are key—especially now
At the heart of this exercise was the need for bar executives to place greater value, in Gilbert’s words, on the “return on relationship rather than return on investment,” whether working with staff, elected leaders, or association members. In other words, knowing how to handle your people in order to maximize their efforts is just as important as knowing what steps need to be taken to get the job done.
This is especially true in today’s professional environment, where building cohesive working relationships is arguably more complicated than ever. Generation Xers (born between the mid-'60s and late-'70s), for example, are not necessarily receptive to the same management techniques that work for their predecessors, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). And Millennials (born between the early '80s and the turn of the 21st century) have a style—and expectations—all their own.
The lattermost group, Gilbert said, reflect a distinctive “mix of high tech and high touch,” meaning that along with their tech savvy comes a well-nigh constant need for reinforcement. She likened this expectation of acknowledgment to marriage in the sense that working relationships with Millennials, as with matrimony, require regular cultivation for them to flourish and realize their full potential. “Look for what they are good at,” Gilbert advised, and capitalize on it.
Building a strong, stable team requires employees to feel, at some level, personally invested in the collective effort. According to Phelps, chief executive officer of the State Bar of Arizona and NABE Programming Committee chair, much of this can and should begin with new staff orientation. Phelps himself puts this theory into practice by personally meeting with every new employee of his association within the first 48 hours of their employment and, in the process, contextualizing how what they do influences the greater whole. Even custodial staff, he said, “need to know how what they do matters and contributes” to the bigger picture.
“If they don’t feel that what they do matters, they won’t stay,” Gilbert agreed. Moreover, “they need to know that you’re not going to throw them under the bus if things do not go well.”