Any athlete who has Olympic-level ambitions requires the support and guidance of a coach who will take the appropriate steps to help them achieve their goals. Like a coach, a legal team leader should be listening to their attorney's short-and long-term goals and desires and taking the necessary steps to help them reach those milestones.
Set attainable short-term and long-term goals.
When working with competitive athletes, it is vital to have an attainable goal for each season and each event that builds toward more long-term goals for athletic development. Attainable does not mean easy. You always want to have your athletes work hard and push themselves. However, regardless of whether you are talking about a novice or someone training for the Olympics, progress takes time. Given the time needed to develop top athletes, it is important to have a long-term goal, as well as short-term training goals to help get them to their long-term goal. At the beginning of each rowing season, I find it helpful to ask athletes to write out their goals and what steps they plan to take to reach them. But even more important, I check back with them often about their progress and about how the short-term goals relate to their longer-term development.
How does this apply to managing employees in an in-house environment? Employees join corporate legal departments with differing levels of experience; some may come out of a law firm, while others may come from a previous in-house opportunity. As with coaching athletes, managing a legal team requires evaluating each individual’s current skill set and development potential and setting goals to help them reach their potential.
As with athletes, a tiered approach of short-term and long-term goals also works well for in-house teams. Again, the goals need to be attainable, and self-evaluations should be a major component. As with coaching, asking members of the team to set their goals on a yearly basis is helpful. However, the process should involve a back-and-forth as well – the manager needs to audit goals to make sure that they are attainable. Start with long-term and short-term goals at the beginning of the year, check in often, and then meaningfully analyze success at the end of the year.
For example, maybe you are the general counsel at a pharmaceutical company, and the long-term goal of your intellectual property (IP) counsel is to develop a better rapport with the scientific team. Would continuing education help? A short-term goal might be to take a few continuing education classes to improve the IP counsel’s knowledge. Maybe some classwork in a particular area that is a core part of a new product launch would improve the attorney’s scientific knowledge in a vital way and therefore improve their ability to bond with the scientific team. Check in after the attorney completes that classwork, find out how it went, and see if it helped improve their rapport with the scientific team.
Be ready for race day/have the right processes in place.
When competing, it is vital for the coach and the athletes to be ready and prepared for how the day will unfold. Some of this is simple; some is more nuanced. As a rowing coach, I work with my team captains to be fully prepared for the race. Numerous considerations go into a successful day: How long will the bus ride to the venue take, where do we keep our equipment when we’re there, when can we register for the race, what time are our races – the list goes on. The idea here is to be ready to perform at the highest level and not to be derailed by missing something that’s needed to succeed. In some ways, process is as important on race day as it is during your prerace training. If you get to the venue late or get to the starting line without a sufficient warm-up, success is more difficult.
In a corporate legal department, process is also important and can help a legal team be ready for its “race day.” Being prepared in this context does not involve scheduling every moment of the day, nor even tasks completed the day of, but more so having processes in place that ensure that everyone can work to their full potential when it counts.
Think holistically about what your legal team needs to succeed on race day. Maybe it is better communication with outside counsel. Or perhaps transparency and career development opportunities may be lacking. Transparency often leads to job satisfaction, and content employees often perform better.
A classic example from my own legal career is the preparation I take for a big appellate argument. As many appellate attorneys do, I have colleagues sit in as the appellate panel for a moot court session and do a run-through of my race day approach to the argument.
Process and planning matter. Whatever it is that is needed, make sure it is in place before “game day” or the closing of a big deal, the next trial date, a product launch, etc. Don’t show up for your big event without a fully thought-out plan or process in place. Ultimately, it will help ensure that every opportunity takes your athletes (or attorneys) closer to their overarching goals.