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Setting Objectives & Performance Appraisal

Setting Objectives & Performance Appraisal

With a new Financial Year starting in April, many legal firms are preparing their annual business plans and budgets now, to give themselves some time to work on the main objectives needed to deliver the business plan.

But writing the objectives doesn't achieve the plan; it is people that achieve objectives and ultimately deliver a business plan.

And the process for deploying objectives from a business plan to people is Performance Appraisal.
So once a plan is fixed and objectives identified, it's time to involve everyone in the firm to help achieve them. And by everyone, we mean everyone, from the Senior Management right down to the secretaries.

Now, whenever we explain this to legal firms, we are usually asked the same sort of questions, such as;

• What objectives do we set for accounts staff?
• What objectives do we set for secretaries and receptionists?
• Do we only set gross fee targets for fee earners?
There is no one answer that satisfies all of these questions, but rather a series of questions that may help a firm decide what they need to set as objectives, such as;
• Are there any central or firm wide projects that will need to be achieved? E.g. the introduction of case management software or digital dictation?
• If an "aggressive" fee earning target has been set for fee earners, what objectives should secretaries have to assist the fee earner achieve it?
• What is the expectation on a fee earner for New Matter Starts? E.g. are they expected to market themselves and bring in new matters, or does the firm do the marketing and all the fee earner needs to do is fee earn? (The answer to this question determines how difficult the fee earning target should be...)

The other question we get commonly is how do you performance review personnel who have been with the firm for many years, decades maybe in some cases?

Well, the answer is based on what is expected to be achieved by the department and fee earners, and what that person can contribute to help achieve that.

One thing that is key to all this is that objectives must be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Orientated and Time Bound.

Here's an example of a bad Objective;

"Continue to market the department to bring in New Matters."

And here's an example of a good Objective;

"Assist the department to achieve its annual gross fee targets of £XX by leveraging contacts via personal networking to generate 20 New Matters a month, which will be measured in the monthly department meeting."

Now if we consider trying to evaluate how well a person has done against the first "bad" example, then it would be difficult to conclude either way whether performance has been good or bad, and any dialogue regarding the target will be subjective.

If we consider the second "good" example, then it satisfies the SMART criteria, and is far easier for anyone assessing the performance of the individual as they can do so from data held by the firm.
With firms working on business plans at a time which is generally one of the most competitive faced by the profession, then setting objectives and performance appraisal has never been more important.