Compassionate Leadership: The New Present and Future Performance Review

Leadership LINK recently put forward two themes for leaders to consider: that people are your most valuable assets and that we’re likely never going to return to the workplace we knew in 2019. In this context, consider how best to evaluate your team for 2021 and the future.

The past year has been about adaptation. The future will be more of that, along with a need for proactive thinking on your part so that your team recovers quickly and has the skills and strategies for success in a new environment. You have an obligation to understand and appreciate what your team has been through and what they require to mend their personal and professional lives and then to carry out your enterprise goals and strategies in a new, still evolving workplace. More thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy will help to better evaluate colleagues and ensure cohesiveness and future success.

The pandemic created significant challenges for law firms and companies. There has been long-term stress on revenue, growth, and investment that likely will continue. Our teams have endured changing work demands and roles (often without prior experience or skills), salary cuts and furloughs, technology shortcomings, and the inability to meet in person with clients or each other (importantly, including you) or to get necessary training and mentorship. Our teams have dealt with unprecedented challenges in balancing work and home life as that line blurred or all but disappeared.
Thoughtful leadership is essential to preserve retention and diversity, and to help our teams become even stronger. So, what does all this mean regarding performance reviews? Some of the following considerations may be helpful in navigating the still-changing landscape.

During the Pandemic
Some workplaces decided to postpone reviews or give everyone the same evaluation. Assuming yours go forward, identify the universe of circumstances your team experienced; consider personal factors more than ever before.

  • Applying specific, detailed criteria will help reduce bias. Let the team know what those standards are and what factors are new.
  • Take individual circumstances into account. Again, be upfront; decide how to weight and apply each criterion and let the team know. To name a few:
    • Childcare and education;
    • Access to the technological resources necessary to get work done efficiently;
    • Adequate community and municipal resources; and
    • Changed work roles, possibly without relevant prior training available.
  • What outstanding behavior likely was an indication of a team member growing and being ready for a more valuable role, as opposed to meeting the present challenge? Both should be rewarded, though one perhaps more than the other.
  • If performance came up short in some way, was it mostly due to uncontrollable circumstances and not an unwillingness to adapt and be resourceful?
  • Should most who made a good faith effort under the circumstances get a pass, since this situation was unique and hopefully never will be repeated?

Looking Forward to a Post-Pandemic Workplace
Will there be catch-up increases in travel for client relationship maintenance and development and projects that were put on hold? Will your firm or company make flexible, remote work arrangements permanent? Regardless, these are some things to keep in mind moving forward:

  • Professional
    Billable/work time expectations may need rethinking. You and your team may need time to catch up on the following:
    • Mentoring;
    • Continuing legal education/continuing professional development (CLE/CPD);
    • Professional skills training;
    • Projects put off because they required travel; and/or
    • Client development.
  • Personal
    Whether employees raise them or not, be cognizant of new personal needs, including:
    • Making up for postponed or missed events, ceremonies, and the other life interactions necessary for maintaining personal relationships and well-being. Postponed, missed milestones could include:
      • Services and grieving for lost relatives and friends; and/or
      • Family vacations, graduations, weddings, and reunions.
    • New personal obligations such as:
      • Ongoing care for a loved one;
      • Tutoring a child; and/or
      • Postponed and continuing care for themselves.

As much as possible, plan for the long haul and prioritize team rebuilding and development over short-term revenue and productivity.

Like so many things over the past year, there are more questions than answers, but the common theme seems to be taking a flexible approach and leading with intuition and perspective in ways that might not have been needed in the past. There are, of course, many different ways to address performance review issues in this new and evolving world, but the preliminary step of adopting a mindset that recognizes the challenges that each person has faced may be the most important one of all.

INTA’s Leadership Development—Leadership Link Project Team
Isabella Cardozo (Daniel Law)—Leadership Link Project Team Chair
Mike Yaghmai (Facebook, Inc.)—Leadership Link Project Team Chair
David Aylen (Gowling WLG Russia)—Leadership Link Subcommittee Chair
Colleen Sarenpa (Polaroid Brand Services)—Leadership Link Subcommittee Chair
David Perry (Blank Rome LLP)—Leadership Development Committee Chair
Christy Susman (Winterfeldt IP)—Leadership Development Committee Vice Chair
Peg Reardon (INTA)—Leadership Development Committee Staff Liaison
Damian Broadley (AJ Park)
Mary Forbes (Corsearch)
Fred Hathaway (Dickinson Wright PLLC)
Benjamin James (McCarthy Denning)
Cliff Kuehn (Dergosits & Noah LLP)

Back to listing