Learn A Lesson From The VA - Go For A Walk

After I spat out my breakfast in disgust at the Veterans Affairs scandal which occurred last week, it got me thinking about management and incentives. The scandal concerning VA medical centers revolves around veterans being put on unofficial waiting lists so that the official waiting lists met incentivized targets. In simple, plain English, VA administrators were rewarded for faking short waiting lists.

Incentives Alone Aren’t Effective

I don’t have a problem with incentivizing your staff but incentives alone aren’t usually an effective management strategy. First, when you implement criteria for incentivized targets, those areas of operation that don’t have any targets may be neglected. The VA fraud was facilitated in many cases by hiding waiting patients in ways that weren’t tracked and scrutinized to the same degree as the official waiting lists.

If you were to implement incentivized targets for the number of intake calls answered by your staff, they could sacrifice the quality of service they provide in favor of the quantity of calls answered. While you might appear to be hitting your targets, there’s no doubt you’ll sign up less cases. Sometimes the wrong things are being tracked and sometimes you need to track more things to give you a bigger, more accurate picture.

When you implement incentives in any enterprise, you need to have good leadership to ensure that your intended direction doesn’t get skewed. Your team needs to understand that just because you may have certain benchmarked criteria, it doesn’t mean they should abandon your other aims. Leadership starts from the top, so it’s vital that you set an example for your employees. If they see you don’t consider something important, why should they?

Go For A Walk

You can’t set an example or see what’s happening if you stay in your office all day. The best way of keeping in touch is to walk around your office regularly and talk to your staff. This method even has a name – it’s called Managing By Walking Around (MBWA) and started at Hewlett Packard in the 1970s.

If you’re not walking around your office talking to your employees and finding out what’s going on, how can you be sure that anyone is doing their job? Is there any executive oversight of your team?

Processes, procedures and operations manuals don’t give your staff inspiration and they don’t automatically give them accountability either. You need to manage your managers because that won’t happen by itself.

A good leader will provide benchmarks, oversight and accountability to accompany any incentives so that the best approach filters down from the top, to the managers and then to the rest of the team.

Undercover Boss

I enjoy watching the TV show Undercover Boss. Of course reality TV isn’t strictly real, but I like seeing bosses get their hands dirty in their own businesses, usually for the first time. Only then do they see things that they never learned in the boardroom. In a couple of cases, Undercover Bosses have fired staff members who performed terribly at their jobs, even while the TV cameras were rolling! You can only imagine how they acted when there were no cameras watching what they were doing.

Really, as the boss of your own law firm, you need to get your hands dirty every once in a while and find out what’s being done in your name. Without getting out of your office, walking around and finding out for yourself what’s going on, there’s no guarantee that your systems alone will keep you in the loop (where’s the incentive for someone to deliver bad news to you?) So you should try and walk around at least on a weekly basis, both to see and to be seen.

Not only will your walkabout give you an opportunity to see what’s really going on that you can’t see if you’re stuck behind your desk, it also shows your employees that you’re paying attention to what they’re doing. This is something you really should consider making time for – you could even combine your walkabout with your morning coffee break.

That’s this week’s Bright Idea – Managing By Walking Around. Get out of your office and find out what’s really happening in your law firm.