Peter Scott looks at how to identify objectives for your teams and how to enhance performance to meet them


Law firm leaders cannot do it all alone – they need to be supported by strong teams around them – a ‘top team’. Law firm leaders need to encourage their top team to lead and to instil in them an understanding that it is they who must drive change if the firm is to stay ahead.  Is your team ‘fit for purpose’? Ask yourself if members of your team:

  • think strategically about their respective parts of the business, as well as just operationally or in relation to their client work
  • prioritise their thinking around ‘innovating’ when planning how they work and use the technology available to them, to steal a march over rivals
  • take everyone out of their comfort zones to drive out complacency
  • understand and put into practice how to be ‘accountable’
  • focus on the actions they will now need to take if they are to lead and grow their teams to maintain a competitive edge?

To achieve any of these objectives, as a law firm leader you will need to identify what you are seeking to achieve with your top team and understand which aspects of your top team’s performance need to be enhanced for you to achieve those objectives.

What are you are seeking to achieve?

This process cannot be carried out in isolation to everything else your firm is seeking to achieve, because enhancing performance in today’s more demanding legal markets needs to be closely aligned with the strategic needs of your firm.

Accordingly, take a critical look at the future needs of your business and your strategic objectives. For example:

  1. What kind of law firm do you realistically want to be?
  2. How achievable is it for you to get there?
  3. What roles will need to be performed in the next stage of your firm’s development in relation to:
    • people
    • finance
    • growth and strategic development
    • business development
    • risk and compliance
    • IT and technology
    • other necessary functions?

Do you have the people resources available to fulfil such roles, whether from internal or external sources or will they need to be recruited?

Consider the abilities of your top team, and whether each member of your top team is the best person for the job:

  • Do they challenge every aspect of your firm’s operations and every assumption on which your current plans are based? Are they building consensus that change may be necessary? 
  • Do you have quick response times to threats and opportunities, and the effectiveness of your decision-making and implementation processes?
  • Are your governance arrangements effective? Your top team will need to be an intrinsic part of your governance structures to ensure effective decision-making and implementation.
  • Do you focus strongly on change management to achieve competitive advantage?
  • Is your top team is made up of capable people who are open-minded, flexible, and prepared to learn new skills and ways of operating?

Your top team should be highly trained, skilled, and motivated and your firm’s performance management processes should be designed to help to raise the bar for everyone, not just for your top team.

Performance enhancement

Consider what will your top team need to do:

  • differently
  • more of
  • less of
  • better

To achieve this a team will need to:

  • commit to a clear common purpose
  • prioritise their time towards what is important and not just urgent
  • think strategically about their roles, as well as just day to day operations
  • understand and acknowledge that it is they who must drive change
  • be encouraged to lead
  • build consensus on the need to change to take people with them
  • understand and put into practice how to be ‘accountable’. 

Get the best out of your team

The next step will be to agree with team members how their performance will need to be changed / improved to meet your objectives. However, changing the way people work and how their performance is to be managed is often the most difficult task.

Fear of change in an organisation is not uncommon and leaders needs to work hard to allay any fears. Also, although not the norm, there can be complacency on the part of some people regarding change but those who do not adapt to change risk being left behind.

Partnerships can also be difficult to manage, particularly if there is a lack of knowledge and skills within a firm as to how to manage a process of change.

For the future, it is important to understand that your team will want to know in which areas their performance will be measured and what will their performance goals be in each of those areas? How their performance rates against those goals?

Measuring performance

Consider those areas in which your top team’s performance may need to be measured, together with their performance goals. For example, do all members of your top team currently have clear and agreed job descriptions and how do they view their roles and the targets required of them?

Here is an example of the requirements for the role of a Head of Department (HoD) as agreed by one law firm.

  • Acts as an entrepreneur, strategically building a profitable and sustainable business (being accountable to the partners for his / her part of the firm’s business). Specifically taking full responsibility for:
  • People & operations: Building a team of motivated and highly competent people, and ensuring they are supported by efficient processes and IT so that excellent client service is delivered as consistently, efficiently, and profitably as possible.
  • Marketing, BD & selling: Raising the public profile and image of the firm, developing services suited to client needs, implementing a focused BD plan, managing a sales pipeline and cross-selling to the firm’s clients.
  • Financial, risk & compliance: achieving agreed financial objectives and other KPIs, complying with regulations, and managing risks.
  • Doing all of the above in a way that is aligned to achieving the firm’s business plan and that puts the broader interests of the whole firm first. 
  • Does each member of your top team have an agreed plan for their team to:
  • Manage necessary change within the team?
  • Develop their people?
  • Grow the team strategically?
  • Develop the team’s clients?
  • Build the team’s financial strength?
  • Manage risk and compliance?
  • Build and protect the team’s (and so the firm’s) reputation? 

Prioritising work

It is important that your team is able to differentiate between urgent and important tasks because an urgent task may not be important.


Both you and your top team will also want to know how their performance is rated against the objectives set and agreed. This should involve obtaining and giving feedback.  There are differing approaches on the best way to obtain feedback on how the performance of people is assessed against their agreed goals. Here are some of the options available:

  • feedback only from those you report to
  • feedback from your peer group (such as your partners) on a confidential basis
  • feedback from those who report to you on a confidential basis
  • feedback from all of the above on a confidential basis (known as 360 degree or all round feedback)

Peer / colleague review provided on a confidential basis, is now regarded as a preferred method to achieve the most objective and honest form of feedback.  Ask yourselves who is better placed than your peers / colleagues to provide feedback to build on peoples’ strengths, and to reinforce what they are already doing well and to identify what they could do better?

There are also different ways of giving feedback. For example:

  • ‘downward only’ once a year? (the typical ‘appraisal’ which is often ‘one way only’ and too judgmental)
  • ongoing / informal? (the everyday process of giving feedback which if done well can often be the most effective form of giving feedback)
  • collaborative performance development reviews? (which can, if managed well, be very effective in improving performance and behaviour – see below). 

Collaborative performance development reviews (PDRs)

Everyone needs to be ‘on-side’ if collaborative PDRs are to be successful since they are a process by which a business works with its people to together plan, monitor and review their work objectives and overall contribution to the business.

Collaborative PDRs are a continuous process of setting objectives, assessing progress and providing ongoing feedback and support (such as training, coaching, mentoring and so on) to help everyone meet their objectives and career goals

They are not an annual form-filling exercise but a process designed to improve the performance and behaviour of everyone and, as a result, the competitiveness of the firm.

The characteristics of a ‘healthy‘ PDR programme are that it is:

  • fair, transparent, and consistent
  • practical and easy to understand
  • able to define and align each individual’s objectives with your firm’s strategy and values, so everyone knows where they stand
  • realistic with achievable criteria that provide a touchstone for each individual’s development and which can serve as a basis for objective assessment.

There should not be a single ‘mould’ – PDRs should recognise the varying motivations and contributions that different people can make, and then play to their strengths.

Monitoring and providing feedback should be a collaborative process whereby both reviewers and those being reviewed contribute by two-way communication.

The process should recognise that the main source of motivation for most professional people is their desire to achieve and to develop personally. High performance should be recognised to reinforce positive behaviour by acknowledging and saying ‘thank you’, celebrating successes and giving public recognition.

PDRs should ideally also provide an accurate picture of an individual’s performance and contribution to the firm across a broad range of criteria including positive feedback for a job well done and constructive feedback when improvement is needed, as well as a plan for how to improve performance

The agreed follow-up to support development should help to improve performance by using training, coaching and mentoring as appropriate.

Setting and agreeing objectives

The outcome of each review meeting should be to identify key development priorities including strengths to build on and any areas where development, support or resources may be needed.

Individuals should be responsible for implementing their agreed objectives and development plans. The reviewer (and others where appropriate) should be responsible for offering a support programme to meet the needs of individuals and periodically reviewing it against progress in implementing their agreed objectives.

Get the best out of your team

Maximising the full potential of your team will require investment in them and leadership that will get the best out of them. That means leadership that:

  • is challenging, visionary and inspirational
  • is agile enough to adapt its plans as new opportunities and threats emerge
  • recognises the need to change and has the determination to implement it
  • knows the partners and understands what can be realistically achieved
  • can build consensus that allows partners to ‘take ownership’ of change.