Fueling the Fire: Motivating Yourself and Staff

Fueling the Fire: Motivating Yourself and Staff

As a solo practitioner or managing partner of a law firm, keeping yourself and your team motivated can feel like an uphill battle. A lack of motivation, however, may lead to procrastination or neglect, which can result in ethical violations or malpractice claims. Relying solely on traditional incentives, such as bonuses, penalties, or office parties, fails to address the underlying factors influencing motivation. Other bad habits like overly critical feedback and neglecting individual needs can erode office morale. As a leader, it's essential to keep the team running smoothly by providing resources and support to proactively address morale issues, burnout, or other de-motivating conditions.

To foster a motivated and engaged staff, the key is to understand what truly drives people. Research shows that before starting any motivation strategies, two fundamentals are necessary: feeling secure financially and having the right abilities for the job. No one wants to invest their efforts in a job that doesn't pay the bills or feels like a poor fit.

If you are a managing partner or solo practitioner, make sure salaries and benefits are competitive. Also, find ways to match an employee’s skills and passion to their position. As the saying goes, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life!"

Once you’ve laid this groundwork, explore different motivational techniques. One approach is to base the tactic on the nature of the task. For repetitive duties like data entry, a straightforward reward can work wonders, like providing a gift card for most accurate and timely. However, extrinsic rewards can backfire for creative or analytical tasks like legal writing. Instead, focus on the bigger picture - how their work impacts clients and how they're honing their craft.

To further inspire you, here are five different motivational “fuels” with practical implementation tips:

1. Purpose
People are naturally drawn to meaningful work. Tap into this intrinsic motivation by connecting your team's work to larger goals like client service, justice, or positive social change. Collaborate on firm- wide objectives that contribute to the overall mission. Survey staff’s view of their role within the mission and discuss the results as a group. If this resonates with your team, consider shared objectives, circulated client updates, and celebratory team benchmarks. Reinforcing how their hard work impacts lives fosters a sense of purpose and motivation.

2. Mastery
Many legal professionals are driven to learn and develop their skills. This innate drive for growth can be a powerful motivator. Identify areas of curiosity and offer “stretch assignments,” or tasks to push them beyond their current abilities. Provide resources like training or conferences. As competence builds, increase challenges and empower them through mentoring opportunities. Map out development plans together and recognize their achievements. An empowered team focused on evolving can naturally thrive.

3. Relatedness
For some team members, simply feeling connected and supported by their colleagues is a major motivator. Foster a sense of teamwork and community through team-building events, group outings, or fun office traditions. Facilitate shadowing programs or training initiatives where socially motivated staff can guide newcomers. Encourage public kudos and recognition at meetings. Building strong relationships keeps your team invested in their work.

4. Autonomy
Some team members crave ownership and control. Empower them within defined boundaries and focus on outcomes. For example, when you delegate a task like filing or mail sorting, describe the final goal and allow them to find efficient ways to achieve it. Offer leadership roles like heading administrative tasks or responsibilities over other staff members. Encourage self-assessments during performance reviews to involve them in goal setting. For a fun spin on this idea, engage staff by having them craft their own motivational posters for the office. While complete autonomy may not be realistic, find ways for staff to exercise control over their processes or workspace. A balance of structure and self-direction is highly motivating.

5. Rewards
While intrinsic motivators are powerful, many people respond positively to external recognition and rewards. Move beyond the annual holiday party and create a culture of appreciation. Implement ongoing initiatives to encourage peers to acknowledge stellar work and successes publicly. Research peer-to-peer reward programs for bonuses, paid time off, or perks (like Bonusly). Staff should feel valued and celebrated for their hard work.

No one-size-fits-all approach exists, but leveraging these techniques can build a motivated team. Implement these ideas seamlessly and systematically by setting external triggers, conducting quarterly surveys, scheduling recurring initiatives, building templates, and integrating prompts into existing workflows. As you cultivate an environment that fosters purpose, challenge, connection, autonomy, and appreciation, your team may be more energized and driven to excel. Make motivation a consistent practice woven into your operations. A driven team translates to higher productivity, better client service, and reduced risk of costly mistakes.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self Motivation By Edward Deci with Richard Flaste
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalhi, et al.
Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn

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