Why haven’t clients rebelled more strongly against billable hours? Perhaps it’s because law firms aren’t ready to change the entire way they do business. However, I predict that hourly billing will survive only in the most specialized practices where lawyers have hard-to-get skills. More generally, there will be a growing shift to a new type of lower-cost model for charging for legal service.
In companies where managers still equate face time with results, what can workers do to change the culture?
(Ron Barrett/For the Washington Post)
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Many organizations have a culture that rewards “face time” at the expense of results produced. This undermines the incentives for productivity: If workers have to stay late in order to come across as a “hard worker,” what motivation do they have to finish their work efficiently?
I admit that changing your organization’s culture is a tall task. But if you run a team, you can restructure your relationship with them. Make clear to your team that you care about the results they produce, not the hours that they spend in the office. Then lead by example: Take an afternoon off to watch your children’s Little League games or run a family errand.
Changing your boss’s habits is more difficult. Begin by gaining his or her confidence that you can create high-quality results regardless of the hours you work. Before each major project, have an explicit discussion with your boss about how to measure the project’s outcomes. This will give your boss objective criteria for judging the project’s success — and help shift him or her away from the simplistic metric of numbers of hours worked.
You note that meetings can be a huge drag on productivity. Given these principles, how do you run a meeting?
The best way to run a meeting is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t call a meeting if an e-mail or phone call would suffice. And don’t be afraid to politely decline meeting invitations; point out your looming deadlines or pressing obligations. Even if a meeting is necessary, you should keep it small (ideally no more than six or seven people) and short (usually shorter than 60 minutes, and never longer than 90 minutes) — which will help minimize the total time that employees spend at the meeting.
If you must call a meeting, make sure to send out the agenda and advance materials in advance. That way, you can enforce time limits on introductory remarks, since everyone will (hopefully) be familiar with the basics. Then, you can use the bulk of the meeting time to engage in a vigorous debate of the underlying issue. In order to prevent a game of “inside baseball” where people seemingly ignore the negatives, appoint a “devil’s advocate,” who is assigned the responsibility of pointing out the challenges and roadblocks associated with the issue in question. Lastly, at the end of the meeting, make sure that all participants agree on the next steps — with one person and one deadline assigned to each step.
Let’s talk about managing the inbox. I loved your Ohio strategy. Can you talk about that?