How To Onboard A Star Performer In Your Law Firm

Onboarding is necessary, but it is one of the things most people do not want to do.  Learning the basics of onboarding can be the difference between hiring someone who works out miraculously or hiring someone who can’t get the job done. These five key strategies will help you onboard your star performer.

In this episode we discuss:

  • 5 Key Strategies you can use to be more effective at onboarding new members of your team.
  • How important it is to be organized so your employees can make associations in their minds of the content that’s covered.
  • Breaking down the big picture into key components in each onboarding.
  • Create a repeat pattern of the key points that you want the person to understand.
  • The value of taking handwritten notes creates a connection with the memory.


Allison Williams: [00:00:05] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your host of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you to grow your revenue, crush chaos in business and make more money.


Allison Williams: [00:00:26] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here your Law Firm Mentor. And welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast, where today we’re going to talk about onboarding your star employee. So onboarding is one of those topics that’s a little bit like bookkeeping. We recently talked about bookkeeping. It’s one of those that most people know that they have to learn, but nobody is getting super excited about hearing. Most of you are probably not rolling over in the middle of the night and saying, Honey, come over here. I got something super sexy to tell you. I’m going to onboard a new employee tomorrow. Right. That’s probably not where your mind is going. But here’s the thing. If you learn the basics of onboarding and you really get a handle on how to do it well and how to teach it to your team well so that other people can do it in your stead. This can be the difference between your hiring someone who works out miraculously or hiring someone who has a lot of talent, a lot of skill, and a great attitude but simply can’t get the job done. And there has been a showing that with the right onboarding strategy, you can actually see an increase in the retention that you have for an employee.


Allison Williams: [00:01:36] So I want you to give some serious consideration to tuning in today to check out what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to cover five key strategies that you can use to be more effective at onboarding members of your team.


Allison Williams: [00:01:47] Now, I’m going to refer to you as the person doing the onboarding, but it doesn’t have to be you. And in fact, if you listen to this podcast for any length of time, you know, I don’t recommend that it be you. I recommend that at some point and soon after you start making hires that your team members be the ones to onboard. So you can either have them listen to this podcast or you can take notes and share it with them so that they have some key strategies to do when it’s time to onboard that next key hire.


Allison Williams: [00:02:17] Ok. Strategy Number one, when it’s time to do your onboarding, you have to be organized. This is absolutely critical. One of the things that will increase the rate at which a person retains information is that there is a linear, logical progression of the information coming to them. I want you to think back to when you were in school, because this is learning 101. This is not specific to law firms. It’s not specific to, to secretaries, or paralegals, or associate attorneys, or marketing assistants, or receptionists, or any particular role in your business. It really is universal learning 101.


Allison Williams: [00:02:58] When you were in school, you did not learn how to multiply until you learn how to add. There’s a reason for that, right? There are some very fundamental pieces of multiplication that will overlap with addition. So if you didn’t know how to add when it was time for you to multiply, you wouldn’t be successful at it, right? Because you’d be missing a key piece of foundational information. While similarly, when you are giving information out in a law firm, a lot of times the person that you are hiring, especially if you’re following our advice, is somebody who has worked in the industry before. Right. You’re not hiring someone who has never been a secretary, or never been a paralegal, or never been an associate. There is a place in time to hire those professionals they can absolutely add value to your law firm. But when you’re in growth mode and when you are trying to get yourself to the point of traction where you have all your roles filled out, your best hire is going to be someone who knows a little bit about what they’re doing, so you’re not teaching them from scratch.


Allison Williams: [00:03:59] So when you hire and you go to explain things to that person, they’re already going to have some frame of reference. But a lot of times if you’re not organized and you’re just kind of throwing things at them on your list of things that need to be covered, your person is going to have a lesser likelihood of retaining that information. And then when it’s time to go back, looking over notes, going through manuals, trying to find the information, they’re going to have a much harder time, which increases the likelihood that they’re going to come bother you when it’s time for them to figure out how to do the next thing. Okay. So you want to make it as easy as possible for them to retain the information. You also want to keep in mind that the mind makes associations. So where you put things together in your organized litany of activity and information that has to be shared is where the mind is likely to remember it, right?


Allison Williams: [00:04:54] Think about stories. Any story that you’ve heard, just think about the last great story that you heard could be from a movie, could be from a book, but you are probably going to be able to recount that story based on the series of events that happened in some reasonable, logical order. Right. So it could be in a movie where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy interrupts girl’s wedding to yield his undying love for her. Right. The. Boy meets girl part is next to the boy loses girl part. And so when you tell the story, you probably don’t talk about the wedding as soon as you say boy meets girl, because in your mind, the progression of activity is ultimately linked. Now that is how we remember things in general. We tend to remember one major chasm of information next to another major chasm of information. So it’s important that you organize that information in a way that makes the most sense for your law firm and increases the likelihood of someone remember, remembering the totality because they can remember the content units.


Allison Williams: [00:06:05] All right. Strategy number two for your, your onboarding is that you want to break down the big picture into key components. Now, the big picture is the, the what that is to be done right for any of you that have attended our systematize your our Crushing Chaos Master Class, where we talk about Systematizing Your Law Firm in Ten Days or Less, you know that we talk about on our, our guide, our crushing chaos template. We talk about defining the what of every system, right? What is the big picture idea of what has to be accomplished? And of course, you want to bolster that with the why it is being done in a particular way. But some of the nitty-gritty pieces is where most people’s minds go to, right? That’s where you get into the key responsibilities and the tasks under each key responsibility and the assigned person and coverage person for each of those key components.


Allison Williams: [00:07:02] So when we think about that, you have to remember that if a person is getting a bunch of tasks thrown at them, but they don’t understand the big picture that is supposed to be created through completing those tasks, it’s going to be harder in their mind to make the association that certain things have to be done and certain things need to be done in a certain order. That means you’re more likely to get mistakes, not because the person doesn’t understand the task that was assigned, but because the person doesn’t get the full picture right. They’re not getting the idea. It’s kind of like if I were to describe to someone, if I were to say to someone, I want you to create a drawing of a forest. Well, the first thing that’s probably going to come to mind for them is a tree. And in designing a tree, drawing a tree, they’re probably going to think about a trunk and some branches and some leads. Right. If I were to just say, I want you to draw a leaf on a sheet of paper, the leaf might take up so much of the paper that there’s not room for the branches and the bark and the tree and ultimately a series of trees. Right. So if the whole idea is to get a big picture to be creative, that’s the what of your system that has to be created. You have to give them all of the pieces that go into it. But you want to start with the event with the end in mind, right? Begin with the end in mind. You want to start with what’s going to be at the finish line so that they know as they’re working toward it, what their mind should be looking for.


Allison Williams: [00:08:29] All right. Strategy number three and onboarding is my personal favorite, R&R that is not rest and relaxation. That is rinse and repeat. Super important that when you are sharing information with someone, you recognize that they’re not going to remember it simply because you said it once. Certain things will need to be said over and over again, and the more you say something, the more likely it is to be remembered, which means you don’t want to repeat everything right. You don’t want to rinse and repeat the entirety of what has to be shared, but you want the major accent pieces, the things that are critical values of your systems to be shared, and you want them to be shared more than once.


Allison Williams: [00:09:11] Now, the way to do this, if you’re thinking about onboarding an employee over the course of, let’s say, a couple of weeks, then you might have one particular part of your office systems reviewed on day one and then on day two, at the start of the day, you might start the process of repeating some of the things from day one, so that by the time you get to day three and you repeat it a second time, they will have now heard it three times and it will start to create an imprint in their mind. Your goal is to make sure that as you are repeating things, you are repeating things that, again, are mission critical, right? You don’t want to give out.bbYou don’t want to, you don’t want to take up that valuable real estate in someone’s mind with something as inconsequential as where they can find the garbage cans in your office. Right. There are some things you don’t want to have to repeat.


Allison Williams: [00:10:01] Now, if someone forgot the information, certainly you might need to repeat it. But you want to be very intentional about creating a repeat pattern of the things that you want the person to understand. Some of that is going to be task-oriented, but a lot of it is going to be value-oriented, right? What are the orders of priorities for your business? What are the things that will always take precedence in your business? How should someone decide coming into your business? Right. This is before you even get to using the why in your system as a value post or how people should be thinking right again. Shout out to the Crushing Chaos Master Class. But you want to give them a sense that as they are absorbing information when you are saying something, it is accentuating its punctuating key points for how you like things done, because that is going to whether a person is contemplating it or not, that is going to signal them that, yes, I’ve heard this a couple of times now. This is something that’s really important that I have to pay attention to, and that will get them into the habit of looking for similar forms of punctuation and accentuation of key points in the future when you are training them and developing them on new skills and, and strategies in your business over the course of time. Right. So this is not just how you onboard someone at the start of your business relationship. This is also how you are going to institutionalize training of your employees over the course of time.


Allison Williams: [00:11:31] We’re up to strategy number four now. Strategy number four, we’ve covered so far just a little review. We’ve covered that you need to be organized so that people can make associations in their mind of the content that’s covered, that you want to make sure that you hit the big picture and then break it down into key components. Right? Start big and then whittle your way down the way we teach you in the Crushing Chaos Master Class. And then three is rinse and repeat, right? Saying something over and over again emphasizes those key points.


Allison Williams: [00:12:00] Strategy number four for effective onboarding of your employees is that you want to require note-taking while prohibiting dictation. Now you might be saying Who really takes dictations nowadays? You’d be surprised. We recently were filling an admin role in my law firm and somebody actually had on their resume that they take dictation and I was like, Wow, people still do that. That is what Siri was for. But anyway, dictation in this sense is really someone kind of trying to get down verbatim what you had to say. This can be in the traditional sense of true dictation, or it can just be writing down really fast the majority of what you have to say. You don’t want people to do that, but you do want them to take notes.


Allison Williams: [00:12:46] Now, the value of taking notes and by taking notes here I’m talking about handwriting notes. I’m not talking about typing notes. Great. If people can type fast, I’m sure that will be valuable in your law firm. But you want people to handwrite notes. Handwriting notes actually creates a, a connection in the brain that has not been found to be present when people are typing notes. The beauty of handwriting notes is that you have to think about what is being said and you have to encapsulate it, summarize it in your mind, in your own way of thinking, your own speech pattern, in order to get it down on paper.


Allison Williams: [00:13:22] So that does several things. The first thing is it requires you to take a lot of information and distill it down into the key components. The second part is that it hard wires in your brain, whatever it is that you are writing. So when you are physically writing something, it is much more likely to become instilled in your memory because you’re ultimately creating a neural pathway that is going to congeal that information in a way that you can’t simply by typing it or hearing it on an audio recording or something else.


Allison Williams: [00:13:56] So note-taking is really, really valuable for getting down key component information. But the reason we don’t recommend that you allow your employees to take dictation is because if they’re simply taking down your words and not going through that process, if they’re skipping that critical step of actually translating it into their own words for purpose of getting it down on paper, you are far less likely to have retention, right? Because it’s harder to think the thoughts of another person in the future than it is to think your own thoughts.


Allison Williams: [00:14:29] And second, it’s going to be harder for them to be able to translate whatever you said into some form of action in the future. So they might intellectually understand what they just read that they have written down that you have previously said, but they’re not going to necessarily integrate that into their own mental framework for how something should be done. Because, again, it wasn’t said to them in their own way. It’s really important that they get into the habit of taking your words and translating it into their words. And then the final strategy ultimately is going to show you why that’s so critically important as a part of further reinforcing what they’ve learned. But for purposes of number four, super important that you emphasize and require that notes be taken and that you make sure that you check in periodically to make sure that those notes are really the person’s reiteration of key points and not the person’s kind of brain dump, if you will, or recording of what you’ve had to say.


Allison Williams: [00:15:33] Fifth and final strategy for effective onboarding that we’re going to cover today is have the employee repeat it back to you. Now, this is something that we highly recommend as a part of understanding. One of the things that has to be able to occur is that the person who has gathered information, who has memorized information and is now going to be required to use that information, needs to be able to demonstrate that they understand the information by teaching it back to you. That means they’re going to take what they have now taken as notes and whatever form made sense for them and they’re going to be able to give it back to you in a way that’s consistent with what you have just communicated.


Allison Williams: [00:16:17] So many times we skip this step as a part of ensuring that our team truly understands what we are asking, which is the reason why we get so many lawyers that will come in and say, I’ve tried delegating, but I give them very specific instructions. I am very, very clear. I communicate very, very well and they screw it up. Right. And there’s oftentimes an anger about that because the lawyer is triggered by the idea that they might not be as clear or as concise or as effective as they think they are, and that it might not be that they just hired a complete idiot. It might be that they were not as effective at communicating as they think they were. But they don’t ever test that right. They don’t ever check to make sure that when I say the sky is blue, that the employee actually heard and understood the sky is blue instead of the blue sky. And many times because of that failure to check in and have the person teach it back to you, you’re so busy getting the information out of you and into the other person that you’re not ensuring that the synapses are firing. So what happens is they, in an effort to please their new employer, are taking in the information and doing what a lot of people will do to signal that they understand. They will say back a word or two. They will not their heads. Right? Yeah, I got it. I got it, I got it, I got it. They’ll do what’s necessary to give you the inclination to believe that they got it because they believe that the incentive here is to show that they’re a fast learner. And yes, we, of course, all love to have the knowledge that our team understands. But if you skip that step, assuming that they understand and then later they don’t, you and them are likely to be frustrated. So the way to avoid that is by making sure that they understand, by simply asking them, Hey, I want you to review for me what would be the process for doing X, Y, Z that we talked about earlier today, that little check-in and it doesn’t have to be contemporaneous. It can be right after you covered it or it can be a couple of hours later. But at some point you want to have them check in on some of these mission-critical tasks so that they can say it back to you in a way that makes sense to them. And just by hearing yourself saying the steps that you’re going to take in the future to complete something, it makes it that much more likely that you will understand it, that you will comprehend it, and that you will be able to execute it in the manner that you described.


Allison Williams: [00:18:49] All right. You have been listening to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast today. We’ve covered onboarding, onboarding basics. I’m Allison Williams, Law Firm Mentor, and I’ll see you on our next episode.


Allison Williams: [00:19:07] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s show and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today’s episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor everyone. Have a great day.

Allison Bio:
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.

Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm by 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.


In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.

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