The Inside Perspective

When we arrive at the office Monday morning, we are bombarded with voice mails,

e-mails, faxes, meetings, carryovers of projects from the prior week, and a "to do" list for the day and the week ahead. In this age of instant communications generating an expectation for immediate responses, we generally start off our week in overload mode. And it only gets worse as the week progresses. In trying to address all of the concrete tasks at hand, it's easy to overlook one of our most important responsibilities--mentoring, inspiring and motivating the legal or business team that surrounds us.

I vividly recall the supervisors from my days as a junior attorney who spent time helping me polish my legal skills, taking an interest in my life and inspiring me to produce the best work-product possible. I also remember well the supervisors whose sole focus was to complete a particular project on time, and how I and other staff members felt reduced to faceless entities whose existence seemed centered on "serving" our masters--our direct supervisors, and the corporation as a whole. The human element in the work relationship was nonexistent.

With tighter controls on costs, budgets and performance-driven objectives, it is far too easy to lose sight of the fact that spending time with our staff--collectively and on an individual basis--not only will enhance that sought-after value to the corporation, but also will make for more satisfied workers. In our roles as general counsel and senior managers, we have a unique opportunity to touch the lives of our staff professionally and personally.

Taking the time to explain the reasons for a particular approach to a legal issue, soliciting input from staff members and showing a genuine interest in your team will directly benefit work relationships and the projects at hand.

From a time-management standpoint, it definitely can be challenging to carve out time with your staff that isn't related to a specific task. Yet such time provides all sorts of tangible and intangible benefits to your department, the corporation as a whole and, equally as important, the staff member. While this may be stating the obvious, there is an enormous cost to employee turnover, and more often than not, employees explore other job opportunities not because of salary issues, but because they feel undervalued, unappreciated or even invisible.

How often, if ever, have you sat down with an employee to talk about his or her needs and objectives, and how both of you can maximize his or her career goals? Have you ever asked a staff member whether you could do something differently to create a

more fulfilling environment for him or her personally or for the department as a whole?

When employees are recognized and made to feel that their contributions are important, they are motivated to produce their best possible work-product. They also want to feel challenged and be allowed to grow professionally.

This means spending time with your staff constructively evaluating their work and encouraging them to sit in on meetings, asking them to participate in conference calls, and sharing your legal and business analysis and your work-product with them so that they can learn and grow from your vast experience.

It also means taking the time to compliment them on a task well done. It means thanking them for putting in that extra time or effort to timely provide you with a needed report. It may mean taking them to lunch periodically, which not only fosters team spirit, but also injects a memorable human element into the work relationship.

Next Monday morning when you walk into the office bombarded with various communications and work priorities, include on that list some mentoring and relationship-building time to be spent with your staff members that goes beyond meeting project deadlines.


Roger Marks serves a dual role at H2O Plus Inc., the Chicago-based developer of skin-care products. He is both the president of the international division and senior vice president, general counsel and secretary. He has been with H2O Plus since 1992.

Staff Writer

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