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Beware the manager who speaks with a forked tongue

Posted in Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Trust & Respect, Uncategorized, Values

As a law firm leader one of your best returns on investment can come from appointing the right support services manager. A good manager can easily make a partner-like contribution or more to a firm. They do need to be the right calibre, the right fit and possess good levels of emotional intelligence and initiative. They also need support from firm leadership – mentoring, an interest taken in them personally and professionally, responsibility, authority and accountability.

Most of us probably assume the managers we recruit are honest - however, a new report shows an alarmingly high percentage might embellish their attributes to get themselves recruited. The worry is, picking this, and will it stop there? (iPad graphic by Sharon Larkan 2012 ©)

One thing I always assumed was that people filling such roles would be honest, especially as they had often been through other law firms. I never doubted it. Maybe this view was a bit naive! The findings of a recent research report point to a startlingly high percentage of Australian managers who are apt to embellish their resumes and talk up past work experience.

SHL, a global talent assessment solutions consultancy, reported in a recent Australian Law Management Journal article, found that nearly 40% (24% in New Zealand) will lie on their resumes and are 3 times more likely to lie about their qualifications than other workers. The areas that are most often faked are work experience, referees, earnings and qualifications.  The key findings relevant to law firm leaders are:

  • 39 per cent of managers have lied on their resume
  • 18 per cent of managers made up or exaggerated their work experience
  • 13 per cent of managers changed information about how much they earned at their last job
  • 10 per cent of managers made up references
  • 18 per cent of managers lied about their age.

Obviously this is a wake-up call to everyone who employs senior managers. If they are prepared to be dishonest about something as obvious as their personal achievements and attributes, with a real risk this could be found out, what else are they going to fabricate during the course of their employment? Also, this is tricky from a practical perspective – how do you test for honesty?

What are some things we can do to protect ourselves?

  • firstly, an obvious one really – build strong relationships with a small number of specialist professional recruiters and get to know the key, senior people personally. They soon learn what is important to you. This is a first step. They will do a lot of the basic vetting for you, but be sure to ask them to. While these assignments are often left entirely in the hands of the Human Resources section in your firm, and in some cases that may be appropriate, for such appointments I feel it is worth the investment for leaders to get more directly involved – at least at a very senior level.
  • run through your firm values/guiding principles with a prospective appointee and ask them what they think about them. It could be enlightening.
  • it is also worth considering building a relationship with a reputable group of recruitment or human resources psychologists and have them vet any applicant before a final appointment. The process usually involves putting a potential appointee through selected ‘psych’ tests (which can also test their veracity), but the most important step to have them undertake is a detailed interview with the psychologist. At the end of the process you are presented with a detailed report of the tests and the interview process and most importantly their assessment and judgment. This, coupled with your own judgment and the applicant’s credentials puts you in a strong position to make the right call.
  • I also established a simple 3 point test for all candidates and they had to meet all three – they had to be 1) high calibre (which included absolute honesty, to the extent one could pick it), (2) committed/enthusiastic and (3) team players. Obviously each firm will have its own criteria but these worked for our culture and requirements. Any doubts and I wouldn’t make the appointment. It was surprising how many failed this simple test. Ones instincts on things like this are usually right and should not be pushed under the carpet or rationalised away.

We all assume we have good judgment and know what we are looking for. However, for such important, senior roles, I always wanted an expert, independent view. It paid hands down – they were usually unerringly accurate in their assessments and were able to highlight potential issues that we had not spotted. In most cases it is fair to say they merely re-affirmed what we thought, an excellent candidate;  even this affirmation was worth the investment. It left us that more confident about the process and outcome from day one – a good place to start.

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all the best, Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International