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Pavlov taught us that feedback, both positive and negative, reinforces behaviour. Though positive feedback has a stronger impact on behaviour setting, it’s still important to address negative issues to stop bad behaviour before it causes damage.

The problem is that in the busy world of law firms, feedback often comes but once a year in the form of an annual appraisal. For strong personal development, this is simply not efficient for a number of reasons.

1. Stress

It can be stressful for an associate, or even more senior people, to know that a whole year’s performance will be reviewed in one lengthy meeting. Stress in the legal profession is no surprise, but its effects can be serious for employees and the firm alike.

2. Time-consuming

Recalling successes – and difficulties – for 12 months can be challenging. For a time-poor lawyer, there is a risk the preparation won’t be done properly. Client work and winning new business is always going to seem more urgent and more important.

3. Disengagement

Feedback, whether positive or negative, on work you completed several months ago has a much smaller impact on performance than immediate feedback. Delay leads to disengaged employees who, in turn, don’t achieve their objectives and are more likely to leave the firm.

4. Too little, too late

Ignoring positive behaviour is a sure way to discourage it. Recognition, praise and validation are important motivators but feedback needs to be timely and specific if it is to have any value. Similarly, with poor performance early intervention is cheaper and better than long-delayed performance management programmes.

If not appraisals, then what?

Realistically, even the most innovative law firms will still use some form of annual appraisal as part of their performance review process. The concept is ingrained in most firms. And it does have its uses, for example as a yardstick for pay reviews and partner remuneration.

But for law firms that want to motivate and encourage their staff and align performance to their strategic goals, once a year is not enough.

Instead, ambitious firms need to implement continuous feedback so that firm-wide goals and personal objectives are tracked, monitored and achieved. Then, when it comes to appraisal season, everyone has a year’s worth of feedback to work with.

For advice on using continuous feedback to complement annual appraisals, download our free guide to better performance reviews for law firms.

About ObjectiveManager

At ObjectiveManager, we have developed goal-setting software to help professional services firms and their people define strategy and improve performance through continuous feedback to power growth.

By simplifying the way firms conduct the entirety of their strategic planning from Sector/Client programmes to Partner Remuneration, we help them improve collaboration and optimise conditions for growth. Our innovative software turns individual gains into big business impact by making individual and firm-wide objectives visible, constant and actionable.

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