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What we’ve noted for years about baseball and other sports is now true of the workplace: the prevalence of the “freelance mentality.” When we were very young, our sports heroes — our favorites and our “enemies” — tended to stay playing for the same side for years. We cheered essentially the same teams for years, shared their victories and heartbreaks and lived their ups and downs. The workplace was similar. People joined an organization with a long-term outlook. When employers invested in their employees, they expected them to be there for years and to use their new and improved skills for the firm’s benefit as well as their own. Now it seems the rule rather than the exception that neither employer nor employee — even partners in professional firms — feel long-term loyalty to the firm or that loyalty should be at the core of the relationship. While this is even more true of the younger generations, now almost everyone takes the headhunter’s call, whether they are actively looking or not. What are the pros and cons of the freelance mentality? Where does it come from? And how can law firm management improve loyalty? � Freelancers usually show a great deal of initiative. They need to make things happen for themselves and for their (temporary) employers. � They are largely self-sufficient, and they can take hold of a project and run with it. � They need to keep working on maximizing and honing their talent in order to sell themselves, so they tend to be perpetual learners. � They know they need to perform at a high level in order to get the next project. � They have to develop a business sense. � They learn to be flexible. Usually they are aiming for flexibility in their lives. � The sense of working in one’s own interest tends to be a great motivator. A freelance mentality does not mean lack of commitment to the task at hand while the individual is there. Often, it means quite the opposite. The downsides to the freelance mentality for the organization are long-term uncertainty as to who will be on the team ready to fulfill any need, uncertainty about whether individuals will put the organization’s long-term objectives first, the added work of building rapport and orienting new arrivals to firm culture, and a certain amount of disruption and morale problems when people leave. The award-winning magazine Fast Company has been praised and also accused of being subversive to stable culture, but, in fact, it is simply observing the trends and giving enlightenment and advice to people who already have adopted or aspire to the freelance mentality. Further, it reports on ways to take the positive aspects of the freelance way of thinking and use them to restructure the workplace for more productivity and satisfaction — not only for the twenty- and thirty-somethings but for anyone of any age in the firm who seeks both stimulating work and a desirable quality of life. Organizations should be paying close attention; they can learn and change for the better. The challenge is to maintain the positive aspects of the freelance mentality while taking steps to build continuing loyalty and commitment to the organization and to clients in an environment of mutual trust. Clients are even more concerned about firm turnover than fans are about the free agency of favorites on their sports teams. A key way to retain freelance thinkers would be to permit the professionals to have a sense of “ownership,” whether they are actual owners or not, by giving them a say in how things are done, not micro-managing, and rewarding them based on their total contribution to the well-being of the firm. They want to feel part of something that includes their goals, not just management’s goals. Some important points to ponder come from a book by Dale Dauten called “The Gifted Boss: How to Find, Create and Keep Great Employees.” He says that great employees and gifted bosses want the same thing from the workplace: a chance, a change and freedom from management, mediocrity and morons. The gifted boss provides a “magnetic” workplace, that is an exceptional environment and an opportunity to be exceptional. Good employees want to be tested and will show their bosses the possibilities. To provide that “exceptional environment,” it is important to figure out what individuals want from their lives — and that goes beyond money. Most of the professionals thought to have a freelance mentality are Generation Xers (associates, young partners, contract attorneys) and the younger Baby Boomers. For some insights on how to make the most of their talent by creating an environment that motivates them to show their best, look at the typical characteristics of Generation X: � They can be described as self-reliant and skeptical (like traditionally-trained lawyers). � They are project oriented. � They abhor office politics. � They desire to learn and grow in their careers. � They want prompt, thoughtful feedback. � They desire a life outside of work. � They want to build something and have a sense of adventure. � They want an opportunity to prove themselves and to be rewarded on merit. � They don’t respect an organization that excludes others based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or makes people conform. Many people recently and now entering the workforce look at their employers as clients or teachers and they are willing to move wherever they can find mentors and training, knowing they can only rely on their own capabilities. In fact they are loyal to their craft and their careers, not necessarily to their jobs. They expect to find fulfilling work or to treat it like “just a job” and keep their eyes open for another opportunity. They have learned to be suspicious of all institutions and relationships, especially those that would try to run their lives. An organization gains trust by making them feel their opinions, ideas and work matter. Generation Xers are being advised to demonstrate interest in firm goals beyond their own job and that if they make themselves a valuable part of the team, they’ll be treated as such. But firm leaders and management will have to meet them halfway to gain their allegiance. They tend to have more allegiance to individual people they respect than the organization as a whole. One example of an action which improved loyalty is the story of a 40-year-old manager who decided to help employees improve the balance between work and personal life. Each staff member was asked to list three business goals and three personal life goals, and the manager held herself accountable for the employees not pursuing and reaching all the goals. A small law firm founder did the same with his associates and staff, meeting quarterly to discuss progress on goals and how he could help them reach their goals. (A consultant got him to write down his own work and life goals, and she reviews his progress with him.) Other firm managers have offered flexible hours and autonomy in making business transactions in lieu of higher salaries and found this works at least for some period of time because it satisfied the desire for new business challenges and a life outside work. If people are happy with their work and work environment, they will not leave simply to make more money (unless it is very significantly more.) We regularly see examples demonstrating that throwing more money at desirable young lawyers is not the solution and is only a short-term fix, not the path to long-term loyalty. Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a New York-based firm consulting lawyers on business development and service quality and the author of “The Rainmaking Machine” (West Group). She can be reached at 212-593-1549 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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