Why law firms should have an embedded Talent Development Process – a route to enhanced performance


We believe that the legal sector can look to another professional services sector for learnings around talent development.  Employee talent development processes and dialogues are very commonplace in consulting firms.  Consultants routinely work across a number of different projects reporting to different managers at each stage and therefore they have a Career Development Manager (CDM) that manages their performance and development.  The fact that they are rarely line-managed by their reviewer creates this requirement.

All too often the performance review process can be received at an individual level in a negative way, even as a tick box exercise. However, if these conversations are approached at an organisational level, embedded into the organisational culture, great things can happen. At TPC Leadership we have been working with a number of consulting firms for the past eight years building talent development processes as a core part of the internal culture with wide reaching positive impact.

Starting a development conversation

Excellent development conversations start with the CDM approaching them with a growth mindset. The term growth mindset was coined by Dr Carol Dweck over 30 years ago and she describes it as “when people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework”.  

The training we’ve provided enables CDMs to have really meaningful conversations with their talent. Focusing on the critical balance between sharing knowledge, expertise and wisdom of the CDM (who’s also had loads of experience navigating their way through the organisation) and adopting a coaching style to empower the individual to think for themselves and take responsibility for their development.

A large focus of the training supports CDMs in how to give meaningful feedbackCharles Brook, founder of TPC Leadership notes that “often Partners and Managers at professional services firms struggle to give high quality, structured feedback that will be valued by the advisee, and is done in a generative way”.  

By learning how to give feedback in the right way you can move into a deeper, trusting relationship through positive development conversations.   With organisations desperate to attract and retain talent Charles believes it’s essential to focus on this aspect of developing talent.  “It is of fundamental importance to today’s workforce that they are progressing and learning. For this to happen they need to have people within the organisation genuinely interested in making that happen.”  By embracing this approach, it becomes a cornerstone of the organisation’s success. 

Charles explains, “Most people think the only way of adding value is sharing their own personal experience and success strategies. While this can help, often it’s more valuable to help them understand what the blockers are that might be hindering their performance and therefore help them unblock themselves and get them to think how they might do it.  It’s about using a blend of mentoring (occurs naturally for someone in a more senior position) and coaching with the conversation becoming more relational, where relationships are strengthened and the advisee takes ownership for their actions and development plan.

CDMs who’ve adopted these strategies and use these skills extensively become great talent developers.  Reflecting on their experiences, they report that they notice how different the development conversations are, with the advisee leaving a meeting with enthusiasm and commitment to develop themselves having taken ownership of their actions and responsibilities. This contrasts significantly with research from Gallup showing that 70% of an employee’s motivation is influenced by his or her manager.  Further research from the University of California found that motivated employees were 31% more productive and were three times more creative than demotivated employees. They were also 87% less likely to quit, according to a Corporate Leadership Council study on over 50,000 people.

Why it’s the best thing you can do

This does not only relate to CDMs, but all managers.  It is a truism that in professional services firms that if you’re a good developer of people, people will go the extra mile to get on your team and…if you have a reputation as a great developer, you have the pick of the talent.   

Asking talent developers as they leave the firm what they’ve most enjoyed about their role, one of the Partners we’ve worked with stated “the bit you remember most is the people you’ve worked with, how you added value to those people and the legacy you’ve created whilst there with the people you’ve worked with”.  

Should a firm adopt this way of approaching performance conversations, they will also reap further benefits:

  • Experience greater performance – as an individual, a team and an organisation 
  • Greater adaptability – the workforce is better able to adapt to changing working environments and practices 
  • Attract and retain the best talent
    • Employees feel they are being developed, positively pushed and challenged; they grow so they stay 
    • Employee positive branding, talking with their friends/peers about how good their development opportunities are thereby attracting further talent into the firm. 

TPC Leadership has delivered over 100 workshops on this topic across the globe, covering Europe, Asia, Middle East, India, North and South America and Australia/NZ.  If you would like to find out more about this topic please do get in touch.

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