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The Corner Office: Performance Reviews

The Corner Office: Performance Reviews

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In The Corner Office we ask Managing Partners across CEE about their unique roles and responsibilities. The question this time around: How do you do performance reviews, and how important are they to the planning and management of the firm?”

Kostadin Sirleshtov, Managing Partner, CMS Sofia:

Performance reviews are an essential part of the planning and management of any law firm. CMS places a special focus on the appraisal process, which has evolved over the years. Our unique partner model allows for a flexible and modern approach to performance reviews for partners. It allows the firm to consider and reward the individual partner’s contribution. Recently CMS updated its model of rewarding the contribution of our associates and we are very pleased with the initial results of the new model. It is based on the understanding that there is a minimal chargeable work that each associate needs to produce in order to be eligible for promotion or a bonus, but once this threshold is achieved, there are many additional criteria that are considered and taken into consideration. Therefore, for both partners and associates, the combination of both business and personal contribution is taken into consideration. As part of the process of performance reviews, it is key that there is not a single reviewer – or indeed, not a single office – reviewing and providing a view on the contribution. At CMS we make sure that an individual is reviewed by his/her practice group heads and managers at an office level, a CEE level, and a global level, thus ensuring that all feedback is taken into consideration. 360-degree and client feedback are also essential parts of our promotion and performance review system.   

Erwin Hanslik, Partner, Taylor Wessing Czech Republic:

Every morning, the partners in our Prague office are provided with an overview of the performance of their respective team for the day before compiled automatically by our billing system. The daily overview helps the partners to efficiently follow the performance of their teams, and allows us to react very quickly to any underperformance. This data is furthermore checked on a monthly basis by the management. We have certain targets and benchmarks, which depend on the position of the lawyer. If these benchmarks are not met, there is no direct (negative) consequence, but we try to find out with the relevant partner and team member what the reason for the underperformance is and if a correction is possible. Therefore, to answer the question in short: Yes, performance reviews are important.  

Zoltan Faludi, Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss Hungary:

Continuous feedback and performance reviews are important components of our everyday life, also at Wolf Theiss. If we do it well it will inspire our team members and stimulate them for further improvement, thus supporting the achievement of targets, fostering personal growth, and contributing to higher firm-wide performance.

At Wolf Theiss, we always start the year with a 360-degree feedback process that gives the opportunity for everyone at WT to provide anonymous constructive, respectful, and fair feedback to all lawyers and team leaders. Everyone also assesses their own performance, reviews their own achievements for the past year, and sets targets for the year ahead. These are used as a basis for personal appraisal meetings.

A lot of time is invested in the annual evaluation review and therefore it is important to take enough time to communicate the feedback results. The real value of this process is in the communication. It is not a traditional top-down evaluation but rather a collaborative exercise providing a reflection of the previous year’s performance based on feedback from multiple sources that contributes to personal development.

Through the comparison of different results from the “self-assessment” and “the assessment of others,” an interpretation of the results can be made and actions of self-development  can be established. To achieve this, putting the individual targets together helps to build personal strengths and allow for work on weaknesses. As a consequence, this supports and influences business objectives and is critical for establishing new expectations.

A personal note at the end: conducting the series of meetings is sometimes demanding but there is nothing more energizing than these discussions with motivated colleagues.   

Uros Ilic, Managing Partner, ODI Law:

Appropriately assessing [our lawyers’] daily endeavors may sometimes be likened to mastering the (im)possible, yet like any good captain the Managing Partner requires swift and accurate intel to steer the ship and weather any eventual storms. Being aware that certain aspects of day-to-day work may be subject to economic-criteria-based scrutiny, while some may not, we tend to spread the review net as widely as possible, taking thus into account both the aforementioned performance aspects.

Keeping the expected return of particular projects foremost in mind, individual performances are primarily weighed by billable hours returns, based upon various criteria, which subsequently provides a platform for firm-level assessments. Considering the nature of certain work, non-billable hours are also included in such assessments, allowing for an exhaustive and fair performance review. Realizing that impressions may not always boil down to sheer numbers and reports, we tend to conduct regular interviews where the latter are discussed with individual colleagues.

Generally, such exercises are repeated quarterly and annually at firm level, including both individual as well as general performance reviews, allowing therefore for real-time mapping of the firm’s heartbeat. Throughout the years, such information, complemented by a good grasp of the local markets, has proved invaluable in terms of proper mid- to long-term planning, which is nothing short of essential considering the volatility of today’s global economy. 

Mykola Stetsenko, Co-Managing Partner, Avellum:

At Avellum we did semi-annual reviews for many years. However, this year we are switching to quarterly reviews based on a detailed 360-electronic-review form, which allows people to assess each other according to various skills and KPIs. This form also allows a person to compare his/her own self-evaluation with peer reviews. To achieve a uniform approach to grading, we have prepared detailed guidelines for each position and each grade. Such performance reviews are part of Avellum’s culture and are extremely important both for partners and employees, because they give a balanced view of the person from all angles. These performance reviews also play a significant role in promotions and the distribution of bonuses.  

Rastko Petakovic, Managing Partner, Karanovic & Partners:

Effort is good, value makes a difference. Continuous feedback is something that is truly and deeply rooted in the Karanovic & Partners culture and we find it to be the most effective development tool. Therefore, we perceive our annual Performance Appraisals process as only a formal part of the performance evaluation. Nevertheless, we take it very seriously and we approach it systematically, since it is of crucial importance for setting up KPIs on both the individual and firm level. The process itself is quite complex and requires the active engagement of the senior partners and the firm management. The most important outcome of this process is a tailor-made, individual development plan for each individual, based on the self-assessment of the person being appraised and the performance appraisal conducted by that person’s supervisor.  A well-designed Development Plan depends on a comprehensive assessment of the firm’s needs and, although individually created, it is aligned with the overall business goals, departmental goals, and our personal targets. 

Alina Popescu, Founding Partner, Maravela | Asociatii:

Although we evaluate our team members and discuss potential promotion at the end of every calendar year, performance reviews may occur as often as three to four months. Key considerations include legal know-how in relevant practice areas, fluency in legal English, client care, computer literacy, and work efficiency, as well as soft skills, such as partnership and team work, communication skills, dedication to the firm’s policies, and personal development. For certain positions, leadership and team-nurturing skills are equally important, along with business development skills.

The review is especially aimed at assessing compatibility with the pillars of our firm, which are: (i) very high professional standards; (ii) excellent client care; (iii) a pleasant working environment; and (iv) continuous development of the firm and of each of its members.

Performance reviews are essential for team planning and development. They also allow us to reward talent and merits while correcting any points that are not in accordance with our ethos. It also drives business development, which is an essential part of any lucrative activity.

Milan Samardzic, Partner, Samardzic, Oreski & Grbovic:

Our firm is truly focused on performance review and generally feedback between our attorneys and associates and partners. With currently around twenty lawyers in Serbia we do not have a comprehensive and complex performance review program. We hold performance review sessions with each member of our team twice a year. At these sessions partners provide feedback on the work, achievements during the previous six months, and our plans, expectations, and possibilities within the firm. At the same time we receive feedback from our team members, including their opinions about their own performance, their status within the firm, and the type of work they are engaged in, as well as their potential suggestions for improvements. Our experience over the years has confirmed that these performance reviews and fostering an open relationship is very helpful to managing the firm and planning for the future. In many cases this has enabled us to successfully replace team members, hire the right people, and maintain the positive atmosphere in the firm and the excellent team spirit that we are known for on the market.

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.5 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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