I’ve added staff before, which has rarely gone well. And it was entirely my fault.

During my stint in a partnership, we tried our hand at hiring for different roles. We brought in an office assistant, an associate attorney, and a marketing person. Every person that we hired was fantastic in her/his own way, but they never really got off the ground. In looking back, I’m trying to identify what I did wrong.

How To Do It Better Than I Did

Here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve learned from hard experience…

First, hire for the task rather than the role. 

I’ve hired two virtual assistants from the Philippines. Each time I went through Chris Ducker’s virtual assistant service. Each time I ignored all of his advice about how to do that.

I’d heard that having a VA was awesome, so I hired a VA. I had no idea what a VA actually did, only that I apparently needed one. So I ponied up the $500 so Ducker could find me a VA, then spent months paying for someone who didn’t help me.

The advice from Ducker I most ignored was that we should hire for a task, rather than for a role.

I think we lawyers break this rule all the time. We hire a “paralegal,” not really clear on what that means. If we hire an experienced paralegal, maybe s/he will let us know what they actually do. Or maybe, since we weren’t quite clear on the parameters of the role, we hire the wrong person and give them the wrong tasks.

This time around, I’m making sure to identify specific tasks that I need done, then hiring for those tasks. It makes it easier to communicate expectations, train, and attract the right applicants.

Second, manage paper rather than people.

This involves systems. Every time I’ve brought someone on, I’ve required that we both figure things out as we go. I had no documented systems and couldn’t plug a new person into anything. So the new hire needed me. All the time.

That means I either ignored them because I had other things to do (or why would I have hired them?), or I shut down my whole day to focus on them (so, wait, why did I hire someone?). Disastrous.

Instead, we should create solid, documented systems for the specific tasks we’ve identified. Those tasks will pile up until we can’t do them anymore, so we hire someone to do them.

As time goes on, we alter those systems. When a task we outlined didn’t have the results we expected, we make changes to the processes. And then we hand them back to the person that owns the task. When we do that, we aren’t constantly managing people. We change paper, and we use it to measure the person fairly.

Managing paper is so much easier than managing people, so love your processes. Trust me.

Third, hire only what you need.

I don’t know why we get so excited about bringing a person on full time. Or even part time, but in an office and committed totally to our practice.

Why? If what we want done is a task, do we really need to hire someone who comes in every day? Can’t we just hire the best person/service/team/software to fulfill that task?

Personally, I hire someone full time because I don’t want to identify, outline, and properly source the task. That’s a lot of work, so I think I’ll just bring someone in and let them wing it for a while. If they’re a good employee, they’ll figure it out, right?

This is so unfair, both to the employee and to me. I just end up spending money without getting results.

Instead, let’s get the right solution to execute the task. It might be a human being, or it might not be. But in either case, we’ll need to bring someone/something else into our processes. If we’ve written the proper process, we’ll know exactly how to execute it without hiring more staff than we need.

Are You Hiring?

I posted a job for what I’m calling a Case Coordinator on a site called HireMyMom. I received a lot more applications than I expected, but I was able to follow up with a clear email regarding expectations and tasks. I’d done the work to outline the tasks and now I’m getting just enough help to execute them.

If you’ve hired well, please share any ideas you have for doing it better. Although I recognize that owning sometimes means managing, many of my HR problems have been of my own making. Hopefully these few hard-learned tips will help both of us avoid the mistakes I’ve made in the past.