Motivating Employees in a Lawfirm or Any Organization

I come at this question from both an evidence based and humanistic management perspective.  As I see it there are 3 keys to motivating employees in any organization.


1.    The work has to matter. It has to appeal to the moral imperative we all have. What problems are you solving? What happens if you don’t solve them? Why does solving them matter? And how does solving them help other people?  Is there a moral imperative to the work? Or is it just work?  Do your assistants know how what they do impacts the larger picture?  Or are they clueless about why you asked them to look up an obscure case?  Understanding why you are doing what you are doing and how it impacts real people – makes a difference.

2.    Is problem solving fun? Or frustrating?  All business solves problems. Lawfirms. Solve problems.  If everyone is oriented towards solving the same problem, work should be fun. If people are trying to solve different problems and they don’t respect each other – then problem solving won’t be fun. Or effective.  This is a leadership issue. How well does the team understanding the ultimate objective and is everyone on the team considered valuable? And able to give input?  Or are some people shut out because of their social position within the organization. There is nothing more demoralizing to an employee than having a great idea on how to solve a problem and having your managers ignore you or demean you for even suggesting an alternative. Be careful what you reward and what you punish. Which is why the third key is so important. 

3.    Is the work environment collegial – or is there bullying? It is pretty much impossible to be well motivated at work when you have a toxic co-worker. A bully in the workplace negatively impacts problem solving. Instead of working for the best outcomes, employees are working to protect themselves from the negative impacts of a co-worker.  Law firms are high intensity offices. It isn’t unusual for a pecking order to arise with the secretaries and paralegals and other assistants. Bullying, harassment, must be eliminated if you want highly motivated employees. Even if your work matters, if your workplace isn’t collegial and collaborative and if one individual is able to terrorize others, then you will never be able to create a collaborative and collegial environment where all employees can participate to their full potential.


Take bullying and harassment seriously. I teach how to make bullying and harassment stop using behavioral science techniques. I have experience teaching law firms these techniques. And offer MCLE and CE and continuing education for ALA (CLA) members. 

What does it mean to be practical

To me being practical means being reality based. I might be shooting for the sky – but my strategy to get there – is grounded in reality.

It does not mean to limit myself. It is just a reminder that if I want to achieve my goals – I need to take practical reality-based steps to make it a reality.

Being practical means understanding that my ultimate objective is more important than the steps I take to get there – so I can innovate and be flexible in my plans. 

Being practical means – not getting side tracked on fun things that don’t get me to my ultimate objective.

Of course, to be practical – means really understanding what my ultimate objective really is.

I offer online personal and professional development programs on humanist life skills. Just published my course – Planning for Personal Success ( as an ebook, a paperback and as an audio book.

Why, What, and How

Can asking some questions, like WHY, WHAT, and HOW helps us get past the current divisive moment we find ourselves in?  Yes.

I am a very opinionated person. I am an active citizen in a democracy. I take my responsibility to be aware of what is happening and to weigh in on solutions very seriously.  We clearly live in a very divisive time. And while I could and have opined on how we are being conditioned to not listen to each other. What I want to talk about today - is HOW we can actually start bridging these divides. 

All of us need to take responsibility for our side of this problem and engage with compassion and reason to fix it. In other words, what we all need is a big heaping dose of humanism and a willingness to ask ourselves and others - some questions. Reasonably and compassionately.

I have a lot of friends from a variety of political viewpoints. What I notice when we argues is that we rarely disagree on WHAT we think should happen. We are disagreeing about HOW to fix the problem. But we don’t know that we agree on WHAT because we are so busy disagreeing on the HOW.

When we disagree on HOW – it's easy to assume the other person doesn't agree on WHAT or maybe they don't even care. But in most cases - we actually do agree on WHAT - we just don't know that. And I find this to be true on even the most contentious issues - whether we are talking about abortion or immigration or health care or even racism! 

The fix is to realize when we are disagreeing on anything, we are probably disagreeing about HOW. To get us to rationally discussion HOW we need to get back to the WHAT by asking WHY.

WHY do we want to do whatever it is that we are discussing? WHAT do we really want to accomplish by doing that? We will almost always get to an agreement on WHAT ideally we want to happen. We are then able to have a rational discussion on HOW to do it.

For instance, I was discussing the death penalty with someone just the other day. WHY do they want the death penalty? WHAT exactly does society look like if they fix whatever problem it is they are hoping the death penalty will fix?  Chances are - I agree with them on WHAT it looks like when we fix the crime problem. The debate over the death penalty isn't a debate about WHAT - which is a society without violence. It's a debate about HOW - to create that society. Once we understand that - we can have a rational and compassionate and science based discussion on HOW.

The method? 

Ask WHY to fully understand your ideal WHAT. Only then should you start discussing HOW.

When you are fighting with someone over HOW – end the fight by asking WHY questions about the HOWs to understand and get consensus on the WHAT. Once there is consensus on WHAT – the arguments usually go away.

This method – works – for work, politics, religion and - well - EVERYTHING! 

How do we get there – by reminding ourselves that most humans actually do agree on the WHAT.  So don’t let disagreements and arguments over HOW derail discussions or cause unnecessary divisions. We really do have more in common than we realize.

Relevant programs/books:

Using Leadership Skills with Family Members

Companies increasingly value soft skills like communication, empathy, conflict resolution, collaborative ability, etc. Can we and should we use the leadership skills we learn at work to manage difficult people in our personal lives?


Leadership skills are definitely transferable. For instance you can use your leadership skills to gain consensus on holiday plans. Or even just – what movie are you going to see.  I realize I should have posted this - before the holidays, but better late than never. 

Leadership skills in particular - can help you deal with difficult people. Knowing how to work around the difficulty and get them focused on what is important is helpful. Knowing how to de-escalate conflicts to focus on the matter at hand – helpful. 

To quote Depeche Mode – people are people. Whether they are in the workplace or at home –  they are human beings and knowing how to relate to people – is an important life skills.

I teach how to stop unwanted behavior using behavioral techniques known as operant conditioning. One of the applications is how to de-escalate conflicts. The skill though - can help stop bullying and abusive behavior. It can help you remain calm when others are freaking out. I joke that I teach one thing – but apply it to a variety of very specific situations. But it’s really just one skill set.

And it is applicable in your interpersonal relationships and your work relationships. It's why I teach both kids, parents and business professionals how to stop bullying and de-escalate conflicts.  It's the same skill set. 

To learn more - take one of my online courses.

Or purchase one of my books:

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