Imagine what your firm would look like if EVERY team member had a professional development coach. Sound crazy? It’s not!
Today, Stephanie talks with Professional Development Coach Robin Carberry about why and how Affinity Consulting/Lawyerist decided to hire an internal coach for everyone on the team and how law firm owners can start coaching their team members today.
Links from the episode:
Simplifying Coaching by Claire Pedrick
Time To Think by Nancy Kline
If today’s podcast resonates with you and you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free!
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Zack Glaser (00:35):
Hi, I’m Jennifer Whigham.
Jennifer Whigham (00:36):
And I’m Zack. And this is episode 485 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Stephanie talks with Robin Carberry about coaching our people here at Affinity.
Zack Glaser (00:48):
Do you think that Robin would tell us not to use each other’s names in the intro?
Jennifer Whigham (00:53):
I dunno. That’s a really good question. Here’s what I think. So we have hired these new coaches, what we’re calling coaches at Affinity slash Lawyerist, with the idea that managers shouldn’t have to do everything. They shouldn’t have to do process priorities, also manage interpersonal relationships. Relationships kind of like your spouse can’t be everything to you. Your manager also can’t be anything to you. So we’ve hired what we call professional development coaches with the idea that they can be the safe place to land for our staff members and our team members. So say they’re having, they want to talk through an issue they’re having with their manager or they’re not sure why they’re procrastinating at work or any of those type of things this new coach should be able to help with. Well then the manager, other manager that frees them up to actually manage the work, the actual work part of it. And that’s a long way of saying, I think Robin would say we should always switch it up, think out of the box and be creative. And if switching up our names is the way to do that, that’s how we do it.
Zack Glaser (02:00):
That feels right to me. Well, I already like Robin and I haven’t met her.
Jennifer Whigham (02:04):
Oh, I love Robin. She has cool hair. Oh, she is like the coolest rockstar hair. Different colors and different colors. I always appreciate that. My husband always has different color hair and so Robin is my husband. That’s not true at all. But anyways, Robin’s very cool and we just hired a couple of other coaches now that this experiment works so well who will now start coaching other parts of the team and the way that I just described. So I think it’s a cool experiment that I haven’t actually heard in other businesses. I’m interested to see how it goes.
Zack Glaser (02:36):
Yeah, I think I read an article about this a little bit ago about how some other companies were doing this where I like that it’s separating the two functions
Jennifer Whigham (02:48):
I do too,
Zack Glaser (02:49):
Of a manager quote. Because many times, instead of hiring a professional development coach that just doesn’t at a company and it is easier to train and hire internally, essentially promote people internally, get people to do things better and smarter and whatnot from internal than it is to hire somebody new. It costs a lot of money to hire somebody new.
Jennifer Whigham (03:18):
It does. It costs a lot of money to hire someone new. And I think the idea of having, what I really like about it is it feels very people forward to give someone a safe place to land that is separated from their work product to me is really valuable. And I think it’ll be valuable to me because the person that’s making sure you do your work, do you also want to come to them with an interpersonal conflict? You might be having, what if you’re having an interpersonal conflict with your manager? Going to HR has always been, okay, go to hr, but what if there’s an intermediary? I really, I’d like this concept.
Zack Glaser (03:53):
Yeah. Well, let’s hear from Stephanie and Robin on this concept directly.
Robin Carberry (04:02):
Hey everybody, while I adjust in my seat, I’m going to introduce myself. So my name is Robin Carberry. I am a professional development coach and I have to stop saying the professional development coach, Stephanie, because now there’s going to be more than one. But I am a professional development coach at Affinity Consulting. I’ve been in the online coaching space for about eight years now. Worked at a law firm before that, interestingly enough, being a paralegal, doing a state administration, prepares you for a lot of things. One of those things is coaching. So just a little bit about my background.
Stephanie Everett (04:38):
I love that. And for those who might not remember, Affinity Consulting and Lawyerist are one company now. So Robin actually works with us and our team. And so we are excited to have a conversation today about this whole idea of having a coach internally for your team, which is basically what we’ve done, right?
Robin Carberry (04:59):
That’s exactly what we’ve done. And what’s interesting to me is that this is a new concept or a relatively new concept. Most companies don’t have an internal coach who is completely 100% dedicated to that company, to those team members, to those employees, to everybody. Most companies who do have internal coaching, they contract with somebody, they bring somebody in on a term consulting almost type of basis to deal with a particular situation or a particular employee.
Stephanie Everett (05:35):
Yeah. Well, I guess to give us some background, why don’t you explain to us what it is. I know we talk about coaching a lot on the podcast, and is there a difference between business coaching that we do for our clients, for lab and for what this type of coaching is? Maybe you could just kind of give us an overview of what we’re talking about.
Robin Carberry (05:55):
That’s actually a really question, Stephanie, because I feel like the term coach is thrown around a lot, especially in the online space. If you’re doing anything remote based or you have an online portion to your business or whatever it happens to be, coach means different things to different people. And that’s something I’ve really uncovered as we were interviewing these two new coaches who are joining us, that it can mean different things to some people, and this really can be more applicable in a business coaching sense that there is a teaching component to it, that it isn’t simply just coaching. And I’ll explain just coaching in a minute, but you are consulting in addition to coaching and coaching, coaching in terms of how we define it now at Affinity Lawyerist for professional development coaches is you are not actually giving people the answers. You’re not making recommendations based on your experience as to what would be most effective or efficient for them. You are really helping those people discover the answers or discovering how to figure out the answers themselves, using their internal resources, using things that they know and understand and putting your full confidence in them as a complete unique, smart, resilient person who is showing up to work through a particular issue. So while there are elements of that in the coaching that you do in Lab for Lawyerist, there’s also a consulting aspect to it that we don’t have in this internal position.
Stephanie Everett (07:32):
For sure. That makes sense. So then I guess people are probably wondering what type of issues would an employee bring to their professional development coach?
Robin Carberry (07:43):
Oh gosh, there’s so many possibilities here. It could be as simple as here’s something that’s challenging me in my particular position. It could be like I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge. I don’t feel like I have the flexibility to make decisions. I feel like I have to run things by multiple people. I feel like when I decide to do something that my answers are always wrong. I can’t manage multiple priorities. I feel like there are too many demands on my time. I don’t know how to schedule my day out. I’m having a really hard time communicating with the person who reports to me or to whom I report. We never can seem to be on the same page. My team is a mess. We can’t seem to get anything accomplished on time, on budget. I could go on and on and on. But the challenges that you experience in your workday, I’m not happy with my job. What’s wrong with me?
Stephanie Everett (08:37):
Yeah, I’m sure everyone listening to that litany was just like, oh my gosh, my team probably needs that kind of help. And I think traditionally we have said there’s a role of manager, and at least what we’ve always taught inside of Lawyerist Lab when we’re doing our business coaching is that really managers have a huge coaching element to if you’re doing a manager role, you should be coaching your team members and helping them get those skills, answer those questions, work through those roadblocks. And yet it seems to me that a lot of managers, people we’ve put in the manager role are not necessarily trained or equipped or ready to do that work.
Robin Carberry (09:26):
So that’s a hundred percent true and I think it’s overlooked that this is actually a skill that you need to develop. Nobody is born knowing how to coach. Most people who get elevated to management and above, I shouldn’t say most, many people who get elevated to management and above get elevated because they did a particular job really, really well and they’re like, oh, you’re an amazing estate administration paralegal. Now you should be the supervisor of all of the estate administration paralegals. Completely different skillsets. And then what traditionally is taught to people, to the extent things are taught in terms of managing coaching is something that’s fairly new to that equation and isn’t something that people have any knowledge of how helpful it can be or what it even means. And that is something that you have to go out and learn and educate yourself on. And there are tons of resources that don’t require you to actually go get certified as a coach to be able to do that.
Stephanie Everett (10:29):
Yeah, I mean, I know we have modules inside of lab now where we do teach this skill. Here’s how you can do a one-on-one with a team member and basically take them through a coaching session. And we practice it too. We actually, we do workshops where we practice this skill. So I would echo that you don’t need to go get certified to be a coach, but you do need to learn a few key things. I guess if we were just giving someone some ideas on how to get started, I mean, my advice, I’m curious to hear yours would be listen and ask questions
Robin Carberry (11:02):
Exactly in that order. Listen,
Listen, don’t listen to think, what am I going to say next? How am I going to respond? I have the answer to that. I can solve that problem. Just listen and then ask a question and listen to the response and really hold yourself back from giving advice because giving advice starts that cycle of dependency. The team member depends on you to be the one to give them the answer. The team member doesn’t trust themselves to take action without getting the answer from you, without making sure you approve. Then you end up with so much more on your plate and a team that’s dependent upon you to get anything accomplished. And that just sounds like bottlenecks left, right, forwards and backwards.
Stephanie Everett (11:52):
Yeah, that makes sense. What are some of the advantages that you’ve seen or some of the things you’ve seen unlocked since we’ve started putting this in place with the team?
Robin Carberry (12:02):
It’s funny. It can be surprising the way things show up. First of all, most of the people that I’ve worked with so far at Affinity and Lawyerist haven’t been coached themselves before. The coaches and Lawyerist are an exception to that for sure, because most coaches have coaches. That’s just kind of a thing with coaches. But it’s surprising what people start to bring to the table when they realize that first of all, they’re in a safe place where there isn’t communication outside of that coaching container that I am not going to their supervisor, I’m not going to leadership. I’m not going to tell anybody about what’s happening in that container. So they can bring whatever they want to that space. And then just sort of sitting back and letting people actually figure things out for themselves and having that moment of, wow, I’ve really never said that to anybody before, but it makes so much sense. And that can cover anything from a struggle they’ve had with being able to report their time. They know they’re supposed to report their time, they know that’s something that they need to do, but it’s something that they struggle to make part of their routine and realizing why that’s a struggle because maybe it’s telling a story that they’re afraid to tell or don’t want to tell. All of a sudden that just frees up and it takes away that block. That’s just one example.
Stephanie Everett (13:31):
Yeah, that makes sense. Is there prompting or educating you have to do because people are showing up to these calls and they’re like, I don’t know what we’re supposed to discuss. And I think it’s relevant because when I’ve tried to train our lawyers who run their firms to do these kind of calls with their team, I think it’s a similar struggle where they’re like, okay, I’ve gotten some great training, now I know how to support you better in our one-on-ones, and I’m going to listen and ask questions. So what’s going on? And that person who’s never experienced coaching before, that team member is looking at them, I dunno, everything’s good. What are we supposed to talk about?
Robin Carberry (14:11):
So that does happen, and it can take some time to develop that different level of communication. And you also might have to ask yourself if you’re in that position, alright, what does communication look like with this person in the past? Do we have a level of trust established? Do they know that they can bring something to me and it’s going to stay in this space between the two of us? But it also doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a little thing. It’s like, okay, if you don’t have anything you really want to talk about today, cool, tell me something awesome that happened last week, or what’s something that kind of has been bugging you or what do you need today? And it could just be smaller questions like that that can open a door to something else.
Stephanie Everett (15:04):
What are some of the challenges? So I mean, I think we’ve kind of said this without saying this. We hired you and said, we want to do this. And you started coaching a subset of our larger team. We picked some sub-teams and it was a little bit of an experiment. Now we’re like, we love it. We’re all in. So we’re bringing on these other coaches. So every person on our team, which is over 90 people large now is going to have one of these folks, these coaches they can go to. And so we’re going all in with it. But I think you’ve also discovered some challenges to getting going and how we should navigate this new, and we’re sort of making it up in our minds.
Robin Carberry (15:42):
So the reason I’m here literally is because you read an article Stephanie on LinkedIn about a company that replaced all of their managers with coaches. So when I came in the door, that was really the expectation is that I was replacing a team lead and serving in that team lead role as a coach. And there’s a lot of, not a lot, but there’s some things that are inherently challenging about that. And part of that, and not to keep harping on the safe container that a coach has with the person that they’re coaching, but it can be more challenging to create that safe container 100% as a coach, if you are also the person who’s doing performance evaluations, if you’re also the person who’s giving feedback on areas of potential improvement. And it can be harder for an employee to come to a conversation like that and be willing to really share what’s going on for them.
Maybe they’re having a challenging time at home and that’s why deadlines have been slipping, but they don’t necessarily want to share that with you, afraid they’ll get in trouble. So actually really clearly separating out the areas of responsibility of the coach versus the manager or the leader with the leader still taking on coaching responsibilities in their role, but separately giving that person that safe space to explore, to talk about, Hey, maybe this job isn’t really where I want to be in a year or five years. What are some things that we can explore that will help me stay with this organization that’s amazing and still make a contribution, but perhaps doing something slightly different or something that takes better advantage of my skillsets or the things that I love to do. So hopefully that answered your question. I felt like I really started to step a little sideways
Stephanie Everett (17:40):
There. No, I think it’s a good lesson of what does the role of the coach play when it comes to performance issues? And in a subtle way, a careful way, you’ve been able to influence both sets of the parties. I’ve experienced this where you’ve had a conversation with me, a coaching conversation with me where you’ve helped me appreciate and define how maybe I need to show up for a team member differently without divulging anything that that person said, right? That safe space was still there, but you are more showing up like, okay, Stephanie, you like to communicate directly. Well, how could that show up if the team member is uncomfortable with that? I don’t know. I’m trying to make up an example here because noticed it, but in such a subtle way that if you’re doing it, you’re like a master puppetry artist because I think you’re just doing it naturally and helping me and that team member communicate because you’re sort of coaching us both parallel, but without breaking any lines, does that feel like I’ve at all said it correctly?
Robin Carberry (18:50):
Yeah. It’s funny because one of the people that I interviewed for the new professional development coach position, one of the questions one of those people asked me was, so most of the people I coach, it’s like in six month engagements and then they’re done and then they move on and then they don’t need me anymore. Do you see that happening here? And I said, well, no, we’re taking a slightly different perspective in that this is a long-term relationship that you’re developing with people, and there’s always going to be something that comes up that they’re going to need support through working out. And I’m circling back to answer your question now. In doing that, you develop the relationships with the people, with the team members, but also the leaders that you’re coaching, and you can start to see themes develop as you’re developing these relationships. Maybe it’s manifesting for one person one way and one person a different way that you then can bring to somebody else and have a coaching conversation around the leader or somebody in a different part of the organization that impacts your team or whatever it happens to be. But as you’re developing those long-term relationships, you get to see a bigger picture and can bring those things to the table without divulging any confidences
Stephanie Everett (20:14):
For people who are listening and thinking, okay, this sounds good, but maybe I don’t have the exact resources to bring on three professional development coaches like we’ve done. What advice would you give them to how to get started or to maybe to think about some of these ideas and incorporate it into their practice?
Robin Carberry (20:33):
So there’s a couple of books that I can recommend, one of which happens to be sitting literally right next to me. It’s called Simplifying Coaching by Claire. I’m not sure how you pronounce her last name, but it’s the subtitles, how to Have More Transformational Conversations by Doing Less. So this is a great resource for anybody who’s a coach, but anybody who wants to incorporate coaching into their style, into their management style. So that is one thing for sure. I have another recommendation along the same lines. It’s called Time to Think listening to Ignite the Human Mind by Nancy Klein, which is another book on the theme of listening and then asking certain types of questions to allow that person to continue to think. And the big idea behind that is that nobody gets enough thinking time. They don’t get enough time and space to really work through a problem themselves and come up with a plan themselves that they own, that they’re invested in now because they’re the ones who came up with it. But simply because you’ve given them the space to sit and listen. And that’s something that anybody can do with family members, with friends, but with team members especially. So just reading those two books and getting started by like, okay, how can I listen more and ask better questions?
Stephanie Everett (22:05):
Yeah, I love that. We’ll make sure to put the links in the show notes to those two resources to those two books. And it’s great because coaching is a skill that works everywhere. So sometimes I’ve noticed I practice a little maybe with my spouse, maybe instead of going into solve mode when he’s telling me a problem, I sit and I listen and maybe ask a few questions. Or even with my child, I’ve noticed it’s a skill we can practice in multiple arenas and for sure with our team as well. So I would encourage everyone to just try and get started.
Robin Carberry (22:39):
And you just said something there, Stephanie, that I think bears repeating instead of going into solve mold. That’s a default, I think for so many people out there. It’s like, I want to fix it. I just want to fix it. I can fix it. I know I can fix it. And often your answer isn’t the answer that the person having the issue would’ve come up with on their own. And they might do what you say simply because you said it, but without fully understanding why or for it to be the answer that truly works for them. So allowing them to come up with their own solution usually means the problem actually gets resolved and doesn’t keep circling around and coming back again and again and again. So you don’t have to solve everything simply because you’re somebody’s manager, you’re somebody’s boss because you’re running the team, because you’re the managing partner of the law firm. You literally don’t have time to solve every single problem that’s out there. So by giving people tools, listening to them, asking questions, letting them solve their own problems, you’re actually running a much more efficient firm if you’re doing that.
Stephanie Everett (23:48):
I love that, and this is going to be really silly, but I watched, okay, I watched Way More Hallmark Christmas movie channel this year than I should have. We just had it going in the background sometimes. It was kind of fun, I mean, because everyone knows the storyline. You don’t really have to pay attention to those movies, but there was one, and this woman kind of taught her fellow travelers this idea of like, do you want to be heard, helped or hugged? And that’s what she said, and I was really, it’s been interesting since our family kind of heard that, watch that on that movie. Sometimes you just want to be heard and you actually don’t need anything else and sometimes help. I think to your point, could just be asking more questions. It doesn’t necessarily mean solving the problem, but helped in finding a path to the solution. And sometimes you just need a hug or a virtual hug or a virtual whatever that looks like for people. That idea of just like, yeah. So that was my takeaway from my Hallmark movie watching this
Robin Carberry (24:52):
Year. I think that’s great coaching advice. I literally want to write that down on a post-it and stick it up on my screen to remind me, because I go into fix it mode too. It happens to me all the time. And just that simple reminder, do you want to be heard, helped or hugged? That’s great. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I should watch more Hallmark movies clearly.
Stephanie Everett (25:12):
I don’t know, but that one was good, so I want to give them credit. I’ll find out the name of it. It might’ve been Holiday Road. I don’t know. There were many. They were all similar. Okay, last thing as we kind of wrap up here as one of our values for our team is stay curious. So sometimes I just like to ask people, it’s a new year and I’m curious what you are learning, what are you trying to work on or improve? And wherever you want to take that question.
Robin Carberry (25:41):
I have a stack of books which you can see behind me which are waiting to be read. So that’s always on my list. I mean as a coach, but with anything, this is really the case. There’s always something new you can learn. There’s always something that you can develop. There’s always something that you haven’t done before that you can try doing along those lines, I’m looking at actually getting certified through the ICF this year as coach something I’ve been sort of pushing aside for a long time. I didn’t believe it’s necessary and I’m not doing it because I believe it’s necessary. I’m doing it because curious and I’m interested, and I know there are things that I can learn from that experience. And I’m also doing some crochet projects instead of just messing around with the needle on the yarn, I’m actually making things. So that’s kind of fun too.
Stephanie Everett (26:35):
Awesome. I love that. I tried it once. I’m stuck on the second row, so I got to get someone to help me.
Robin Carberry (26:41):
There’s tons of YouTube out there. I promise you there’s so many different ways that you can learn so freaking cool about the world we live in right now. There’s so many different learning styles and you can find something for your learning style that will work for you. And something I read yesterday that also resonated with me is that you shouldn’t just do things that you’re good at as a grownup, we tend to just do things that we’re good at because then you’re not failing, then you’re not looking bad. And kids try new things all the time and they fail and they try again and they fail again and they try again. And bringing a little more of that, doing something just because fun and you enjoy it, not because you have to be good at it or because there has to be an end product is good for everybody.
Stephanie Everett (27:34):
I love that and I’m going to take that advice. I think there’s some things I’ve been wanting to try, but I know I’m not going to be good at it, and I think I get stuck in my own way. So I love that
Robin Carberry (27:44):
Nobody’s good at everything when they do it the first time. First time you got up to walk, you fell.
Stephanie Everett (27:50):
Yeah, it’s a good reminder, but it is hard, but I love that. Robin, thank you for being with me today. I’m so excited for the work that you’re doing with our team and with our community, and I know as we continue to learn from this big experiment that is your position, we’re going to continue to report back to our Lawyerist community because I think there’s a lot of great stuff that we’re doing, and I’m just really proud of you and the work you’re doing.
Robin Carberry (28:16):
Oh my gosh, I am so grateful to you because you are literally the reason that I’m here, and it’s been a really fun adventure and it’s going to continue to be, so I’m really excited about that. And thank you for having me today to talk a little bit about it.
Stephanie Everett (28:34):
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.