Practice Management — 22 April 2011
Part III: Staffing your firm with a Dream Team

Congratulations! You have successfully navigated the murky waters of the job candidate pool. Because you were diligent in your research, contemplative in creating applicant questions and committed to find the best and brightest for your support staff, you’re ready to hire a great new employee who will actively contribute to your firm’s success.

Extending the Offer

By now, you should have invested time researching the pay range for the Dream Team position you want filled and determined which, if any, employment benefits you will offer to your Dream Teamers, including health insurance, 401(k)plans and paid vacation time.  You should also know what the candidate is looking to earn. If what you are willing to pay is much less than the candidate’s ideal salary, the individual is probably not a good fit, even if he or she accepts the offer.

Once you have made your final selection, you should call the candidate in for one final meeting where you will present your offer. During this meeting, the candidate may try to negotiate the offered salary. Make sure you are prepared for such a conversation. If you have some flexibility, with the salary you will pay your new employee, be sure to clearly define the range before you begin the negotiation.

During the offer meeting, inform the candidate that you are extending an offer and clearly define the salary, benefits and the role that the candidate will play in the firm.  Unlike the first few meetings with the candidate, this one should be spent selling the position to the candidate. Take time to answer any questions that they may have and then ask them for a verbal acceptance. Should they accept, you should have the formal offer letter to the candidate as quickly as possible. In the letter, be sure to include how long they have to give the firm formal written acceptance of the offer (generally no more than 3 business days).

Employee handbooks

Employees are a reflection of the company or employer for whom they work. As such, it is imperative that you establish clear rules of professionalism during the work hours.  These “Do’s and Don’ts” should always be in writing and should be included in a formal employee handbook. These guides are necessary even for solo-practitioners who may only have one or two staff members. Employee handbooks should be comprehensive and strategically organized. You might consider dividing the manual into two sections; the first section should include employee-specific information whereas the second section should detail general company policy. As you create your handbook, be sure to include guidelines pertaining to the following matters:

Attendance and tardiness

Sick days

Vacation time

Employee benefits

Dress code

Overtime

Standard of conduct

Client confidentiality

Use of company time and technology (email, personal usage on internet, phone)

Employment facilities

By law, you must also include:

Family medical leave policies

Equal employment and non-discrimination policies

Worker’s compensation policies

If your firm does not have a written policy regarding a certain behavior, but you later penalize an employee for it, you might be running afoul of employment laws. Meanwhile, for the written rules to have any credibility, employees must be notified of them. An easy and effective way to prove that is to have new staffers sign an acknowledgement indicating their receipt of the handbook.

Revisit the rules often; update as necessary. And, whatever you do, enforce the rules contained in your handbook consistently. Not doing so exposes your firm to allegations of discrimination.

Spring Training for Your New Team Member

Once your new employee has thoroughly reviewed the handbook, it is time to start training. Whether your firm favors on-the-job training, enrolling the new staffer in outside courses or a mixture of both, your Dream Teamer-in-the-making will likely need some molding and direction.

You should first identify exactly what procedures you will need to train the new employee in and then prioritize the order in which you think they should be covered. If your firm has the resources, it is a good idea to create a manual detailing the specific processes that you would like the staff member to follow for various office responsibilities. These should be written out in an easy to follow step-by-step format. This can be a big undertaking but it is a valuable tool in training and can serve as a reference for your new employee (and future employees) for months to come.

As you train your new employee, be certain to remain patient, consistent and positive. Starting any job can be overwhelming so make sure you consistently check in with the new employee. This will make them feel comfortable about asking questions and allow you to identify any knowledge gaps early on.  With the appropriate amount of training and support, your new employee may just develop into your firm’s newest superstar.

This was Part III of a three-part series about Hiring a Dream Team Support Staff. Part I discussed initial considerations of the employee search. Part II focused on learning more about the job candidate through personal interviews, background and reference checks.

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