First-name terms give partners better returns

Every law firm is in the "people business" and those who fail to identify that are holding themselves back for the future.

Interpersonal relat-ionships are absolutely fundamental.

This means that partners and those in authority need to be approach- able and positive, and display the best of human characteristics.

This may mean breaking down some of the old barriers such as titles and formal names.

Many partners hide behind the insistent use of "Mr Smith" or "Mrs Jones" for fear that use of the first name will somehow undermine their authoritative position.

But titles do not bring respect – an individual's attitude is the only thing that can do that.

The display of genuine, sincere interest in junior colleagues is a far more heady achievement than a lofty title.

People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Such a display of interest is often treated by those who keep a manic nose to the grindstone as a waste of time and irrelevant.

They view those who take such an approach as obviously underworked or weak.

These are the people who are forever busy, busy, busy but rarely make the sort of impact that they can genuinely look back on with satisfaction. Their retirement presentations will be short and certainly not heartfelt by their staff – after all, they were never really in the team.

They are like the processionary caterpillars that, in experiments, follow each other round and round a pile of food before dying of starvation – confusing activity with accomplishment.

Those who can learn the art of mutual respect are often surprised at how easy and effective it can be.

But how many partners have read any self-development books in the last year?

Forget the novels and the newspapers, they should develop themselves so that they can properly lead and inspire others. If they help others to do the best job they can, everyone benefits. It is worth the time investment. Partners should therefore be urged to treat individuals as individuals.

Even European directives are leading employers down the avuncular, if not paternalistic, route.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Do not hide behind titles and formality as these are a mirage of success.

Be real, be approachable, be genuinely interested in all those with whom you work. Spell out the game plan.

Encourage, motivate and appraise the individual so that their confidence can be won.

Teams can thus be moulded, and not only the business but everyone within it will benefit. Is that not worth being in the team for?

Andrew Argyle is managing partner of Shakespeares.