Amy Gardner & Keith Sbiral: Reintegration and Rebuilding After Remote Work

Episode Notes

In this episode, Steve Fretzin, Amy Gardner, and Keith Sbiral discuss:


Key Takeaways:


"Don’t wait. Have these conversations now and figure out what is going on now." —  Keith Sbiral


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Show notes by Podcastologist Chelsea Taylor-Sturkie


Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions. You're the expert. Your podcast will prove it. 

Episode Transcription

Keith Sbiral  0:00  

Whether you are actually a team working on a project or a case, or you're a group of five partners that really kind of work independently, but you are together in a firm, taking this as an opportunity to revisit the vision of what your organization is doing. Revisit kind of your values as an organization and what it means to be part of that team, what it means to be part of that organization, and then making sure that you're giving the members of the team the tools they need to make that become a reality.


Narrator  0:35  

You're listening to be that lawyer, life changing strategies and resources for growing a successful law practice. Each episode, your host, author and lawyer coach, Steve Fretzin, will take a deeper dive, helping you grow your law practice in less time with greater results. Now, here's your host, Steve Fretzin!


Steve Fretzin  0:57  

Hey, everybody, welcome to be that lawyer. As the announcer mentioned, my name is Steve Fretzin. And I am the chief bottle washer and owner of the business. And what we do here is we help lawyers to be that lawyer, someone who's confident organized in a skilled Rainmaker. We've got books, we've got videos, we've got this podcast, and I'm running all different kinds of programs, not focused on law firms, but focused on you, the lawyer to grow your law, practice, whether you're at a big firm or you're a solo doesn't matter. All I care about is that you're interested, ambitious and coachable. And there might be something there. But in order to make sure that you're staying on track, we've got this great show, and we hope that you get more and more value out of it every single time you listen, today should be no different. I've got some amazing guests. Today, we've got Keith Sbiral and Amy Gardner of approach of Apple kroetsch Matic now I just messed it up on purpose for them. It's apochromatic. I told him I was gonna do that, and I pulled the trigger on it. So anyway, welcome, guys. How's it going?


Amy Gardner  1:58  

Good. Thanks for having us.


Steve Fretzin  2:00  

Yeah, my pleasure. So who wants to be the leader of the team to share a little bit more about your lovely business with the crazy fun name, especially explaining the name since people don't know what the heck I'm talking about?


Amy Gardner  2:12  

I nominate Keith to go first.


Keith Sbiral  2:15  

I definitely want to be the one to explain the name. So, the name is Apochromatik. And the thought behind that is that an Apochromatik lens in a camera lens is a lens that eliminates distortion, and eliminates kind of those things along the edges, the fringe and the color distortion that happen when light hits lenses. And so that's what we do, right? we eliminate that distortion from your career, your life and try to focus you on moving forward. That's why we call it ApochromatiK. Amy had a much more direct name that everyone could pronounce and the trademark and people in the places that make those decisions. Didn't like that man.


Amy Gardner  2:20  

And as a former IP lawyer, I said, we have to have the trademark. So whatever, you figure out something else,


Steve Fretzin  3:00  

Let's look at the positive two, when people mess up the name intentionally or unintentionally, it gives you an opportunity to explain not only the name, pronunciation, but what it means and what it could mean to the person you're talking to. So I think there's something positive to be said for that.


Keith Sbiral  3:14  

All in the marketing, right?


Steve Fretzin  3:16  

Yeah. So do me a favor, Keith, let's start with you. And just give a little my audience a little bit of a background on what you do


Keith Sbiral  3:21  

So I work with apochromatic is a career and team development leadership coach, I have about a 20 year career in management. And I've really worked with teams to try to bring them together. And to have a strong mission and a strong ability to work positively together. I worked in city government for almost 18 years. And in that time, I have dealt with numerous interviews and career aspects of resumes, and all those type of things. And so we really kind of offer everything from start to finish with respect to career.


Steve Fretzin  3:55  

Got it kind of wonderful. And Amy, how about yourself, you want to give a little background IP lawyer?


Amy Gardner  4:00  

Sure. So I keep and I have very different backgrounds, which I think is really helpful in our work with teams. But I'm not sure we should have probably warned you. This is only our second podcast interview together. So I think everybody should feel some empathy for you. So I'm a recovering attorney, former law school dean of students at the University of Chicago and now with Keith, I work with both teams and individual attorneys as a certified career development and career transitions coach and team development and leadership consultant. So what that means is I work with teams of professionals, particularly teams of lawyers, or where it's lawyers and other professionals who work with them to get aligned and we help them become more engaged, effective and efficient. And then the second piece of my work is coaching attorneys one on one and in our small group attorney mastermind future and focus, which you're familiar with Steve, since you spoke to our most recent cohort about business development.


Steve Fretzin  4:49  

Yeah, really terrific group, very active participants really wanted to engage, which I thought was terrific. Sometimes groups of lawyers if that's who I'm speaking to, it's like, how do I get these people to talk How do I get them to engage, but your group was right in there with us? So what are some of the things that lawyers are facing? Whether it's COVID, post COVID, cultures being devastated by remote work? What are you guys seeing out there, that's just breaking down the legal landscape a little bit and not in a good way.


Keith Sbiral  5:19  

There's a couple things, I think it's really important to note that research is showing as this is coming to fruition, that productivity is staying really high, even though we're remote working. And people are taking that piece of evidence and saying, we should do this forever. And the reality is, the other piece of evidence that you might want to mix with that is that people are also working three hours a day more from home, because your computer is your computer, a lot of people are working from their dining room table. So you walk by you have that urge to check the message, that urge to send one more message that urge to review one more documents. So the way that our career and our job is sort of dovetailing into our life in a way that's harder and harder to get the pause that we need, whether that be a commute, that you listen to a podcast, or listen to music, or whatever other ways you relax, are being decimated. And you add that to the fact that zoom meeting starts at 10 o'clock and you jump right into work. And then they end at 10:30. And you're off the zoom meeting, you don't get any time to socialize or talk usually, because that's just the way it's kind of worked itself out. And you don't give yourself time at home to get up and talk to the person in the other office. Because the person the other office is the first bedroom or the living room. So


Steve Fretzin  6:38  

Get your kids in school and you don't want to talk to them, leave them alone.


Keith Sbiral  6:41  

There's a lot of so there's a lot of disruption. And we've learned to deal with that over the year. And now we're gonna have to learn to change that back in some way.


Steve Fretzin  6:51  

Yeah, Amy would you like to add to that? That'd be great.


Amy Gardner  6:53  

Yeah, and I think I mean, it's important to remember to who has been most affected by the struggles of the last year, right, we know from the numbers that women have borne much of the brunt of the pandemic are women of color in particular. And so we're seeing that certainly, the experience of some attorneys has been very different than the experience of other attorneys or of support staff. And I think it's also important to think about the fact that it's not just so much you're working from home, it's more that you're living at work in a lot of cases. And so I think a lot of people are having trouble separating that out. And the expectations have changed over the last year, whereas last March, it was like, Oh, thank you for being on this call. Now, it's like, there's just a higher level of expectation in terms of responsiveness and how much people are going to be working. We also know that burnout numbers are way up even since August, burnout numbers are way up. So that's a struggle that we're seeing. And we're hearing from a lot of attorneys who are reaching out to us for career transition services who are saying, I wouldn't have left my firm a year ago, or I wouldn't have left my employer a year ago. But now that they realize they don't have any time with the co workers that they enjoy working with, aren't having the time with the supervisor that they really look up to, then it's becoming much easier to decide. It's really just about the work and the salary. And so I'm going to go somewhere else. So we're seeing some negative effects of steps that some employers took a year ago, things like getting rid of one on ones, getting rid of Friday, happy hour kind of things to try to make it life easier for people, they were doing it to be kind. But what it's meant is that employee engagement or disengagement is at an all time high and employee engagement as an all time low.


Steve Fretzin  8:31  

So transition that because there's obviously that we can come back to the personal things that are going on for people with their health, their mental health, and the struggles of the work life balance. But let's also transition to the other piece of it that you guys are seeing, which is the culture, the teams and the culture and how it's impacted, how it's impacting not being in that office every day, and not having your mentor right there. And especially for the younger lawyers that need that type of synergy and that type of mentorship. What are you seeing there?


Amy Gardner  9:01  

As I mentioned, so many of these informal or less formal interactions have been cancelled as supervisors are trying to be kind, right managing partners are saying, we don't have to have a team meeting every week. Let's do it every other week, because they're trying to free up people's time. They know people are under a lot of pressures. The problem is when you're getting rid of the formal interactions or reducing those at the same time that the informal interactions are much harder to come by, right, you're not walking to the parking garage together at night, you're not waiting for the elevator together at night. And we're seeing that younger associates are missing out on those opportunities. I mean, I think about how much I learned as a junior associate at a big law firm, just from tagging along to court or sitting next to somebody in a deposition and watching how they handled a situation or just being able to run down to a co workers office when I got a nasty gram from opposing counsel. And so what do I do with this? Right? It just feels much more formal now that you need to schedule a time to get on zoom. And we're seeing that it can be really harmful in terms of attorneys development and in terms of how invested they feel. The firm is in them. And then the reverse, of course, how invested they are in their employer.


Steve Fretzin  10:04  

Because I think what they're saying, and my son, this is I'm not sure exactly when this is going to air, but my son is back in school full time. And thank God for that. But the difference between the interaction between the teachers and the kids and all that and being sitting in his bedroom on a call, and then how are law firms going to bring people back? What's the incentive? And how's that going to go? Do you guys have a feeling about that?


Keith Sbiral  10:28  

I think there's a lot of things coming into play, right. So it isn't just a matter of saying, flipping the switch back on and saying lights are on come in the office, you're gonna have caretakers who are taking care of kids who are still at home, you're gonna have situations where you have folks that have immunocompromised spouses, or people in their family that are really hesitant, really nervous to come back into the office, you're going to have support staff that's going to feel differently than maybe the partners do. So you have all these things coming into some sort of a decision that has to happen. And that's all in the environment of where we are right now. Which is, and I'm sure you've heard this, but we hear this pretty regularly now from clients that people are really kind of on the edge of their seat, people will trigger to being angry or misunderstanding something very quickly now, because the time when the sort of strange email went out, and you just ran down the hall and said, Hey, it was the same demeanor, what would you do there is gone, right. So we don't have that ability to easily do that. Because as much as easy to pick up the phone, or jump on a zoom call, we're not doing that as much. So nerves are afraid, people are frustrated. And now there's going to be in that environment, another really major change. So what we're seeing is employers and those who are leading teams really need to handle this in a delicate matter and make sure that it's a collaborative decision and make sure that reintegration is exactly the opposite of what happened last March. So one day we were at work one day, we weren't at work, this is going to have to be a much slower, more contemplative process that people really think about an honor everyone's feelings on.


Steve Fretzin  12:09  

Okay, let's transition from sort of problems to solutions. So you have a unique business, working in a number of areas, coaching, training, consultancy, working with teams working with individuals, you're sort of doing a lot of different things, what are like the top two or three things that you to focus on. And then I'd like to talk about some things that you might be able to help my audience with, that they may be struggling with. So let's start in one place, and we'll move to the next.


Amy Gardner  12:34  

So the number one thing that we're spending much of our time on right now is working with teams of attorneys. And that's often on things like building trust, resolving conflict, talking about what do we want things to look like when we're back? Most places seem to be thinking of doing a hybrid model. So how are we going to work that out? And what is that going to look like? So as Keith said, in last March of 2020, it was very much like, Okay, we got to get out of here, right? pick what you think you're going to need for a few weeks. And as firms bring people back, and more people come back to the office, you have to think through, you can't just say people can work from home two days a week, you got to figure out what that's going to look like, you got to figure out how you're going to rebuild those relationships, and make sure that the team can be working together productively. So that's a big area of emphasis for us. And then the second piece is working with individual attorneys on career development and career transitions, either through one on one coaching, or through our small group attorney mastermind future and focus, we do have some other offerings as well. But those two areas of working with teams and working with individual attorneys are really where we spend much of our time is that fair case? You think?


Keith Sbiral  13:39  

Yeah. And I think just to build off what you said, on teams, I think that whether you are actually a team working on a project or a case, or you're a group of five partners that really kind of work independently, but you are together in a firm, taking this as an opportunity to revisit the vision of what your organization is doing. Revisit kind of your values as an organization and what it means to be part of that team, what it means to be part of that organization. And then making sure that you're giving the members of the team the tools they need to make that become a reality. And one of the biggest things that I think the last 12 months have done is they've put trust into question in a lot of cases. And sometimes there was some question as to complete trust in a team to start with, and this hasn't helped it. And so taking time now to intentionally rebuild those bonds and those linkages and use this as an opportunity to almost clarify your goal, get rid of those aberrations, that happen is a great thing to do now, because you have the opportunity, you have the excuse you have the ability to do it.


Steve Fretzin  14:46  

Yeah. And let me go off that and say so what would be one or two additional things that you're working with your clients on to help them to rebuild that trust and to re integrate and to get their goals re established to their team? What are the kinds of Realize that you're running them through. And maybe there's some kind of tip or takeaway for my audience that they could say, Oh, that's something I should do with my team, or that's something I should recommend to my team leader, Keith, you want to hit that?


Keith Sbiral  15:10  

Go ahead Amy.


Steve Fretzin  15:11  

Passing the Baton? Okay Amy.


Amy Gardner  15:14  

So one thing that I think is really easy that anybody could do with their team is go back to whatever the firm's mission statement is, or the organization's mission statement is, if you don't have one, this may be a great time to write one, maybe you have a value statement that somebody wrote, when you're forming the firm, you know, however, many years ago, and you stuck it on a binder, or you put it on a plaque in the entryway and didn't ever look at, I have people sit down and talk about what those mean, and how they relate to them and how they relate to their work. You can do the same thing if you don't have either of those, which probably should. But if you don't have a mission statement, or values that you've agreed on as a team, or as a firm, maybe you go back to the goals, like look at the annual goals and talk about what each person is doing relates to those goals. We know that's especially important with millennials to see how what they're doing on a day to day basis feeds into larger goals. But there is no worker who doesn't appreciate knowing that what they're doing matters for the organization. So that's something that you can do very easily and just spend an hour with everybody going through those types of documents if you have those. But Keith, it looks like you had another idea. I think that you wanted to share?


Keith Sbiral  16:16  

The table exercise?


Amy Gardner  16:17  

Oh, nice. Yeah.


Keith Sbiral  16:20  

Here's something I like to do with clients. And I don't I as far as your listeners, do this with care and do this with kind of a Sherpa to help you along the way. But I like to call it the throw the skunk on the table exercise and like to clear the air, right, reset your bingo card, or whatever you want to say, shake the Etch A Sketch, whatever other 1980s reference you can possibly make here, start from scratch, get the things that nobody wants to talk about the elephants in the room, all of that on the table. And so we do is we call it skunk on the table. And you have to deliberately create a really safe environment that people aren't going to go after one another when that happens. But if you can lead a productive conversation, if everyone throws in one or two things that are really bothering them or have been issues in the past, even before COVID. And you can kind of methodically go through them in an organized manner. And clear those big underlying issues up, you can see very, very short term success and progress. I'm talking a few weeks to meetings to get some really amazing results. And so exercises like that I think are really beneficial to try to get some of the things that are just nagging problems. They were there before COVID. Maybe they were maybe exacerbated by COVID. But this


Steve Fretzin  17:42  

Is it, okay, if the narcissistic Managing Partner runs that?


Keith Sbiral  17:44  

That would be a great way to blow the whole place.


Steve Fretzin  17:49  

Just checking on that.


Amy Gardner  17:50  

Obviously, we should do is hire Apochromatik. Because we actually have certifications in this right. But it is something that you can do with the right atmosphere and the right care of I mean, I think the managing partner is probably not ever the person to run it. But it is something that you can do. I mean, we do lots of other things like emotional intelligence assessments and things like that with the group. But those are all things that require a little bit more time and attention. These things that we're sharing today are things that you can do.


Steve Fretzin  18:16  

Yeah, I'm sorry, real quickly. So I need to get to have it facilitated professionally, obviously much better than a free for all in the boardroom. Right.


Keith Sbiral  18:24  

But really important to have the managing partner there. And we do it. We did this a few months ago with a GC and a team of lawyers at a larger company and having the GC in the room. And having that space where the folks could say something pretty openly was a great environment. And it provided almost instant feedback for them. So it can be very beneficial.


Amy Gardner  18:47  

And he also was, he was also excellent at saying thank you for that input. I appreciate that. Or you've given me a lot to think about thank you for that. And he did a phenomenal job of handling it. But so we always coach the leaders in the room though we coach them in advance on how to be open to feedback and input.


Steve Fretzin  19:02  

Right, right. I think they're not then that's that could end up becoming skunks all over the skunk on the table. Let's go back then to the mission statement in the same way that you broke down the skunk in the bloodletting exercise you just mentioned Keith, Amy, talk to the mission statement. And is there a down and dirty way that a solo or a small law firm could just say Oh, yeah, if I take these three parts and put them together, that could be how I decide to create a mission statement, or there's some parts of a mission statement that you can break down, that people could sort of try to figure it out on their own.


Amy Gardner  19:37  

Yeah, so one thing we're happy to do is we're happy to jump on the phone of any of your listeners for free and talk them through any of these ideas or struggles they might be having with their team or things in their career. We're happy to do a free 30 minute call and talk this through. If you want to sign up for that just go to aapo sign up comm slash BTL and we could if it's a mission statement you want to work on or values whatever it is, but really the mission statement. And actually, you know, why don't we do a download and out that people can get from that website. So if you go to EPO sign slash BTL, by the time this airs, we will upload a document that people can download that kind of walks them through some of these ideas, but you want to make sure that the mission statement is more than how the firm is going to help you as the managing partner. Right? Because people have to feel more connected to more than providing economic security for the managing partner, right? It has to be about the work and you have to think about the mission in terms of something that each person in the firm can feel like they relate to. So whether the mission is whether you're doing immigration work, or handling mergers and acquisitions, right, you have to think about it in terms of the large organization, and you want to make sure that everybody in the organization can be involved in setting that mission statement. And obviously, if you have a 500 person firm, that's a different deal, right. But if you assume small to midsize firm, whether you're a solo with an assistant, or your 20 attorneys and support staff, you really can engage everybody in that process, whether you start off with surveys, or you have everybody just gather at a table or gather in a Zoom Room, right? You want to make sure everybody's involved, you want to make sure it's about more than just any one individual. And you want to make sure that everybody can tie back and see how their work relates to it. And that's something that's just incredibly powerful. If you can help people see how what they're doing really matters to the to the overall organization,


Steve Fretzin  21:25  

I think it also gives you some marketing that can be worked around it. So if you have a mission statement that involves the cultural aspect of it, or how you're helping people or what you're bringing to the table, that's a value to the consumer, the clients. And then you might start coming up with some language that you could use on your website, or that you could use in bio's and things like that.


Amy Gardner  21:44  

Like LinkedIn...


Steve Fretzin  21:45  

Yeah, it could all spread out and you build a brand around that.


Amy Gardner  21:48  

Yeah, for sure. For sure. So but I'm happy if we'll put together a download so that people have some records.


Steve Fretzin  21:53  

And we can try to throw that in the show notes, too. So anyone that's doing this through nap or through my website can pull that out. So listen, we're on the cusp of sort of wrapping up. So are there any sort of Final thoughts as far as things that lawyers really need to focus on now that the vaccinations coming through, people are going to be heading back into the office? What are some things that they need to do moving forward to get their mind straight about the future?


Keith Sbiral  22:18  

I think my advice would be don't wait, have these conversations now. If the folks at your office aren't bringing it up, try to be the one to initiate it, have a conversation, figure out what's going on. And even to the point what Amy was saying with the mission statement and doing that work? do that work? Now there's plenty of folks who can help you do very interactive things on zoom and really engaging, you don't have to wait till you get back to the conference room. So that would be my advice.


Steve Fretzin  22:43  

Okay, great, Amy.


Amy Gardner  22:44  

I agree. 100%. We saw a year ago, what happened when everything changed with very little notice, and very little preparation. And I don't think any of us want to go through that again. And so definitely take this time to be thinking about what do you want things to look like? Sure, there are lots of unknowns. But there are also things that you do no, right. And so using this time to reconnect, it doesn't have to be another zoom, happy hour, there's lots of ways to reconnect with your team and much more impactful ways. And like I said, we're happy to hop on zoom with our phone with any of your listeners who want to talk about their individual circumstances, and struggles they may be having as they create a plan and then move forward to execute while we get ready for this next phase.


Steve Fretzin  23:24  



Keith Sbiral  23:25  

I think the folks who take advantage of this opportunity now who are leading firms and leading teams to prepare will be heads and tails above those that don't, and they'll be able to go farther faster, for sure.


Steve Fretzin  23:37  

Yeah, I mean, if history teaches us anything, it's don't just expect things to be the same. I mean, everything's changing all the time. And the people that are sitting on their hands are not considering the change in business, development, marketing, culture, environment, all of these things are adapting we need to adapt to so I thank you too, for being advocates for that change, and helping lawyers to be their better selves or to help teams come together and build their culture. And it's a great business that you're in and so much needed now more than ever. So I want to thank you for coming on and sharing your wisdom. How do people get in touch with you, Keith, what's the best way? You're going to spell out the website for everybody now?


Keith Sbiral  24:15  

Sure. Best way to get in touch with me is my email and our website is or you can go to that API to sign up comm forward slash BTL. And Amy, I'll let you spell it out for chromatic I forgot to spell it. But I will say that it's spelled with a K at the end because my name is Keith.


Steve Fretzin  24:35  

Oh, there we go. There you go. Yeah, I really, really worked that out. Keith. All right.


Amy Gardner  24:41, I feel like that was a quiz. And you can email me at Amy at apochromatic comm or reach out on LinkedIn. We're both on LinkedIn and always glad to connect with people there. And obviously everybody has a great resource in your podcast and we're happy to serve as a resource for your listeners. So don't be shy about reaching out. If you want to Hop on the phone and talk through whatever situation you're struggling with, or to avoid some struggles down the road. So glad to chat with awesome, awesome.


Steve Fretzin  25:07  

Well, thank you so much. And Hey everybody, listen, this is, you know, look, they're throwing down the gauntlet if you want to work through challenges and you'd like some of their time to do so they're offering up a 30 minute free bloodletting session, if you will. So I'd say take it if you're smart. And for those of you who just want to continue to be a listener of the show, and get great tips and ideas like you had today, keep listening. We've got a lineup of great guests coming up rainmakers at different firms. We've got experts in all different kinds of categories. You know, don't be shy about going back and listening to some of the older shows. You know, we're up around the 75 mark now of shows and every single one of them's got value. So the goal again, help you be that lawyer someone who is confident organized in a skilled Rainmaker. Be safe and stay well. We'll talk soon. Bye Bye.


Narrator  25:57  

Thanks for listening to be that lawyer. Life Changing strategies and resources for growing a successful law practice. Visit Steve's website For additional information, and to stay up to date on the latest legal business development and marketing trends. For more information and important links about today's episode, check out today's show notes.