Derek Wynne from Cirrus writes for Legal Week
We’re living in uncertain times, and the legal industry is facing complex challenges. Clients are becoming more demanding, and competition to win and retain them has intensified. Mergers and acquisitions, globalisation and the rise of the virtual law firm can lead to fragmented cultures.
Alongside this, you have the frustration of junior lawyers and associates facing a longer wait for partnership, and evidence that many firms are shrinking the relative size of their equity partnerships.
In the face of these difficulties, it’s more important than ever to engage your employees so they’re all connected to your purpose and goals. And effective employee engagement requires effective leadership.
The links between engaged employees, improved productivity and client loyalty have been demonstrated by multiple research studies. The ‘Nailing the Evidence’ report put together by Engage for Success, an employee engagement advocate group, collates many of the results and makes clear that engagement has a greater impact on performance than any other factor.
Some 94% of the world’s most admired companies believe that their efforts to engage their employees has created a clear competitive advantage, and organisations with high employee engagement levels outperform their low engagement counterparts in terms of higher net income.
Despite all the evidence, levels of employee engagement are still low in many organisations. In our work with clients at Cirrus, we can see that those who engage their people most successfully go beyond traditional employee engagement surveys.
The leaders in these organisations actually create cultures of engagement. They are role models for values such as openness, honesty, transparency and customer focus.
They communicate the purpose and goals of their organisations, and they encourage others to take ownership of these goals and play an active part in achieving them. This in turn leads to individuals committing the discretionary effort that makes the difference to their own performance and the performance of the overall business.
Effective leadership is a particular challenge for law firms because the majority of leaders are also partners, juggling the demands of client work with the need to engage employees across the firm with business goals and values to boost performance and profitability.
The shift from ‘expert’ to ‘leader’ can be a difficult one to make, and it can be helpful for individuals to explore the skills and behaviours associated with effective leadership in order to develop.
DWF case study
DWF says it has a focus on values, culture, leadership and dialogue, combined with a commitment to building quality relationships with clients. And after a period of rapid growth through a series of mergers and acquisitions, it says a key business target is to involve and engage staff across the entire business with its purpose and goals to create a positive workplace culture and to actively promote its brand.
The firm says it is investing in developing leadership capability to create a culture of engagement. It says this is a recognition that sustainable profit growth can only be achieved if everyone in the organisation shares its customer proposition and communicates this consistently.
Cirrus has worked closely with DWF to help build leadership capability and boost engagement. For example, a recent two-day conference brought the firm’s 200 partners together to share ideas in a constructive environment.
This was an immersive event and one of its most important goals was to help partners better understand their role as leaders. Another aim was to promote shared leadership that engages and motivates others.
Across a series of interactive workshops, ideas and views on purpose, culture and goals were captured in words and pictures to provide the basis of a story for wider communication across DWF. Partners also explored how DWF’s proposition and values could be better communicated to existing and potential clients.
One of the most striking aspects of the event was how aligned the partners were, as there was a great deal of consistency in the outputs of the different groups. The conference helped to build on this sense of common purpose, and provided some useful tools for partners to communicate a shared message across and beyond the organisation.
Insights from this type of event can help firms create a ‘roadmap’ for engagement to connect their employees to the organisation’s purpose. This roadmap can include strategic communications, a compelling employer value proposition and a series of development initiatives to foster more engaging leaders who can create a better-connected organisation.
In any law firm, people are your most valuable source of sustainable competitive advantage. Building your leaders’ ability to engage your people can ensure that everyone is working consistently to achieve shared goals.
Future success relies not only on your legal expertise, but also on the ability of lawyer-leaders to inspire and motivate the people around them.
© Legal Week 2013