YourABA: June 2013
YourABA June 2013 Masthead

How to improve communication in your firm

When employees are asked what could be improved in their organizations, they often respond, “Communication.” How do they define poor communication? Usually they cite the failure of leaders to keep employees informed, a lack of opportunity to talk to their supervisors or a paucity of recognition and praise — or all three.

Assessment
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Workers expect leaders to communicate well. A survey conducted by the Association of Legal Administrators identified the top skills for law firm leaders’ success as written and oral communication combined with interpersonal relations abilities.

Even if you are a solo practitioner or a member of a small firm, effective communication skills are needed to understand one another and to work effectively toward a common goal.

What can be done to address the need for effective communication when email is tying many of us to our desks? A recent Law Practice Magazine article spelled out how to get started:

Arrange a meeting of your leadership team. Invite the members to discuss the importance of effective office communication and to consider how they communicate. Ask the leadership team about their views about communication in your office and how they think they are doing in keeping employees informed, spending time with those they supervise and developing the lawyers and staff they supervise.

Work as a team to develop a communication plan that includes everyone in your firm who has supervisory responsibility. A communication action plan includes several key elements, each centered on an action step. See the steps below:

  1. Create teams. A team approach to improve office communication ensures commitment to the plan. The legal supervisory team, for example, could be led by the managing partner or an administrative management team and be comprised of practice group heads or committee heads responsible for associate reviews. A kickoff meeting introducing the communication plan will emphasize the importance of the goal of enhancing office communication and cement the commitment of each team to the firm’s overall goals.
  2. Assess what works and what doesn’t. Communication assessments are available to individuals online (see sidebar) and are easy to do, yet they reveal a lot about communication skills. Personality tests, for example, can be used to determine the most effective way to work with others. There are also tests that measure emotional intelligence, strengths and DISC (a measurement of four personality traits: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness). Each of the assessments offers a different approach to skill development.
  3. Develop a training plan. The training plan should include specific communication skills you and your team have decided need improvement. A simple approach to address the need for interaction, for example, is to make sure that you and the team take a walk around the office at least once a week. The phrase “management by wandering around” refers to strolling around at random through the workplace to say hello to employees, inquire about how they are doing and listen to them.
  4. Measure success. There are two approaches. First, you and your team could take the assessment test again and note improvements in your responses. This approach could be an ongoing process to foster long-term improvement. Second, you could create your own assessment questions by conducting a survey of your team. Simple, free survey tools such as SurveyMonkey can be used to measure the success of your improvement.

Law Practice Magazine is a publication of the ABA Law Practice Management Section.

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