A Framework for Recognition
Few law firm associates spread tales of partner kindnesses. Rather, they complain about overwork and negative feedback. What they want is appreciation for what they do and a feeling of personal interest in them and their career from those they report to. Law firm leaders at all levels, from managing partner to team leader, need to learn to use emotional intelligence to understand their own hot buttons, control them, and listen to their subordinates with empathy and interest.
“The Future Forum puts it another way, advising executives to embrace flexibility, reward inclusion, and build connection through transparency─in other words, pay attention to what staff want and give it to them.”
To address employee demands, law firm leaders and managers need to create training and development opportunities for everyone in the firm. Online training programs can supplement in-person opportunities to watch and learn. This changes the tone of the culture because when programs connect with individuals’ needs, they feel invested in, and this makes them feel happier about their work and their firm.
Some strategies to respond to employees’ requests for training, career planning, and values alignment:
- Include training in the firm culture and necessary soft skills as part of the onboarding process. In addition, pair each new hire with a peer-level mentor to support them as they learn the ropes.
- Encourage “job crafting,” the process through which employees have input into their roles. It increases their motivation to succeed because it demonstrates that the firm is willing to invest in them.
- “Agile firms” that can attract and keep talent will “redefine productivity to include ongoing learning, . . . and identify advancement opportunities for every employee.”
- Leaders will encourage transparency. Rather than decree how it will be, they will discuss their ideas with the people who will be impacted by them and try to incorporate their feedback.
- Invest too in leader training, especially for next-generation leaders. Actively look for nascent leaders among the rank and file, those informal leaders whom others follow.
- Gen Z and millennial employees want to work for firms whose values align with theirs. To meet them halfway, firms should share their values and work with interested employees to implement them through concrete activities.
“The days of command and control management are gone. Employees are now in the driver’s seat. … [E]ncourage intentional listening (listening with intent to understand not the intent to respond) to find out what they [employees] want and need to be happy and successful.”
Of course, this discussion of remote work options, flexible work time, and robust, firmwide training avoids the elephant in the room─equating productivity to billable hours instead of to results. Other knowledge firms─accountants, consultants─set prices based on the value of their knowledge, rather than the time needed to produce results. As AI tools, apps, and programs become more common in law firms, the move away from billable hours as the basic revenue generator will move faster. To continue to make money, firms will have to transition to results-based measurements.