Often, the biggest problem leaders face is the us-versus-them situation. People in different offices will say things like, “They don’t do it like we do,” “They don’t include us,” and “We do it differently here.” This attitude can drive you crazy. Creating a culture of “us” requires a leader who cares about those in the remote offices and makes sure they know. Visit often, take the staff to lunch, walk around and say “hi” when you are in other offices. These simple acts can have a positive impact on the firm.
The firm leader can’t create this atmosphere alone, so our firm created a position called the unity coordinator. This person travels to other offices and works hard to make sure everyone knows we care about them and that they are important. Office lunches, individualized training, group activities and parties are all a part of their responsibilities.
Every employee craves three things: to feel like they belong, to feel they are wanted and valued, and to feel they are contributing to something important. Without these three elements, employees may start looking for somewhere else to work.
As the leader, you are ultimately responsible for the well-being of the firm and its employees. But you don’t have to do it alone. Be clear about what you want your employees to feel and then create a few action items to build company unity. The end result will be less turnover, more cooperation, better work product and a happier work environment.
Another key to running a successful law firm with offices in multiple locations is having a clear vision of the firm’s direction. People do better when they work toward common goals. Creating this clarity for your employees is done in two parts.
First, create and share a written vision statement that describes in detail what the firm will look like in three years. How fast will the firm grow? How many employees will it have? What opportunities do employees have for growth? Answers to these questions are especially important to your employees. This vision will have a huge impact on the unity and growth of your firm.
Second, set goals and action items to accomplish your vision. Breaking down your vision into smaller action items will help you get there. Our favorite and most effective firm goal is called a BHAG—Big Hairy Audacious Goal. We have a yearlong goal broken down into four quarters. We set 10 separate goals for various teams each quarter.
If we complete at least 9 out of 10 goals each quarter for all four quarters, everyone gets a $3,000 travel voucher to vacation anywhere they want. Our BHAG is a big deal. Everyone from every office is included, and it’s very motivating to our employees. It helps unify all our offices in the accomplishment of something truly big. Whether you have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal or lots of smaller goals, make sure each of your offices is unified in reaching the company’s objectives.
Great communication involves dialogue, not a monologue. A monologue is all about delivering information. Yes, dialogue is about disseminating information too, but it also includes actively listening and understanding what others are communicating back to you. When you manage multiple offices, effectively sending out important information, along with listening to what these remote offices are telling you in return, is critical.
At times, getting the right amount of information to the right people can be difficult. Most law firms are dynamic and always evolving. If remote offices aren’t in the loop, they will be less effective and feel left out. You need to use monthly newsletters, biweekly “what’s happening” emails, new employee welcome emails, Skype, conference calls and other strategies to keep people informed. Determine your most effective ways to distribute information and then automate these strategies to ensure important communication is delivered in a consistent manner.
Collecting information and effectively listening to what everyone, regardless of location, needs can also be very challenging. In order to keep amazing employees, they must feel like they have a voice. How would you know if things are problematic in each office? How do you currently get your information? Is your information based on rumors and hearsay? Or do you have a program that consistently gets you the information you need? As leaders, we need to continually reach out to individuals and managers alike to give us feedback on the issues, the personnel and temperament of each office. I constantly ask employees, “If you could change one thing to make this office better, what would it be?” Becoming skilled at effective communication will give you the road map to take your firm to the next level.
Consistent Work Product
The key to having consistent and amazing work product across multiple offices is to create a standardized computer system that everyone uses. Firms with multiple locations may want to use a cloud-based operating system, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Using the same CRM across all locations makes it much easier to manage and evaluate the work product across offices. A four-step process can be used to help you create a system that works.
First, choose one job or task that you believe everyone could do in the exact same way. For example, in our firm, we request a lot of medical records. This is one area where there isn’t a lot of variance about how to do it best.
Second, determine the best way to accomplish the task and then break it into a simple step-by-step process. The process should be so simple and clearly written that a middle-school student could do it. Your staff must then be trained on these steps and have the opportunity to provide input in order to build the best process possible.
Third, build out the steps in your CRM/operating system. Your CRM should include all merge forms and everything necessary for your staff to simply walk through the steps to completion. Your CRM should set tasks automatically for each employee so that they don’t have to think about what work needs to be done or when it needs to be finished. They can work directly off the tasks assigned by the CRM.
Lastly, track all completed and uncompleted tasks to ensure that the work is getting done and to determine the effectiveness of each employee. Creating a CRM that clearly sets out an employee’s tasks and work will make your job as a leader so much easier. You can now track employees’ work product regardless of where they sit and know that it is being done correctly.
Amazing Company Culture With Established Core Values
The real glue that holds companies together and improves retention rates are the company’s core values. Every company has a culture, no matter if it is created intentionally or haphazardly. I often think of a company’s culture as a type of car. Is your firm more like a Lexus or a Porsche? Maybe it’s like an F-150 truck that does a lot of heavy lifting or even a small car that is charming and personal.
Regardless of how you see your firm, it only makes sense to attract like-minded individuals who will support your culture and live similar values. Your firm will have a much better chance of providing a happy and effective work environment if everyone is committed to living your company’s values. Begin by drafting a written culture or core values statement and then get buy-in from everyone in the firm. For example, our firm has five core values:
- We genuinely care about our clients.
- We support each other.
- We work hard.
- We are trustworthy and have integrity.
- We strive for happiness.
These core values are more than just company standards—they are the values that each employee commits to live. Almost every hiring or firing decision we make is based on whether the employee is living according to these values.
At our firm, each of our offices has very different environments. Our office next to Brigham Young University in Utah is very conservative compared with our office in downtown Seattle. Yet all our employees are committed to the same values, and that brings everyone together. Knowing and living these values truly unifies our firm.
As a leader or manager of your firm you can improve the lives of all your employees regardless of which office they work in. When you are committed to a unified office and proactively work to incorporate these strategies into your firm, the impact will be phenomenal.