- Transforming a possible future into a probable future in the eyes of everyone from recent recruits to relative old-timers also requires a culture of psychological safety.
If you’ve run a firm or a practice group or relied on colleagues, you know the importance of retention. When people stay, the entire team trusts, collaborates and communicates better. There is shared understanding of the very specifics of processes and of each other. There is more focus on the work than sorting out how colleagues work together. Shorthand communication works. There are fewer missteps. Work takes less time. You forgive each other of stress-induced snarkiness and apologize when it happens. These rare incidents aren’t a big deal because you are confident that they aren’t a threat to team or personal well-being. Retention is important for these reasons and more. The real question is: How do firms get people to stay?
People tend to stay at firms where they see a future for themselves. This future seems more possible when a person receives mentoring and thoughtful training and is confident that colleagues will help them succeed. This future seems more possible if at least one or more senior colleagues look out for them, providing work and other opportunities for professional development.
Transforming a possible future into a probable future in the eyes of everyone from recent recruits to relative old-timers also requires a culture of psychological safety. Newly minted lawyers, lateral hires and staff are more likely to leave firms where they don’t see a future for themselves, or the inchoate future comes at too high a personal cost.
Being psychologically safe means that a person feels accepted and respected by team members. It means that a person can share work product, express views, disagree, ask questions and raise concerns without fear of overt or covert punishments. Mistakes present an opportunity to learn, not look for a scapegoat. Colleagues solve problems and eschew blame, not taking or making things personal. They can discuss extremely touchy subjects without resorting to bullying or manipulation. In essence, colleagues devote their time to serving clients, building business, mentoring, and developing talent and firm administration. They do not live in fear of the next shoe dropping or devote precious time or emotional energy to self-protection. They aren’t constantly worried about being “in trouble.”
The pivotal question a person asks themselves when tempted by another career opportunity is: “Where do I belong?” In “How to Solve the Performance-Wellness Conundrum” (November/ December 2022), I made the case that high performance and true wellness can coexist if you get the culture right. In “How to Turn a Great Culture Into an Effective Recruiting Tool” (January/ February), you found out how to amplify this great culture and intentionally exploit it as a recruiting tool. Here, I am taking this line of thinking a step further by focusing on steps to create a culture of belonging and a probable future at your firm so that the answer to the question “Where do I belong?” is “Here.”
Belonging doesn’t just happen, especially in our new hybrid world. While senior leaders have the most influence on culture, everyone can make a difference. Here’s how.
If what it takes to successfully retain lawyers and staff feels like too much work or you don’t have the requisite time, consider that the extra effort to train and retain great people is also what it will take to improve the firm’s performance and viability over the long term. Now that seems worth it, doesn’t it?