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Many non-profits have mission statements whilst businesses have core values and universities have academic visions. Institutions everywhere make choices about the goal they want to conceive. Your firm shouldn’t be any different.
Every firm has a culture, but not all work place cultures have a positive impact on stated law firm goals and objectives.
A firm must have a positive culture that is aligned to deliver on its goals.
So, what exactly is Culture?
Culture is not values or mission statements; those are ideals, not disciplines. Culture is how we treat each other, how we talk to each other, whether or not we trust each other, and how we handle conflict. Culture is about accountability, measuring, a bias for urgency, a focus on solutions, calling it tight—saying what needs to be said—being kind and generous, acknowledging one another, and expressing appreciation.
The sense of identity created by intentional culture can provide guidance and purpose. This holds true for every firm.
Culture helps team members better understand how to work together. It lets clients see how your firm is the right fit for their needs. And while it may grow from your practice area, you do need to choose it.
In order to get started, it is important to identify what matters to you? Why did you choose your practice area? Why’d you become a lawyer? Sit with your ideas. Talk through them with your team, a like-minded colleague, or someone whose principles you admire.
Solicit feedback from people who already work at your firm – as to what to work toward or where you’re at currently. Be prepared to keep an open mind. The purpose here is to be intentional about creating a positive culture.
Down through the years, firms have used the litmus test of perks, goodies, and benefits. The assumption has always been that more cuddling leads to happier employees. Dumb! That’s analogous to saying more money can fix a broken marriage. More money might make it bearable, but it won’t fix it.
If you are in doubt, just take a look at U.S. Navy SEALs. They have one of the greatest cultures of all time and it is not because they get to bring their dog to work or have a nap room. They get stuff done, hold each other accountable, and work in unison for a common objective and they are proud of their results!
All relationships—be it marriage, parent-child, boss-employee—operate within a culture. Regardless of the relationship, certain ways of acting and “showing up” are permitted and acceptable and others are strictly out of bounds and inappropriate.
The problem is that the culture we currently have in our workplace relationships is rarely a culture we consciously created. Rather, the culture in our businesses is a culture we have tolerated because of a lack of courage to address the problems of back-biting, smack, cliques, excuses, blaming, silence, gossip, procrastination, missed deadlines, being late (and unprepared) for meetings, mediocrity, and doing just enough to get by.
Having said this, it is vital to consider actionable steps to building the culture you’d like to see. Consider artifacts or surface markers of culture. From employee dress to community engagement to who’s in a position of leadership – these are all artifacts. How can they support your declared values?
Remember, your firm may not be the only firm that cares about some of these values. But by actively working toward them, you can put yourself in a more unique position.
Don’t forget about your culture when it’s time to bring on new members. Include these core principles in job postings. Ask about them in interviews. Skills matter, but so does culture.
In fact, you might find you’ll have a more seamless team if everyone can rally behind the same ideas. New hires will require training regardless. And it’s far easier to train someone who’s genuinely enthusiastic about the shared vision.
Creating culture takes time and effort. And it has a huge impact – on inter-firm comradery, legacy, and who seeks you out for representation.
A plaque on the wall is not a substitute for culture but rather, the key to a great culture is creating and fostering a never-ending conversation about the “rules of the game.” The rules define the boundaries or guardrails so that everyone knows exactly how to act, how to communicate, and how to treat each other.
Culture is so important to us at Legalpedia and the businesses we own. We spend a lot of time discussing our culture principles (rules of the game). We are not interested in how talented you are (for new hires) if you are not a good fit with our culture.
Ready to make the switch? I must confess, it isn’t an easy one. But trust us at Legalpedia when we say its worth the try.
The Road Less Stupid – Keith Cunningham