"We have a unique and special culture here at our firm," the principal told me. And, in fact, they do. No, really.
- The work hours aren't super high (compared to industry averages).
- The people treat each other with respect (most of the time).
- They operate as a business and not "silo" practices.
- They have all the requisite "fun" events and even enjoy horsing around in the office sometimes.
- The pay is pretty decent (though definitely lower than the local Big firms). (Actually, the firm is finding it quite a strain to even try to keep up with rapidly escalating salaries.)
Despite that somewhat lower pay, most people stay because they believe the culture is quite a bit better than a lot of other places.
As a result, a few years back, the firm's owners started talking about that great culture. A lot. In recruiting. In marketing. And to each other. They wear it like a badge. A shield.
But taking their positive culture for granted is very dangerous.
When owners believe their firm is "all that" with regard to culture, they tend to behave as though they don't need to keep working at it. (hmmm, reminds me of a lot of marriages...)
Firm culture, like a happy marriage, is not static. Enough withdrawals from the "emotional bank account" of either will erode a positive situation.
This "fly on the wall" will share some of the culture impairing blunders committed by firms who think they are "there" when it comes to their culture--but who are slowly undermining their great culture with these behaviors.
Most of these problems involve failure to communicate personally with people about important things such as:
#1 - Notifying people by memo or e-mail about their colleague, even manager, having been "let go"
#2 - Relying on the informal gossip chain to replace formal presentations of "state of the firm" or goals, visions, and other important news or changes
#3 - "Leakage" of preliminary information (often by owners to select team members) about pending policies, pending raises or bonuses, or other critical economic information, such that a mention or two to friends means pretty soon the whole firm "knows" -- often it isn't even final so the info may be wrong(!)
#4 - Rolling out new programs or policies by memo or e-mail with no formal presentation to personally introduce it, frame it with appropriate background information, answer questions, and create enthusiasm
#5 - Not telling people (hopefully publicly!) that they have done a great job
#6 - Not telling people privately AND constructively how they could do something better
#7 - Telling people anything personal, corrective, or negative by e-mail (and cc'ing others is a very, very bad idea)
I hear and see so many instances of these types of things from non-owner professionals and, while they also talk about the benefits of their culture, they are strongly aware that their culture sure isn't "all that."
In fact, they are reminded of it each time someone goes on and on about the firm's great culture. That's when their eyes start rolling.
Make sure eyes aren't rolling in your "great firm." If they are, be sure to do a reality check to see if your firm is sending mixed messages, not practicing what you preach, or not living up to the values you state that you hold.
Wow, Allison Shields of the Legal Ease Blog just posted a handful of great additions to the 7 items above. Other additions are welcome, too, our lists are certainly not exhaustive. If you blog with new items, please be sure to post a trackback here and on Allison's blog so people can find them!! Thanks Allison. Very strong additions, indeed.