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Empowering change to build back better – a four-step guide for law firm leaders

Image credit: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

The Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Advisory Board agreed at the start of 2021 that its goal for the year should be: To drive change through focused, data-driven activities that guide the broader legal community towards working practices that have a positive impact on equity and inclusion. We are pleased to release the first of our Future Working Practices Guides on Organisational Culture.

More than 18 months of many employees working remotely has evolved how and where work gets done. And this shift has challenged the paradigm for how to grow culture and engage employees to meet the new normal.  A working group of the TWLL Advisory Board saw the need to crowdsource ideas for how to effectively meet the expansion of expectations in terms of how and where work gets done, given the uncertainty of return to office and how to move forward with getting on with operations during this transformational time.  Backed by our Stellar Performance research from the Thomson Reuters Institute and our recent findings on leadership, the conclusion is that the first step for leaders to take to improve their organisational culture to meet today’s talent needs and expectations is to assess your culture through three lenses:

Organsational culture starts at the top through role modelling, empathetic leadership, coaching and moving away from command and control leadership style. The focus has to be on creating an empowering environment where everyone can thrive. All these are key to creating and continuing a culture of engagement, belonging and equal access to opportunity.  Going a little deeper on these key factors of Clarity, Control and Support:

Clarity: Leaders need to provide clarity on the organisation’s purpose and values and then ensure managers are reinforcing how each individual contributes to the organisation’s overall purpose. Another major element is explaining how the organisation achieves its purpose through communicating a clear strategy and having goals aligned with it.  At the executive level there needs to be time set aside to discuss the execution of the purpose and how it is done through values, strategy, and goals needs to continually be repeated.

Control: Getting the balance right on what, when and how employees work gets done: Leaders will likely need to temper their instinct to control what, when and how work gets done with a more flexible framework balancing client needs with many employees’ expressed preference to work outside the office. Examples of this are establishing core work hours during the day or specifying how many and what days employees need to be in the office.  To be effective at hybrid, leaders also need to provide the technology, equipment, and role-modelling to execute flexibility.

Support: Providing support to demonstrate care for employees’ career and wellbeing is necessary to align with the key elements of control and clarity.  The definition of support is expansionary. To demonstrate:

  • From a policy/guideline perspective, support includes policies relating to flexibility, wellbeing and mental health.
  • To put support into practice, walking the talk through leaders, managers and supervisors exhibiting behaviours in line with policies is the best way to extend your shadow of a leader. Reinforcing expectations of trust of  their employees that they are professionals who can balance work commitments and those outside of work and micro behaviours are necessary.
  • Likewise, daily behaviors of managers seeking feedback and input on key work projects, solutions to problems, or core work hours for the team are key to support.

Empowering change to build back better: Leadership actions to drive organisation culture. Download infographic.

Next, leaders need to analyse their approach to a variety of policies, practices and behaviours across the Control, Clarity and Support categories: see below for an extensive list.

Abandoning practices, attitudes and behaviours that do not support flexibility, authentic and transparent community in its broadest sense is the third step.  Practices to consider discarding include presenteeism, micro-managing, a one-size-fits-all approach, inflexibility and rigidity.

Finally, you will need to implement these culture actions and monitor progress by creating multiple feedback loops for your employees to share their perspective through employee engagement pulse surveys and focus groups, for example.  At the core of all these elements is trust.  Culture and employee happiness are built and evolved in the day-to-day interactions among manager to employee, peer to peer, manager to team, and team members to supervisors.  This cooperation and collaboration are where trust is built and solidified and clarity, control and support are consistently demonstrated.

What COVID-19 tells us about the future of work for lawyers The Hearing: Episode 72—Joeli Brearley (Pregnant Then Screwed) The future of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal sector—time for a transformative approach The Hearing: Episode 66 – Christina Blacklaws (strategic consultant and the 174th president of the Law Society) Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law—Advancing Equality for Women at the Bar Webinar Podcast: gender equality and cultural change during uncertain times Thomson Reuters President and CEO, Steve Hasker—we must do more Insights for diverse leadership and a culture to support change—TWLL webinar series Transforming Women’s Leadership: A strong 2019 and demands increase for the programme Author of the Equality Act of 2006—Daniel Greenberg shares his ally journey