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Andrew Hedley

Director, Hedley Consulting

Keeping staff glued 'to your business

Keeping staff glued 'to your business


The collateral benefit of a firm investing in its people can repay the practice many times over, writes Andrew Hedley

The modern legal services industry is dynamic, and many of the historic 'rules of engagement' between firms and those who work within them have lost their relevance.
A career trajectory in which one joins a firm after graduation, remains for the next four decades, slowly but inexorably rises through the ranks, before retiring as senior partner into a comfortable dotage has been consigned to the history pages for the majority. The certainties of the past have gone and been replaced with increased risk
and a new age of competition. There are, of course, great opportunities, too, for those individuals and firms prepared to adapt to this new paradigm.

Competition between ambitious firms is intense in two distinct, but related areas: the winning and development of clients. To do this sustainably, there is an imperative to attract, develop, and retain the people needed to service those clients. Making people more 'sticky' to the business is a key plank of
any rounded strategy.

This war for talent is taking place at every level of the profession - from graduate to partner. To ensure firms retain their most senior people, those who are already partners, or those who are on that track, they need to provide opportunities
for skill development and so improve employees' satisfaction and motivation.

Structured programmes

To succeed in a modern firm, senior lawyers need to develop a skill set that sits alongside their legal, technical ability. To be a good lawyer is a pre-requisite
for any partner; it is necessary
but not sufficient. The role of
the partner has changed and continues to develop with a greater emphasis on commercial and business skills, people management, project delivery, and financial acumen. To be future-fit, firms need to provide the opportunity for partners to develop these skills through a structured programme that builds on these competencies.
In forward-thinking firms, there
is clarity about expectations
of partners and the role they perform plus the support needed to build these new skills.

Such an approach to personal development provides benefits for both the person and the firm.

For the individual, improved performance translates into better outcomes for clients as well as a reduction in the personal stress associated with being confronted with situations which one is ill-prepared to manage. By building these skills, confidence rises, effectiveness improves,
and performance is enhanced.
In simple terms, the day in the office becomes more enjoyable and fulfilling, both for the person and those with whom they
are working.

For the firm, most critically, the positive impact on client service and development that can be realised by a more professional and consistent approach is
that it delivers sustainable improvements in performance and profit, improved morale, greater efficiency, and a reduction in errors, claims,
and wasted time.

Retention and loyalty

This investment in building the skills needed to compete in the modern legal services sector can also have the positive effect of improving retention and making people more loyal to the firm.
The significant disruption and high costs of replacing key staff, coupled with potential client loss, is a major issue for many firms. The collateral benefit of investing in its people can repay the firm many times over.

Research into motivation at work is helpful in elucidating this point further. In his seminal research, The Motivation to Work, Frederick Hertzberg considers how different aspects of the working environment gave
rise to employee satisfaction
and dissatisfaction. What he discovered was that the things that most improve satisfaction, driving motivation, and loyalty, are concerned with personal achievement and advancement. His work revealed that the top six motivators are:

  • A sense of achievement;

  • Receiving recognition for one's contribution;

  • The nature and interest inherent in the work itself;

  • Responsibility;

  • Growth; and

  • Opportunities for advancement.

Interestingly, salary was found to be slightly more a demotivator than a motivator. This may come as a surprise, since it is a widely held misunderstanding that the best way to incentivise and retain people is simply to pay them more money, while parity across
a peer group is important; to
be paid less than others doing equivalent work, whether in your own firm or competitors, will demotivate. However, paying someone incrementally more than their peers (while not
being refused by the fortunate recipient) will do little to
improve their work satisfaction, motivation, and loyalty. It will, however, drive wider salaries, as those who now see a peer being paid more than them become dissatisfied and demand parity.

By focusing on developing
the skills needed to succeed as a partner, a firm can significantly improve loyalty, motivation, and client service. This virtuous circle is recognised by the forward-thinking leadership team who make such investments as part of a well-crafted, structured and continuous programme.

Andrew Hedley is director of Hedley Consulting @HedleyConsults