As we navigate this period of readjustment to our working lives the team at SGR Legal offer some useful reminders and tips over a two-part article series. We have brought together well-established HRM best practices with a unique HR study, and lessons learned from those who have managed remote working teams over the long term.
We all want our employees to be happy, motivated and loyal. The quality of customer service, not just the technical outcomes, can make or break any services business. To deliver outstanding customer service requires the right structures, processes and knowledge.
Today we are talking about the main ingredient that impacts every customer’s experience and the one element that a business owner cannot fully control all of the time – your people.
Who is willing to ‘go the extra mile?’
The details of what makes a good customer experience are well understood. As HR professionals we are most interested in how best and efficiently can we recruit and then develop and retain high performing employees who consistently deliver and ‘go the extra mile’ for clients and the organisation.
The phrase ‘going the extra mile’ or ‘discretionary effort’ in more formal terms is often used to describe outstanding customer service, and is the benchmark to strive for. It’s often not about grand gestures or technical outcome that attracts this feedback, it’s the personal experience. This can be intangible and undefinable. However, it can all be ultimately traced back to the employer/employee relationship.
Cracking the ‘black box ‘of people and performance
A fascinating research study for the Chartered Institute of Personal Development was published in 2003 by Professor John Purcell at the University of Bath.
‘The Bath Model of People and Performance’ was the first study to examine links between people management practices (ability, motivation and opportunity) with commercial performance (profit). To cut a long story short, after six years of in-depth KPI-based research with 12 leading organisations, the complexities of managing people and accessing ‘discretionary effort’ was revealed.
The team tracked relationships between the majority of employer/employee touch-points, and coined the phrase ‘opening the black-box of people and performance’.
What can law firms learn from it?
The conclusions have great relevance for law firms as many have struggled with some aspects of modernising the approach from a traditionally closed partnership management structure to a flatter more transparent hierarchy with increased employee flexibility.
Trust and transparency is absolutely key to law firms’ ability to shift from a predominantly office-based workforce to hybrid/flexible working.
Purcell, J, Kinnie, N & Hutchingson, S (2003a) Open minded. Inside the black box: overview. People Management, 9 (10), 30–3
The stand-out elements for law firm HR Managers
The headlines for any HR professional are about the three main pillars:
Ability and skill
Motivation and incentive
Opportunity to participate
Selection tools and psychometric testing have long had their place in recruitment as well as working with a recruiter who really understands the legal sector and firm/lawyer needs, which is the basis for all we do at SGR Legal.
The study points out two other important factors in engaging staff and managing performance, which most law firms need to constantly develop.
Incentive has been a tricky area to get right in law firms and many are now looking at ways to reward other than the billable hour targets, with a mix of value-based measures and overall contribution to the firm in variety of ways. The annual revenue target can be manipulated and certainly does not necessarily equate into profitable work or happy clients.
The recent SRA support of Employee Ownership Schemes as a next evolution to the Alternative Business Structure (ABS) opportunities signals a shift in thinking and encouragement of more open and equitable structures. For some firms who implement them carefully, they could be rocket fuel to employee engagement and performance.
Deb Oxley, chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) commented after another recent Employment Ownership Trust (EOT) law firm launch:
‘By giving employees a stake and a say they build trust and shared responsibility, therefore uniting leaders and employees behind a common purpose, placing them in a better position to flex and adapt – key qualities needed to help the UK Build Back Better.’
Breaking departmental silos
Opportunity to participate is an untapped area of employee engagement for many law firms. The traditional work-type silo has long been a challenge for many law firms, and remote working presents potentially a greater challenge to maintaining a good firm culture with collaboration and relationship building across legal departments at the heart. Indeed, hybrid working may present a challenge for all employers when it comes to maintaining dialogue between teams and across the organisation, as related in this survey conducted in 2020 by Boston Consulting Group:
‘Respondents told us they miss “being able to spontaneously walk to a co-worker’s desk and discuss an issue” and “social gatherings at work.” It will be critical for companies to recreate this connectivity regardless of where employees are located.’ BCG, 2020
Improving employee connectivity is key to career building and also to the often elusive upsell and cross-sell of legal services to existing clients, massively impacting on the overall commercial performance of a law firm.
To participate more we all need trust, transparency and inclusive policies – something that is at the very heart of flexible working. Law firms do report down-sizing office space over the last year but also investing in more collaborative spaces and hot desking. Our hope at SGR Legal is to see firms investing in quality time focussed on team building, company culture and a renewed focus on developing employee skills to adapt to managing remote teams. SGR Legal is well-placed to support law firms and individuals, either directly or through our trusted legal sector relationships.
The changes coming from many firms looking to adopt more flexible working patterns will benefit everyone and we are excited to support and be part of the step-change in the legal sector.
In part two we address the unwritten contract with employees – the psychological contract – as well as factors to consider in recruitment and flexible working arrangements moving forward.
Our experienced team at SGR Legal are ready to guide you in finding the next step to your legal career or the new team member who fits in beyond the role specification.