Updated: Jun 14, 2022
What's the cost of a work environment that doesn't give your team the leadership it needs? Get ready, because I'm going to dive into the very real tangible and intangible costs that flow from less-than-ideal work environments. But first we need some real talk about what's going on.
We're going to focus on 'less-than-ideal' rather than toxic environments. A toxic work environment or work culture is a different order of magnitude. It can still be addressed by shifting your leadership -- in fact, it must be addressed starting with your leadership -- but today I'm focused on all of the small and mid-sized firms that find it hard to find the right people. Guess what? It's not them, it's you.
As a criminal defense attorney in the Army (one of the greatest jobs in the world!), I got to work with, counsel, and represent soldiers in various stages of the discipline process. When charged with a crime, soldiers are provided uniformed attorneys to defend them, free of charge. Soldiers may also hire civilian attorneys to represent them, and there are some truly excellent civilian attorneys out there serving military clients. (Reach out to me if you're looking for a referral for representation in military matters.) Military defense counsel, though, are the public defender system for the Department of Defense, and I loved the opportunity to 'defend those who defend America.'
Sometimes I got the opportunity to work with the same client on several matters. What started with helping a soldier through administrative discipline and reassignment to a new unit might turn in to multiple instances of discipline under multiple leadership chains. Once there have been a few instances of administrative discipline, the risk of separation from the Army (which also entitles a soldier to representation) goes up, as does the risk that the next infraction will lead to court-martial.
These repeat players in my office had the same explanation for their situation: "My commander/First Sergeant is out to get me." It didn't matter how long they'd been in a unit, how well any of their leaders actual knew them, or how often they'd been put in a new environment. Every second chance was another opportunity for someone to come down on them. And they had tons of explanations for why they were in my office again and again. "I'm too outspoken," "my commander isn't really running the show," "they're afraid I'm going to make them look bad," "they're just biased because I'm [Black/White/a woman/a single parent]." These clients needed to hear it:
It's not them, it's you.
I'm not suggesting that soldiers aren't ever unfairly punished. They are, and I can tell stories for days about that very thing happening. But sometimes a client comes in that just can't see how the actions they are taking are creating the outcomes they're suffering through.
You might be that firm. You've got a great recruiting, hiring, and onboarding program. You've got great clients and great work. You've got leaders with years of experience who know the practice. You've got all the elements you need to recruit and train new staff and attorneys, everything you need to grow the practice and the firm, but it isn't happening. Staff and associate turnover has gotten to the point where you are constantly planning for people to quit. You can't find people who can keep up with you and your practice. No one you hire is smart/strong/dedicated enough to do what you hired them to do. It's not them, it's you. It's time to reexamine the environment they're working in.
[Planning for people to quit is different from planning for people to outgrow the roles you hire them into; the latter should be part of how and why you hire! We'll talk later about the many reasons effective leaders plan for people to outgrow their roles.]
Like a lot of things in life and business, making the necessary shifts in how you and other leaders in your firm operate is simple, but it isn't always easy. Here's the outline:
Decide things need to change
Assess where you are right now
Make a plan
Execute that plan!
Get feedback on change
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to walk you through how to do this, starting first with some of the tangible and intangible costs of doing nothing. To get this info right in your inbox, click the 'Log In' button at the top and join our community.
What you need to do is simple, and I will give you the plan. Work it step by step and you'll see a change -- in yourself, your team, and your business. Better yet, get someone to coach you through this process, to help accelerate those changes. Find out if BKG Leadership Coaching is the partner you need by setting up a Legal Leadership Strategy Session; we'll help you chart your leadership journey, and it won't cost you anything.