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How Workplace Culture Impacts Productivity

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Everybody is talking about workplace culture. As work environments shift, and law firms reconfigure office space and contemplate new balances between remote and in-office worker populations, there is a renewed focus on the importance of workplace culture and how to preserve it.

Some feel that the trend towards remote work environments will inevitably hurt workplace culture and lessen a firm’s identity and sense of purpose. While this can happen, it doesn’t have to if the firm pays attention. A law firm’s culture, its “secret sauce,” can and should be nurtured, regardless of where employees are located.

Workplace culture affects employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity, which is a key driver of client satisfaction and overall firm success. In this article, I will share with you how the workplace culture in a law firm can be created and nurtured into a positive force that impacts your in-office and remote employees’ productivity. First, check out what law firm management consultant Eric Sanchez has to say about the relationship between workplace culture and productivity.

Combining workplace culture thumbnail

What is workplace culture?

Forbes defines workplace culture as “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.” I would add that it also includes the values that reflect a law firm’s future vision of itself, as well as its organizational direction. Without these, a culture can tend to be overly broad and not capture the true essence of what makes a firm unique, and it will not as dramatically impact the firm’s growth and the employees in it.

Prior to becoming Chief Customer Experience Officer at GrowPath, I worked as an attorney and Shareholder for more than 15 years at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, one of the largest personal injury law firms in the Southeast. During periods of growth, the firm found it challenging to maintain a healthy firm culture, but always maintained its focus and commitment to employee satisfaction.  In 2020, the firm’s employees voted it the #1 “Best Place to Work” in the Triangle Business Journalduring the pandemic.

So, how do they do it? One of the ways the firm cultivates its workplace culture is spelled out in a booklet that it makes available to potential employees. The booklet identifies 24 behaviors that management has identified that define the way that employees should work together. Positive behaviors are identified, such as “go above and beyond,” and “honor commitments” and “celebrate success,” as well as negative behaviors, such as “don’t be a jerk” and “put away your ego.” Work-specific behaviors are included (“pay attention to detail” and “communicate directly”) as well as personal ones (“give back” and “have fun”). The firm has found that when it hires individuals that believe in and embrace these behaviors, a sense of team loyalty and shared purpose is created, the workplace culture is strengthened, and the firm and its employees succeed.

“At our firm, we’ve got your back. Coworkers, at all levels, care. Hierarchy isn’t our thing. Helping out when we can, some of us or all of us – that’s who we are…Our purpose is what makes what we do at this place more than a job.”

                                                    -James S. Farrin, Founder and CEO of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin

Why is workplace culture important?

A positive workplace culture can improve teamwork, raise morale, increase job satisfaction, reduce stress, and enhance employee retention. This can occur even in a culture that is not deeply aligned with the leadership’s vision for the firm. If, however, the culture also includes those things that are unique to the firm’s vision, all employees embrace the vision and move the firm forward. People start to see how what they do fits into the big picture. Employees across all positions in the firm become empowered and motivated to impact the success of the firm. Other successful companies have found this to be true:

“Without question, the culture of a company is a significant factor in an employee’s level of engagement,” says Todd Davis, chief people officer and executive vice president for FranklinCovey, a world leader in consulting and training. Davis contends that highly engaged employees “care deeply about results, and therefore, they work tirelessly to ensure those results are remarkable. Their productivity is extremely high.”

A great organizational culture is the key to developing the traits necessary for business success. Deloitte’s Core Beliefs and Culture Chairman’s Survey has shown that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that “workplace culture is important to business success.” While success can be defined and measured in many ways, I think it is reflected in four key areas:

A magnifying glass searching resumes for qualified candidates to hire.HIRING SUCCESS: Firms with affirmative workplace cultures attract employees.

We all know that human capital impacts the bottom line, so making the right hiring decisions is critical. When a firm carefully defines its workplace culture and also “walks the talk” and lives up to that definition, it encounters success when making hiring decisions based on an applicant’s fit with that culture.

Proof point: Glassdoor’s “Mission & Culture Survey 2019” found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying.

Two hands supporting 3 employeesRETENTION SUCCESS: Employees stay at organizations with supportive cultures.

Many employees consider factors other than monetary compensation in decisions related to maintaining a job with an employer. High turn-over negatively impacts workplace culture because employees are burdened with covering and training for vacant positions, and it puts a strain on how employees view the firm and its managers. The cost in time, money, and energy (or lost opportunity) resulting from high employee turn-over can cripple a firm. Conversely, happy and supported employees enjoy working, speak highly of their firm, and encourage others to seek the services the firm offers – they even refer other like-minded people to join the firm (which leads to hiring success). And remember: less turnover also helps the bottom line.

Proof point: Grant Thornton LLP and Oxford Economics released a 2019 “Return on Culture” study that showed that almost half of the employees reported that they would leave their jobs for a lower-paying job in exchange for a better organizational culture. Glassdoor’s “Mission & Culture Survey 2019” reported that two-third of employees stay in their job because of the organization’s culture, and 71% would start looking for new jobs elsewhere if their current company’s culture deteriorated.

A rising bar graph with an arrow pointing up and a cog wheel.PRODUCTIVITY SUCCESS: A positive workplace culture influences employee engagement and results in higher productivity.

Engaged employees believe their role is valued and a part of the firm’s big picture. They care about the future of the firm, the goals of the firm, and doing their part in it.

Proof point:  In a “Small Business Pulse Survey” of The Alternate Board, 86% of small business owners reported that they believed that company culture directly and positively impacts productivity.

A large green bag full of money with a dollar sign on it.FINANCIAL SUCCESS: A positive workplace culture can ultimately improve the bottom line, which in turn, can reward employees.

Employees working within positive work cultures tend to be motivated to work hard to do their part to achieve their firms’ goals. And employers, in turn, tend to share their firms’ successes with their employees. Unmotivated or uncaring employees will not do their best, and may in fact perform at substandard levels, so that the firm fails to realize the full value of employee compensation. Furthermore, such employees can create discord and negative work environments for others, further reducing employee effectiveness.

Proof point: Grant Thornton LLP and Oxford Economics 2019 “Return on Culture” study showed that companies with healthy cultures are 1.5 times more likely to experience revenue growth of 15 percent or more over three years.

When you have a few minutes (22 to be exact), I urge you to watch this impactful masterclass on measuring and promoting law firm productivity by law firm management expert Eric Sanchez. I guarantee you will learn more than one way to start improving productivity at your firm today!

In their Harvard Business Review article “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive,” Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron conclude, “When organizations develop positive, virtuous cultures they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness – including financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement.” Hopefully you agree.

How do you create a workplace culture that encourages productivity?

Not only do you have to CARE about the culture, you’ve got to DARE to build the culture you seek.

D.A.R.E. to build it.

Follow these four straightforward action steps to create a positive and productive workplace culture:

Define it – Define your firm’s culture. In the law firm example I provided at the beginning of this article, management identified 24 behaviors that defined the firm’s workplace culture. Included were all the behaviors that were needed to fit in and thrive at the firm. When the firm hired, it sought out smart, passionate, achievement-oriented individuals who embodied these behaviors – because that meant they would fit with the culture and be good teammates and productive employees.

Align it –To be engaged, your employees need to identify with the mission and purpose of your firm. A successful law firm works to build continuous alignment between its objectives and its employees’ performance metrics. Ensure that you are measuring employee KPIs that are tied to your firm’s vision, purpose, and goals.

Click here for a list of 29 KPIs for measuring law firm productivity.

Recognize it – Studies have shown that the majority of employees agree that they’re more likely to repeat an action if they’ve been recognized for it. When an organization makes employee appreciation and recognition part of its culture, productivity, engagement, and retention tend to improve. Add recognition into your workplace culture.

Hopefully your case management software has a tool that can help you here. GrowPath does. Our Productivity Tool allows managers to measure and compare employee caseloads, activities, and tasks in real time so that they can identify and reward top performers.

Enable it – This involves giving your employees a voice. Studies have shown that creating a culture that prioritizes feedback improves motivation and leads to greater productivity. Gallup found that organizations with managers who received feedback on their strengths showed 8.9 percent greater profitability. Engage your employees by asking for feedback and acting upon it.

C.A.R.E. enough to make it work.

Below are the necessary elements for nurturing a productive workplace culture:

Communication – Organizational goals must be shared, and employees must know how their roles fit into the firm’s big picture and how they are helping the organization achieve its goals. There must be frequent and consistent communication from management and HR. If you are transparent about the firm’s performance, employees will feel trusted and inspired to fight the good fight. This also reduces the chances of rumors and misinformation taking over and can help foster good communication throughout the organization.

Advocacy Responsibility for building a strong workplace culture rests in the hands of practice area leaders and firm managers. If the workplace culture prioritizes a value that the leadership team does not uphold, the workplace culture is weakened. Your management team must be culture advocates.

Resilience – To be productive, firms also need to be resilient and adapt quickly to change. This includes appropriately managing workloads and expectations in order to minimize the stress, negativity, and low morale inherent in employee burnout. Use your case management system to help balance caseloads and improve your employees’ resilience.

GrowPath has a Gravity Report that helps managers observe, evaluate, and balance caseloads and Matter Trackers dashboards that help employees get a high level view of their entire caseloads so that they can act on what needs attention most. 

Empowerment – Give employees the tools they need to succeed and clear goals, and they will have the confidence they need to achieve what is expected of them.

Your case management system should be able to help you here, as well. GrowPath’s all-in-one platform and best-in-class intake, case management, and analytics tools help attorneys and paralegals streamline processes, identify workflow bottlenecks, and distill each day’s work into manageable to do lists based on what is happening within each case. It empowers them to succeed.

Now that I’ve shared with you why workplace culture is important and how it can impact your firm’s bottom line, I urge you to D.A.R.E. to C.A.R.E. Pay attention to it and nurture it, and you, your employees – and ultimately your clients – will benefit.

D.A.R.E. to C.A.R.E.

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