In this episode, we discuss:
- Having a reset conversation and following through with new rules.
- The importance of enforcing the new rules.
- Hiring people that will fit your culture and know the rules from the start.
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Allison Williams: [00:00:28] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where this week we are going to talk about how to shift your law firm culture. Now, I decided to cover this topic because we have had a lot of questions coming up in the membership of Law Firm Mentor, where our clients have been asking the question of how to deal with existing employees who are adequate or even above average or even superior at their job in terms of their aptitude. But their attitude or their cultural fit is just lacking in some way. It could be that you hired a person and they started off exactly where you were, or they had some quirks and some foibles, but you didn’t really care because it was just you and you just kind of learn how to adapt around it. But over the course of time, what you’re finding is the more people you add to your culture, the more that that person remains an outlier. Right? They’re just not quite doing the work that you want done or they’re just not quite fitting into the the right atmosphere that you want to create in your company. And shifting culture is one of those things that does take time. It’s not as simple as kind of going in, firing everybody and starting over again because frankly, most of us can’t afford to do that. Right. So the question becomes, how do you shift the culture? So I wanted to give you today some thoughts about how you can shift your law firm culture from the perspective of what not to do.
Allison Williams: [00:02:01] Right. The things that you are to do, I think, are probably going to be a lot easier to grasp. So I want to cover some of the things that might present some challenges to you. And this is in the area of things that we might instinctually want to do, but that are not always going to be best for us. So the very first don’t is that you should not neglect the reset conversation. So what is a reset conversation? Well, any time that you have been operating in a relationship with someone, whether it is a friend, a family member, a parent, a spouse, an employee, any time that you have had an interaction with someone, you have taught that person how to treat you. right. Either by virtue of things that you have proactively said or things that you have failed to respond to when you did not like what was done. And so if you teach someone how to treat you and now you want them to treat you differently, you can’t just start to complain about the things that you always found acceptable and expect that they’re going to miraculously change course. You have to be definitive in saying, let’s stop and pause and talk about how this relationship is going to unfold. And that means being willing to own the fact that you either allowed or invited someone to behave in a certain way. You might not have said, I want you to be disrespectful to me, but when they were, you didn’t stop them.
Allison Williams: [00:03:30] Or I want you to have toxic gossiping behavior toward each other. You might not have asked them to do that, but when they did, you didn’t stop them, right? So even your passivity and letting challenges be what they are does induce people to continue to behave the way you might not like. So you want to have the conversation with people to tell them, we’re going to have a new day now, right from this day moving forward, we’re going to change the way that we engage in this business. All right. Number two is that you have to establish new rules, right? So the don’t here is don’t allow that reset conversation to be a separate, isolated event without the follow through of enforcement.
Allison Williams: [00:04:18] You have to induce people to follow your rules. Right. Just simply saying, hey, I know we’ve been doing it this way for the past five years, but now new rule. And hope that they simply follow the new rule. Some people will, right. Some people by virtue of you stopping and having a conversation with them, it’s going to jar them into a new course of behavior. But for most people, the vast majority of people are creatures of habit, right? So they have been pretty automatically engaging in behavior in a certain way, not because they wanted to do something to you or even for you, but because they fell into a modus operandi. To change that, it is going to take some time. Right.
Allison Williams: [00:04:58] But one of the things that is most toxic to having a reset conversation is when you have the conversation. And then the very first time that someone deviates from the new set of rules, you say, all right, I’ll tell them next time. Or, Oh, they perfectly understand. We’ve been doing it the old way for a while. You have to be very clear. The old way is not acceptable. It’s not negotiable. It’s not something that we’re going to have another conversation about. This is what the new rule is. You have to make sure that they understand the gravamen of your reset conversation. And you do that. You teach them that through enforcing the rules that were established in that reset conversation. All right. Item number three, and this is a note that I think a lot of us would look past when it is time to grow. Because for a lot of law firm owners, when they are in a state of growth, the first urgency is to get a body to do a thing in the business. Right. You need a lawyer to bill hours or process cases or move the time on desk. You need a paralegal to facilitate the legal work being done or manage the clients or file the documents. Right. Whatever the need is, your focus is on filling that need, not necessarily on reforming the culture as you fill the need. But just as we’re very intentional with telling our clients, you have to be proactive in defining the perfect hire for you, you also have to be proactive in defining your culture.
Allison Williams: [00:06:27] Your culture is going to be critical. And the way that you define your culture, the way that you get people on board with your new culture, is that you have to bring people in who embody the culture that you desire, not who shift slightly from the culture that you already have. So what do I mean by that? Well, think about it this way. If you have people in your company that gossip, right, there’s a certain level of tolerance that people will have for that. And they almost intuitively believe that it is required that people just in engaging with each other will talk about each other. But I’m sure you’ve heard the quote before. You know, lower level people talk about people, higher level people talk about thoughts and ideas. Right. So if you have people in your company that talk about other people do know that there is a different, more mature individual out there who can do that job, who can do it without talking about people. So you do want to eradicate things like gossip in your culture, but if you’ve allowed that type of behavior for a period of time, as soon as you add a new person in with the old people, well, the old people are going to inherently be mentors to the new person, even if you don’t assign them that task. We all, as humans, when we come into a new environment, we look to anchor ourselves to that which is comfortable so that we can most quickly acclimate to our new environment.
Allison Williams: [00:07:51] So if you come into an environment where you don’t know anyone, you’re going to be looking for how other people engage and behave so that you can figure out how you should engage and behave. And that usually means you’re going to be picking up the good habits of the hires that are there and the not so good habits. So you don’t want to have that happen, but we know that to a certain degree it is instinctually going to happen. So what do you do? You have the reset conversation. You’re going to enforce the rules of the reset conversation. And when you add in a new person, you’re going to tell the new person, what are the absolute deal breakers of this workplace? Now, you might be asking yourself, if I got five or ten people over here that are engaging badly, and I tell this person over here, as soon as you do it, you’re out. Is that really going to be accurate? Am I really going to fire someone as soon as they break that rule? Well, depending on what the rule is, you may or may not fire them automatically, but you absolutely have to address it automatically. And you have to let them know that you have a zero tolerance policy in your office for that behavior. So if they are aware of something that’s going on that you have said is absolutely not permitted, they should be telling you, just as everyone else should be telling you, right. Now, telling you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the business owner.
Allison Williams: [00:09:11] It can mean your HR department. It can even be an anonymous tip however you would, however you would facilitate that. But the goal is that you not bring in a new person and simply dump them into the laps of the old people and expect that you’re going to get the new reset conversation behavior. You’re going to get the behavior that is tolerated in your company. So the new people coming in have to be able to have a firm foothold on what is allowed and what is not allowed. And that typically means testing for what they are predisposed to already, because there are some people that would engage in bad behavior no matter who they’re around. And there are other people that are going to be more influenced by bad behavior if they see it. But if they don’t see it, they wouldn’t have been inclined toward it for the first place in the first place. So all of that, of course, goes to the idea that when you are creating a culture and when you are shifting a culture, you are doing so from the perspective of getting people from the outside coming in with a fresh, new set of behaviors and attitudes that are going to be supportive of, and consistent with your new culture, not your old culture. All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. And you’ve been listening to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I’ll see you next week.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm by 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.
My favorite excerpt from the episode:
TIME: 00:04:18 (40 Seconds)
You have to induce people to follow your rules. Right. Just simply saying, hey, I know we’ve been doing it this way for the past five years, but now new rule. And hope that they simply follow the new rule. Some people will, right. Some people by virtue of you stopping and having a conversation with them, it’s going to jar them into a new course of behavior. But for most people, the vast majority of people are creatures of habit, right? So they have been pretty automatically engaging in behavior in a certain way, not because they wanted to do something to you or even for you, but because they fell into a modus operandi. To change that, it is going to take some time.