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Vibrant workplace culture optimises business success

10 October 2014

To optimise their business success, law practices need to develop and nurture a vibrant workplace culture. This is one of the key messages he can give law firms, says lawyer David Sharrock. As well as being managing principal of Sharrock Pitman Legal, Mr Sharrock is a business law specialist accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria.

“A vibrant workplace culture in a law practice happens intentionally through very practical initiatives,” he says.

Driven by leaders

“It is driven by leaders who inspire and so give it direction. It is built by team members (not staff) who give it vibrancy. It is shaped by everyone creating a better future together.

“It helps achieve business directives by driving business strategy and is most valuable to a law practice when monitored, measured and rewarded,” Mr Sharrock says.

“A vibrant workplace culture is developed and nurtured constantly and intentionally. It takes time, effort and vigilance with ‘blood, sweat and tears’.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ process that works and assures vibrant culture. There is no ‘silver bullet’. Each law practice needs to start their own journey toward an improved culture.”

Practical ideas

That being said, a few practical suggestions might be:

  • As a priority, if there are obvious issues in the extant culture that are concerning and impacting strategy and results, then they need to be raised to the surface, discussed and tackled head on.
  • Quite separately, it’s a good idea to simply understand and then summarise, point by point, all aspects or characteristics of the desired culture. This will be different for each workplace because the people are different. It will cover all areas in a law practice which involve people and their conduct, behaviour and relationships. The areas include clients, team members, leaders, managers, other stakeholders, premises and the ‘how to’ of practising law. It is a positive and affirming summary without focusing on negatives or on any major or even dysfunctional aspects of the extant culture. Basically, such a summary is a picture of the sort of vibrant culture that everyone agrees they want.
  • Over the long term, relationships, conduct, behaviours and the like need some reference point or standards to which everyone can refer to understand how each person can best fit in. This is not to regulate people but more to set expectations and benchmarks to which everyone can aspire.
  • To discuss, agree upon and document ‘charters’ for the team, clients and leaders can give a very helpful resource in the journey toward a vibrant culture.

“But, lawyers beware! These are not rules and erudite legal documents compelling compliance and imposing sanctions!

“They are merely user friendly guideposts in the journey toward a vibrant workplace culture.

Workplace culture

“Workplace culture is something you can hear and see and touch because it comes out of the principles, behaviours, conduct, words, attitudes, decisions and relationships of those who work in a law practice.

“It’s what makes the law practice tick over. It’s what the law practice is like, from the inside looking out and from the outside looking in. It pervades everything that is done and said ... and not done and not said!

“Workplace culture drives business outcomes, namely motivation, engagement, harmony, satisfaction, sense of achievement, sense of belonging, purpose, direction, high performance, results to benefit others, productivity, revenue and, ultimately, profitability.

“On the other hand, a barely adequate or even toxic workplace culture will be characterised by some or all of the following:

  • less than inspiring leadership;
  • disengagement of people with lack of commitment and lack of enthusiasm;
  • inefficiency;
  • poor communication;
  • high turnover of people;
  • lack of ideas and innovation;
  • change that is mishandled;
  • internal conflict;
  • strained relationships; and
  • quality of work that is often inadequate.

“Systems and processes in such law practices may be little more than control mechanisms operating to get the most out of people.”

Mr Sharrock is one of a line-up of international and New Zealand speakers who will present at the upcoming Future Law Forum.

This event will take place from 14 to 16 November at Millbrook Resort, near Queenstown (see www.futurefirmforum.com.) Now in its sixth year, the forum provides an opportunity for law firm leaders – managing partners, principals, partners and managers – to learn about the latest developments affecting the legal services industry and to network with like-minded professionals.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016