Engaging all the Voices in Your Law Firm

0

Today’s column was to probe Law Firm’s Critical Growth Metrics (“CGM”), but, in the light of the current developments in our Nation-State, decided to take a moment. The drums are beating loudly with renewed zeal and unimagined gusto, calling for change in our clime, it is only the deaf and insensitive that will not dance positively to its beats. Doubtless, the tune of the drum always changes the atmosphere – it can make the atmosphere moist with expectations, rupturing a mischievous silence. It can be a clarion call for positive renaissance for the “better.” Calling attention to a catalogue of issues and challenges besetting a people; and capturing the present or imminent danger which the issues poses if continually ignored. It can be a summons to battle, to shake yourself from the guilt of inertia. As implied by the idiom of the drum, it is figurative for vehemence, energy and enthusiasm in drawing attention to a cause better not ignored. The drum is symbolic of the voice of people. Let us together, probe how we engage the voices in our law firms.

Do all the voices in your law firm matter? Is the right to expression certain for everyone – or selective? Yes, certain for some more than for others but are you silencing the voices of dissent in your law firm? Are you inadvertently encouraging a culture of silence?

Typically, law firms are made up of several blocs – Partners, Seniors, Juniors, Business Professional Staff, Support/Admin Staff, etc. Different generations – traditionalists or the silent generation, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y or millennials, generation Z. The configuration and the mode of expression of these blocs or generations, are different. Are their expressions being encouraged or suppressed? Thomas Reid (1710–1796), a Scottish philosopher made popular the maxim, “a chain is as strong as the weakest link.” which first appeared in his “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man,” published in 1786; the full idiom being “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” The moral is that the overall strength of a chain is not the strength of the strongest link, or even of the average link. The overall strength of a chain is the strength of the weakest link. If just one link is weak, the chain will break. Processes, organisations, communities and Nations are vulnerable, because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them. Incidentally, Thomas Reid was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, and he played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. And this Scottish axiom does makes uncommon sense, teaching us that every part of the whole matters. The biblical nuance of this truth is rendered as – “Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be feebler are necessary.” Communicated in colloquial English – “On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable;” or “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be less important, turn out to be all the more necessary.”

People Engagement and the Bottom line

Who is responsible for your law firm’s revenue or turnover? To answer that question, we must ask an antecedent question. Who in your firm can influence the firm’s bottom line, for better or for worse? The Managing Partner? the Equity Partners? The HODs or the Lawyers? The COO or Practice Administrator, the Finance Director, Accountant or the Accounts teams? These roles, though extremely important, do not encompass the entire value chain of a law firm. The list has alienated certain vital blocs within the law firm – the Para-legal or litigation clerks, the librarian, front desk, tea lady, security personnel, etc. It is fundamentally within the capacity of every member of your law firm, to either improve or erode the firm’s bottom line. Every member of the firm needs to be thoroughly engaged to understand their stake in the value chain, and how they contribute to the food chain. It is a fact that from c-suites to grassroots, anyone within the firm can thwart the bottom line of the firm.

I had an argument recently about the word, “inclusion” with Kemi Ajayi of Banwo & Ighodalo and Nnenna Agu of Streamsowers & Kohn. At the end, “inclusion and exclusion” became a bit clearer to me. The best leaders break silos and aim to bring in as many people as possible into their circle of influence – in sync with the firm’s vision. So, to improve the bottom line, we must constantly ensure that you have the right people in the right positions, and that they are provided with the right development and with high levels of engagement, so that they are not constantly looking out – it is even worse when employees stay put, but do not put in the necessary energy or commitment.

What is, “employee engagement?” Employee engagement has been defined in studies, as a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of a firm to give their best each day, committed to their firm’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to the firm’s success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being. Employee engagement is about being included fully as a member of the team, and being given a voice to offer ideas and express views that are taken account of, as decisions are made. Employee engagement is based on trust, integrity, two way commitment and communication between a firm and its members. It is an approach that increases the chances of business success, contributing to firm’s and individual performance, productivity and well-being. It can be measured on a scale from poor to great. It can be nurtured and intensified; it can be lost or discarded. In essence, people engagement embodies the right conditions under which employees make an emotionally based choice to be loyal to your firm. Yes emotional – it has been argued that, humans are more emotional than logical beings. Employees demonstrate engagement through a positive expenditure of their discretionary energy and a clear commitment to the firm’s vision, strategies and goals when on and off duty. Engaged employees provide greater productivity and innovation with higher levels of performance, and are less likely to be drawn away by bigger salaries or better working conditions. Work place management needs to be improved, and people engagement remains a differentiator.

In good economic times engagement is the difference between good and great, while in bad economic times, engagement is the difference between sinking and having your people behind you in order to thrive. There are studies that show that very few percentage of employees are fully engaged in most firms – in 2012, Gallup did a research, it took them a year and a half to compile the results, they examined 260 research studies, covering over 49,000 business units, at 192 organisations, spanning over 34 Countries. The findings were released in March 2013, showing that a whopping 70% of employees were either not engaged or actively disengaged. How do we create the conditions for engagement – the working and cultural conditions in which employees are recognised and valued and feel challenged by their work? Engagement has to be seen as a business driver, as a leadership challenge to take onboard and as part of the overall strategic planning process. It is a subject that the British Government took seriously enough to commission a study on in 2008. As part of the Country’s effort to navigate a period of economic downturn, Rt Hon Lord Mandelson, British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills asked David MacLeod and Nita Clarke two business and employee engagement gurus, to do a study on employee engagement and report how it can positively impact British business competitiveness and performance globally. Lord Mandelson wanted evidence to illustrate that organisations or Nations that truly engage and inspire their people, produce outstanding levels of innovation, productivity and performance. The study was to promote how much a greater understanding of employee engagement can help shape the way leaders and managers in both the private and public sectors think about the people who work for them.

For instance, do your people feel victimised in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant economic meltdown, or do they see future opportunities as they are made to feel part of the solution? Employee engagement is about drawing out a deeper commitment from our employees.

Sòrò Soke

There is a dignity you offer a man, a personhood you deliver to him when you give him his right of expression, when you let him know his voice matters. There is a richness it brings to the discourse. I grew up loving a good debate. And practicing before the mirror how to sòrò soke. Even now, I still practice because it does not come easy to me. The fierce Syrian Army Commander Naaman, was cured of his leprosy, because an inconsequential slave girl to Madam Naaman Sòrò Soke and Naaman listened. When voices are silenced, when you gag your employees, you deprive your organisation of the essence of their contribution. They still give, but not the whole of themselves, not the best of themselves. If they continually keep mum and are not engaged or encouraged to sòrò soke, you shove them over this precarious precipice where they eventually exit, or spill into stagnation or create anarchy within your ranks. Sòrò soke does not have to be a battle cry.

The millennials and the centennials of our fatherland. All they ever wanted was to be heard; to lend their voices for a better and humane society where governance will be for the good of the governed. Millennials are self-confident, go-getters, and achievement oriented. They also have high expectations, and are not afraid to question authority. The millennials and the centennials of our fatherland. They wanted to amplify an issue, one of the many issues that has bedevilled a Nation and held it spell bound for too long; their voices, reminiscing the pogrom of many voiceless’. They wanted to exercise the right to air their grievances, to vent, to be taken seriously. All they wanted was assurance that they matter in this Equation called Nigeria – I mean the Law Firm. Nigeria is a multinational State, inhabited by more than 250 ethnic groups speaking 500 distinct languages, all identifying with a wide variety of cultures. To lead, how can you not learn the fine art of good listening and engagement? The millennials and the centennials of our fatherland. They were hoping for meaningful engagements that will culminate in the total good of the collective. Instead the reverse happened on 20.10.2020. This should serve as a valuable reference material to all when we are tempted to silence the voice of dissent, and not engage all the voices of your law firm. And, as their voices were silenced, I am reminded of John Donne’s – “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore, never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for
thee”.