Culture is an amorphous concept about your people and your values, and about how you’re perceived and how you want to be perceived. At the heart of all of these lies strong communications. Without communications, you can’t develop your firm’s culture. And without culture, your firm’s reputation will be held back.
It is often said that the bigger a firm is, the more important internal communications is. I don’t agree. I think that, regardless of the size of your firm, internal comms is important. Essentially, firms with good internal comms are firms with cultures all their staff buy into. It’s the bedrock of your firm’s reputation.
Read my advice on the six communications tools you can use to create a lasting reputation for your law firm.
As is well known in the circles of modern, global business, movements in wider culture and changes in working cultures mean that organisations need to adapt if they want to make the most of their employees and keep top talent. Particularly so if they want to impress younger generations who, with the digital age as their mother tongue, demand new and different ways of working.
But ultimately, there are no shortcuts to developing a strong culture – just as there are no shortcuts to developing a strong reputation. So, here are my tips for making your firm’s culture a driver of its reputation.
Say what you mean and mean what you say
This includes everything from putting employees first by listening and acting on their concerns to making good on your commitment to standards you set as part of your firm’s brand.
It’s vital for your employees to have avenues through which they can express their concerns. These concerns need to be addressed fairly and responded to proportionately so that employees feel they are being heard. In this, employees need to be made aware of the range of internal policies so that they feel they have the agency to trigger the relevant mechanism when necessary.
Put brand ambassadors at the heart of your internal comms
Brand ambassadors should be the focus of your internal comms strategy. By this, I don’t mean hiring a sole-purpose brand ambassador. Rather, your best brand ambassadors are always your people. And brand ambassador strategy done well means a healthy internal culture and an arsenal of staff telling others what your firm’s brand is about in a way that’s authentic.
Use social media
Social media helps bridge the gap between internal and external comms. Encouraging your firm’s culture through social media is another way to empower through shared celebration. Similar to the way influencer marketing works, this can help build positive momentum by humanising your brand through its people.
Essentially, social media can amplify your brand ambassador strategy. For instance, creating content that your employees want to share on social media can help spread the key messages of your firm.
Know your values
If your firm promotes ethical, environmental or social values, then these values should be lived and breathed right through the organisation, determining everything from the kinds of projects your lawyers work on to the containers your cafe serves coffee in.
But to take it further, another simple way to guide culture through internal comms is to agree with stakeholders across your firm a set of adjectives that describe its values, and then to champion stories of your employees who display those values in their day-to-day work. Key to this will be ensuring those stakeholders are representative of the different levels and functions of work inside your firm so that your agreed values resonate in a meaningful way.
Be human with your staff (especially in times of crisis)
Too often, the first question firms ask in a crisis is “How is the media going to react?” when instead they should first be asking “How are our people going to react?”.
This has an obvious application to crises. For example: just had a bad round of financial reports? Tell your staff first and give them plenty of time to digest and reflect on the news before it goes to the media.
In some cases, crises can lead to positive change. Several law firms have experienced crises off the back of the #MeToo Movement. And when such crises do arise, they prompt firms to question the extent to which internal culture played a role in allowing unacceptable behaviour to take place. Should they experience one, law firms should treat a crisis as an opportunity to revisit and reshape their cultures.
Use tools to integrate multi-jurisdictional firms
Law firms are big organisations, and with cross-jurisdictional mergers and the increasingly global nature of doing business, employees could spend a great deal of time working with people they may never meet in person.
Software tools, tailored to working on projects, are making it easier to work across time-zones and remotely. Getting your firm onto an internal social media system can really help drive employee advocacy and champion the work being done across borders, practice areas and time zones. But if you’re communicating across jurisdictions, do be mindful that you account for local cultures so that all offices feel they are represented by and included in your firm’s overall culture.
Culture is made up of a number of different factors that ultimately determine your reputation. A strong reputation relies upon good internal communications. By dedicating time and resources to internal communications, law firms can rise up the ranks and make a real long-term difference to the way they see themselves and are seen by others.