The hidden agenda - Know the culture

Cet article est publié en version originale, en partenariat avec Strategies, le mensuel de la Legal Marketing Association (États-Unis).

We all start jobs with hope. But sometimes firms hire us because of skill sets that look splendid on paper and in the interview but that don’t match the firm’s culture.

Impressed by the hiring process and the job offer we receive from the law firm, we might be inclined not to ask ourselves whether this firm is a place where we will succeed in meeting the firm’s expectations and experiencing the gratification for which we hope. Ultimately it is our job, not the firm’s, to determine our potential for success.

So before signing on the dotted line, or calling all our friends and colleagues to tell them the good news, there are two rules for us to know. Rule Number 1 : How they behave is their culture. Rule Number 2 : None of us can change Rule Number 1.What do I mean by culture ? Culture : The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization. So what about culture do we need to consider ?

What do we need to ask and answer before we accept the job that will occupy our lives for the foreseeable future ? There are a number of lessons in the book entitled “Results” by Gary Neilson and Bruce Pasternack which are instructive and can help us better understand how organizations truly function.

Only after we understand the strengths and weaknesses of our firm’s culture can we assess whether the firm will or will not ultimately provide us with the tools and environment to do our jobs to the firm’s satisfaction. The following represents five components to culture that ought to be addressed in laying the ground work for our assessment.

1 - Decisions

Decisions dramatically influence how people spend their time. To understand the workings of the firm, we must learn how decisions are made ; who is involved in the process ; and whether decisions, once made, are clear, easy to implement and receive wide support.Likewise, decisions that are not made methodically or for which no one is accountable often fail to find their way into practice, thereby undermining the authority of management and the effectiveness of the work force. We need to boldly inquire about the decision-making process and objectively determine from the responses whether the decision-making process will complement our efforts.

2 - Information Flow

Why would a firm pay us but deprive us of the information we need to do our jobs effectively ? You’d be surprise ! Many colleagues have shared their stories of limited access to client lists, contact data, revenues, upcoming proposals, client initiatives or other information that is unavailable, hidden or otherwise inaccessible. The culprits can be protectionist, merely inadequate delivery systems or something in between. What’s worse, at the other extreme, we might be provided with information that is inaccurate, sloppy, non-responsive or cumbersome and ultimately unreliable for decision making.

Access to usable information is a lifeline to our success. Learning how people share information can be a window into how people view each other. We are all slaves to the worthy efficiencies of email, but be aware that an overreliance on electronic communication may be a means to avoid personal contact, which may be a metaphor for the firm’s values. A firm that values personal relationships is more inclined to communicate as well through casual meetings, drop bys or telephone conversations. Such firms understand that the subtleties of human communication are often lost in electronic exchanges, which advance facts better than feelings. Can one really hope to adequately conduct a pliable work relationship only through e-mail contact ?

3 - Structure

The power structure within a law firm either works toward or wrestles with the firm’s stated strategic goals. All law firms have partners or shareholders, but firms are driven by different forces. Some firms are moved by behavioral standards imposed upon the partners with military precision.

Others rely on a system of persuasion and pleading with the partners. Still many firms are propelled by very smart people randomly moving in different directions. Knowing where a firm’s structure is along this compendium will indicate to you how power gets exercised, if at all, and will help you in setting realistic, attainable goals for the firm. Understanding who is seized with power is essential to meeting the expectations of the powerful.

4 - Motivators

What gets rewarded gets done. Motivators include more than money; they encompass all incentives that inspire people to achieve and care. But about what do they care in the firm to which you are about to devote most of your waking hours ? Do motivators inspire a concern for the firm or do they merely reward self-interest ? Are people’s accomplishments recognized ? Are people encouraged to improve, grow and advance ? Are there discernible standards for advancement or are they illusory ? Can you expect to be judged only by your longevity of service, affability and attendance record ?

And most importantly from a business-development perspective, are attorneys rewarded for thinking of major clients as their own clients or those of the firm ?

5 - Evaluation

Is evaluation an ongoing process ? Can you obtain feedback on your performance ? How can you add value without knowing how your efforts are being received, what you need to improve upon and what you need to do more of ? Many firms fail to provide evaluation at times other than year-end bonus time – often after it’s too late !

Our Values

So what do we do with all this information that we glean ? Must we not also ask ourselves : Where best do we  flourish ? What type of culture do we need to do our best work? What are acceptable deviations from our ideal culture ? A marketing professional’s functions may be similar but, depending on the culture, the job may be very different. According to a recent article in The Economist, most of us want work opportunities that will stretch us without defeating us ; provide us with clear goals ; provide unambiguous feedback ; and give us a sense of control. To accurately assess whether the job you’ve just been offered with the great salary and cool office while provide those – know the culture.

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