Editor's note: This is the third piece of this four-part article series. You can read the other articles here: Becoming an Employer of Choice for Millennials (part 1), and How to Attract More Millennials to the Legal Workforce (part 2).
Openness in the law department has become more of an emphasis in the recent past, and for good reason. If you consider the successful relationships you have built with people in your personal life, more likely than not one of the most important elements in those relationships is openness, trust and transparency. Workplace relationships are not very different.
In order for law departments to thrive, attorneys and staff need to feel not only comfortable communicating openly with their colleagues (both senior and junior to them), but also that they can raise concerns without fear of being regarded unfavorably or ostracized by their colleagues. Building a departmental workplace culture that promotes this positive openness and transparency is the first step in fueling continued communication and collaboration among staff, which will ultimately lead to more effective and successful performance of the individuals and the business as a whole.
So how can law departments create this culture of openness? First off, the department needs to define what it values. These values drive the culture, staff and ultimately the success of the department and business. While a lot of law departments have nicely defined, lofty values that are splashed all over, not a lot are actually being displayed by the way staff members conduct themselves. Values should be able to drive behavioral change in a way so that it becomes part of the department culture.
To drive change, it is important that these values are communicated to the entire department through sustained campaigning. While documented policies and guidelines (both from an HR and departmental perspective) are essential, it is critical to design a messaging campaign around the rollout of such culture-building initiatives. In the messaging campaign it is critical to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question; i.e., the law department needs to show how these values and the openness help each and every attorney and staff member in their daily work. The rollout of such a campaign needs to have a framework that will work in a loop to identify and develop the content needed, roll out the message, gather feedback and revise periodically. The framework should include types of communications, proposed media, frequency/cadence and audience, as well as success measures.
To ensure a cultural change, law departments also need to find a way to measure and review their alignment to these values. For example, criteria can be built into performance management reviews in order to ensure that all attorneys and staff are adhering to and promoting a culture of openness and collaboration instead of one that solely promotes competitiveness and individual merit. The law department should promote and require open feedback, as well as encourage employees to share information and be honest, responsive and transparent with their colleagues.
In conjunction with the cultural change campaign, law departments need to explore tools and technologies that can help facilitate and drive the adoption of openness in the workplace. One area we touched on in our previous article was the implementation of open office concepts. Traditional office and cube workspaces are being replaced with open floor layouts with shared desk spaces, huddle rooms, desk “hoteling,” phone call parking and other collaborative measures.
Features such as frosted glass partitions and filtered white noise are becoming popular features in order to achieve an optimal mix of open layouts with minimal interruptions and distractions. Most modern law departments are also now incorporating one or more communal areas, as well as meeting rooms, unenclosed breakout areas and casual seating groups or “clusters” that staff can use as social hubs for collaborating with their colleagues.
These types of individual and group workspace layouts encourage teamwork and deter from any tendency attorneys and staff may have to hide behind closed doors doing work on an individual-only basis. While it can be agreed that this type of work is occasionally necessary given certain circumstances, it should not be the norm.
In order for any of this to work, staff must see and feel the open, transparent culture described above, regardless of their categorization as millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, etc. Once this happens, and through the combination of cultural and physical changes the law department can make, companies can begin to reap the benefits that an open and transparent law department will help them realize.