Your people are your ambassadors. Every last one of them can and will directly influence if and how clients interact with your law firm or legal services entity.
Taking a personal approach to welcoming people returning to work or new ways of working can influence client relationships and help you make more friends than you could ever imagine.
With economies starting to regain traction and businesses beginning to fully reopen, right now is the ideal time for personal contact either in-person or by digital means.
All relationships, whether personal or professional, need to be nurtured to survive and better yet, thrive.
This is why managing by walking around has been a leadership tactic since time immemorial. But even if you’re unable to walk the halls, leaders can still find ways to connect with people for two-way conversations on an individual basis.
As people begin, alter or continue with new ways of working whether full time, part-time, in office, by remote, a hybrid arrangement, or by making cameo appearances, it’s critical to welcome them back warmly.
The results of doing so will amaze you and the returns will be exponential.
A Personal Story
Once upon a time and for 14 years, I was in the broadcast news business.
Early in my broadcasting career, I worked for a television station that went on strike during the last few weeks of my employment with them. A month prior to the strike, I had accepted an opportunity with a new company, but due to dealing with the upcoming labour disruption I had yet to give notice.
When I did, I resigned to the CEO. He surprised me by returning to the station from his cottage to counter-offer with three different roles each of which I declined. He further surprised me when, even though our relationship had often been turbulent over the years, I was invited to his office for a chat.
During our conversation, we talked about people who had remained inside the station during the strike as well as those who had chosen to join the picket line. He had some hard feelings toward people who had chosen to go on strike, and was concerned about what would happen when it ended and some of those people returned to work.
I asked to offer some unsolicited advice and to my surprise yet again, he accepted.
This is what I said: “Some of the best people who work here are inside. The rest of the best people are outside on the line. The only difference is that each individual made a decision based on what was best for them at the time.”
I said that those who returned to work might feel awkward and resentful, and perhaps hurt and angry, but that as CEO he could help mitigate this.
I suggested that he find a way to meet every single person who returned, and that even if he had passed them in the halls thousands of times over the years without having met them officially, he should find a way to do that now.
Furthermore, I suggested that he take a direct approach and ask about their experience during the strike, including the impact it had on their families. And then ask about their history and roles at the station, and for recommendations to improve how everyone could work together better as a team.
I said that by doing so, he would learn more about everyone who worked at the station and make more friends than he could ever imagine. Lastly, I cited the two of us as proof that a relationship could change, since while ours had been difficult for years – sometimes to the point of combative – we found common ground and were now friends.
He stared out the window and said nothing. Then he escorted me from his office and we said goodbye. I left the station at the end of that week.
Six weeks later, the strike was over and some of the people who had chosen to strike returned to work. I called a friend in the newsroom to ask how everyone was doing.
I was told that no one could fathom the baffling behaviour of the CEO who had undergone a transformation unlike anything anyone had ever seen.
He had given himself a job as the mail boy, and was delivering mail all over the station and learning or confirming names of people he had seen for years but never formally met. And even though everyone knew who he was, he was introducing himself by name and welcoming each person back into the station, including those who had never left. Then he would ask how they were doing, about their families, what their role at the station entailed, and for recommendations on how to work together better.
I learned that the people he met were initially confused, and then thunderstruck followed by charmed. Finally, they were amazed to be asked to contribute recommendations and delighted when some of their ideas became realities.
As a result, this strong station would become stronger. Now, it is mighty.
Best of all, the CEO made more friends than he could ever imagine.
Leaders lead from the front. Granted, everyone including leadership and management is exhausted and battle-scarred after coping with and adapting to how we have lived and worked for the last couple of years.
However, now, when people are grappling with some hard decisions about if, when, and how they will work is exactly why leaders with influence and compassion need to find uniquely personal ways to welcome them back.
If, as one lone individual, my CEO friend could do this for hundreds of employees after a divisive and bruising strike, then leaders at law firms and legal services entities can do the same for members of their organizations who have shared the experience of working through a global pandemic.
Yes, this may be a big ask, but it matters greatly especially in terms of reputation management. Thoughtfulness and kind gestures count, and realize enormous returns of faith and goodwill.
Prospective and current clients, potential laterals, referrers, and other contacts will be watching closely to gauge how your people and new work styles are received. Done well and welcomed warmly, they will hear about it from your ambassadors who will now also be your friends – and you will have more of them than you can ever begin to imagine.
Heather Suttie is an internationally recognized legal market strategy and management consultant to leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide.
For 25 years, she has accelerated performance within law firms and legal service businesses — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — by providing consultative direction on legal business strategy, market strategy, management strategy, and client strategy. The result is a distinctive one-of-one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage culminating in greater market share, revenue and profits.