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Firing on All Cylinders

In my work as an in-house marketing director and now as a consultant for lawyers and CPAs, I have wondered why firms’ recruiting, retention and marketing efforts often have less than desirable results, despite the best efforts of all involved. After 17 years, I have discovered four things that are the foundation of success in professional services firms. These four things come naturally to successful leaders; they are the source of the vitality and energy we all admire. Best of all, they don’t cost a dime.

While getting your firm to fire on all cylinders doesn’t cost anything monetarily, there is a serious commitment of effort involved. That commitment must come from you -- not your HR director, not your marketing director, not your partners. If you accept this concept, what follows will help you.

The Four Cylinders

Firing on all cylinders starts with you. It involves changing the way you look at your firm, your profession, and your life. And it’s about demonstrating those changes in your behavior to the people around you.

Once you get yourself energized and firing on all cylinders, you will start to notice a change in how people respond to you. You’ll also see your positive energy become contagious among the people in your firm. The drive to fire on all cylinders becomes a group mentality, a construct by which your partner group and your whole team can operate.

What makes a firm’s engine fire on all cylinders? Four things. Connection, purpose, acceptance, and gratitude.

The First Cylinder: Connection

Connection is a feeling that you, your partners, and your team members are in relationship, that you trust each other and will help each other. It’s the feeling of being “in this thing together” that creates true camaraderie and loyalty.

When I talk to young professionals about why they left a firm, they often tell me that it wasn’t the salary or the time demands or the nature of the work. What they talk about is feeling that the firm just didn’t care about them. They felt like cogs in an ever-revolving wheel, and they had no sense that the partners would care one whit whether they were there or not, as long as the work kept grinding out. In other words, they felt no connection to the firm or the people in it.

Simple Ways to Connect

  1. Invest the time. Understand that connecting with team members and partners is part of your job as an owner and leader in your firm. It isn’t billable, and it isn’t ever going to be. But it is every single bit as important as any billable hour you will log.
  2. Do what you say you will do. If you set a meeting with a partner or employee, make it – and make it on time.. If you say “let’s have lunch next week”, follow up and set the lunch date. Then go. To do otherwise conveys the message that you don’t respect people’s time and that you are not true to your word. This is age-old advice, but it is followed less and less these days. If you do only this, your credibility and others’ perceptions of your leadership abilities will grow.
  3. When you ask “how are you?”, stop and listen to the answer. It makes people feel important when you take the time to find out about their lives and share something about your life with them. When “how are you?” is used as a hallway greeting and nothing more, it is meaningless.
  4. Make eye contact. When you’re talking to one person, don’t let your eyes wander around the room. It makes the person you are talking with feel less important than the stranger across the room.
  5. Leave your door open as much as you possibly can during the workday. An open-door policy with a firm full of closed doors doesn’t make sense.
  6. Spend time making informal, impromptu connections. Every now and then, find one or two partners or team members and go have coffee. Spend 15 to 30 minutes together. You don’t need an agenda, you don’t need formality, you just need to spend the time. It’s amazing how this can help build and cement relationships. Does it remove 15 minutes from your billable day? Yes. Is it worth far more than your billing rate for 15 minutes? Absolutely.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009