After coming in the bottom 20 in a poll surveying lawyer attitudes to their firms, our client, a firm of solicitors providing commercial and litigation services primarily in the commercial, health and insurance sectors, felt that the ‘softer’ side of business performance had to be addressed.
Nearly two years previously the company had merged with another firm of solicitors expanding their operation to seven UK locations and Brussels. As happens so often in post-merger situations, it was felt that the business benefits of the merger had still to be completely realised. In addition, the fact that only 17 people out of more than 1200 employees had responded to the survey also alerted the partners to the fact that post-merger there were clearly areas that still needed to be looked at.g.
The HR manager and the partners believed it was time to ‘grab the bull by the horns’ and make the integration work better and have a more positive impact on performance. They decided to address the issues that were concerning both the partners and staff at all levels. To support this aim, the company decided to investigate in more detail using our approach: a more robust diagnostic than a staff attitude survey that would clearly identify drivers of performance was able to inform more precisely what was needed to be done to improve overall company effectiveness.
The approach decided upon was based on a partner workshop and the utilisation of a diagnostic tool called Organisational Transitions Inventory (OTI). With OTI, the partners workshop helped to create the ideal or ‘Desired State’ for the company. It helped the senior team to finally articulate collectively what the newly merged entity should ‘look and feel’ like—its culture, climate, and organisational style—in order to deliver its strategic goals. Once this benchmark was established, staff were invited to complete the OTI questionnaire based on their perception of current reality. The gap analysis couldn’t have provided clearer messages to the partners. There was a real lack of engagement in the business, despite considerable efforts to communicate with people. There was lack of focus on the opportunities created by a bigger organisation and no real sense of direction or contribution.
It was felt that a good mandate for change had been provided with a 72% response rate, but rather than tackle everything at the same time the firm decided to concentrate on those areas needing greatest attention and that would deliver greatest results. The key areas highlighted by OTI were around i) direction, ii) teamworking iii) responsibility and decision-making, and iv) communication.
The change and development programme that followed helped senior managers and team leaders to be more communicative about the firm’s new strategy, but in ways that were more pertinent and useful to the receivers. It helped them in practical ways to engage with employees, enabling staff to feel clearer about the company’s direction and how they fitted in the organisation and what was expected of them, as well as developing clearly understood career development paths and recognition.
The focus on direction, clarity of expectation and recognition, and engagement at all levels compelled partners to develop and cascade business plans that would support the general direction of the business and their particular sector responsibility. It enabled clearer links to be made between performance management and leadership, improving not only the quality and delivery of internal communications, but a more structured approach to external communication and marketing. It provided a means by which every member of staff, regardless of position or seniority, could make very direct and tangible connection between their own individual work activity, their teams activity and their overall contribution to business success. At a more micro level it also enabled the development of more consistent leadership behaviours at several levels, introducing a more flexible, open and involving style. Supporting the skills development were a number of tools that enabled partners and senior lawyers to better handle their term performance and engagement levels.
Even before the end of the programme of activity which lastet almost nine months, staff were saying that they felt better about the firm. One of the features of the diagnostic approach taken was that OTI provided an overall performance-effectiveness rating that compares organisations to others in a normative pool: when the diagnostic survey was retaken three months after the end of the programme, the overall effectiveness rating improved by 28 percentile points from 44% to 72%. The partners also felt that the investment made in the diagnosis and the resulting change development programme has been worthwhile.
These perceptions, however, were not the complete story. The programme of activity has seen some dramatic business results. While the overall number of staff stayed the same, at around 1178, the number of lawyers increased by 50, which means they were able to function—and effectively—with 50 fewer support staff. Translated, this meant more motivated fee-earning staff needing less support. Staff turnover, another area of major organisational cost, dropped by 1.99% to 1.67% monthly. Monthly billings per lawyer also increased by 19%. Rising billings per lawyer provided a bottom line return from the investment in the ‘softer’ side of the business. This measure of performance enabled the link to be made between investment in people and financial improvement.
The culture and style of the company as originally measured by OTI was cautious, and very task orientated. After the change programme, the re-measure showed that the company is more flexible, wants to move faster, be more innovative and entrepreneurial. The practical benefits to the partners, apart from tangible business performance improvement, have also been the development of a more shared common approach, helping the partnership to be more cohesive about its views on future business direction, and they have built more aspirational thinking about where the company could be in another 5 years time.