Our August and September 2023 LeadWise Forums explored strategies and approaches for helping law firm leaders develop effective initiatives to strengthen employee engagement.
Unlocking Excellence: 4-step Framework for Improving Employee Engagement in Law Firms
Let’s be honest: the notion of “employee engagement” might sound like one of those buzzwords we encounter during annual reviews or leadership retreats. But what does it really mean, and why should law firms care?
Employee engagement is not a whimsical luxury; it’s a strategic necessity. Understanding and enhancing it can translate into measurable organizational success.
What Is Employee Engagement?
The conventional definition of engagement is “the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes.” However, the level of engagement of each individual is also driven by their personality style, individual aspirations for professional success, and intrinsic motivations. This is why the one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement rarely works.
Employee Engagement Is Not the Goal; It’s an Indicator
Employee engagement is not an end in itself; it’s an indicator. It allows us to gauge the likelihood of achieving other critical objectives such as increased productivity, higher quality of client service, etc.
To guide the Forum discussion, we used:
LeadWise Employee Engagement Transformation Framework:
Step 1: Diagnose & Analyze
The first step involves measuring the current level of engagement through methods like surveys, stay interviews, focus groups, etc.
Employee Engagement Surveys
When it comes to surveys, there are lots of options – from simple ones that you can do yourself in-house, like an Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), to ready-made options, like Gallup’s Q12® Survey, to a completely customized outsourced solution, where you bring in a company like ours.
A quick note on the eNPS: You’ve likely encountered NPS as a client satisfaction metric, but did you know it can be adapted for internal use?
Here are the basic steps to launch and analyze your own eNPS Survey:
- Launch an anonymous two-question survey:
- Quantitative question (mandatory): Rate on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend a friend or colleague for employment here?
- Qualitative question (not mandatory): What made you choose this rating?
- Categorize respondents as Promoters (scores 9 and 10), Neutrals (scores 7 and 8), or Detractors (scores 1 through 6).
- Calculate the percentage of people in the Promoters and Detractors categories (ignore the Neutrals).
- Calculate the eNPS score as % Promoters – % Detractors. For example:
- If you had a total of 350 responses with 68 Promoters, 120 Neutrals, 162 Detractors:
- eNSP = 19.43% (Promoters ) − 46.29% (Detractors) = −26.86%
- Your final eNPS is -27
Interpreting the eNPS
An eNPS score can range from -100 to +100. While a score between +10 to 30 is decent, higher scores are obviously preferable. But let’s not jump for joy or despair just yet. This score only indicates the magnitude of the issue; it doesn’t tell you the ‘why.’
Once we have the eNPS or any other survey results, it’s time to dig deeper. Analyze trends over time, look for causation between engagement and other variables, and identify correlations. Are associates with mentors more engaged than those without? Are people in some practice groups more engaged than in others?
Step 2: Present & Prioritize
Once the data is analyzed, the next step is to organize it and present it to your various stakeholders. When determining what information gets presented to whom, think about the various groups of stakeholders, like executive leadership, other firm leaders and managers, etc.
A word of caution: Reviewing survey results and determining which improvement goals should be prioritized can be overwhelming and cause internal disagreements on what the firm should focus on.
When prioritizing potential improvement goals, a good starting point is to ask the question: Which of the improvement goals directly supports one or more of the firm’s top three strategic priorities?
Another option is to use the tried and true Impact/Effort Matrix:
First, list your potential goals based on the survey feedback. Then plot each on the matrix based on its anticipated impact and required effort.
Initiatives in the upper-left quadrant are your Quick Wins, your low-hanging fruit – high impact with minimal effort. These should be your starting point.
Those in the upper-right quadrant are your Big Bets – high-impact but require significant resources, time, and commitment. Tackle these once you’ve gained momentum, and be sure to set realistic expectations on what it will take to achieve these goals.
The lower-left quadrant contains initiatives that are low in both impact and effort. We call them Fill-ins. These are tasks you could consider “nice to have” but not essential. While they’re easy to implement, they won’t necessarily move the needle in terms of employee engagement or firm performance. So leave them for when you have time or in between bigger projects or initiatives.
As for the lower-right quadrant – high effort but low impact – these are your Money Pits! These initiatives should generally be avoided. They consume substantial resources but yield minimal benefits.
The point of the matrix isn’t merely to focus on quick wins but to provide a complete landscape for decision-making. By evaluating each initiative in terms of both its impact and the effort required, you’re better positioned to allocate your resources – both human and financial – strategically. It’s a practical method to translate survey data into a structured action plan.
Step 3: Design & Implement
The next step is to develop and launch the initiatives that will help achieve the goals that you established in Step 2. This is where we design the structure of the initiative, identify the roles individuals will play, create an action plan, and determine the success metrics of OKRs (more on these later).
An important reminder: People are not engaged and motivated as a “them.” People are motivated for their own reasons (depending on their preferences, priorities, goals, and personality styles). So when designing your initiatives, it’s important to take that into account.
If you are looking for ideas on what the different types of employee engagement initiatives can look like based on the level of impact and effort, let’s take a look at a few examples:
Also, consider the Drivers and Negators of high employee engagement:
Drivers: things that enable success and are positively correlated with high levels of engagement
- Purpose / meaning
- Growth / development
- Clarity / transparency
- Effective communication
- Psychological safety
- Ability to use own strengths
- Positive relationship with manager
- Physical environment, tools & processes
Negators: things that are negatively correlated with high levels of engagement:
- Silos / being excluded, left out
- Lack of big picture/context
- Lack of challenge/stretch goals
- Conflict-driven environment
- Unmanageable workload / always-on pressure
- Transformational Change
The goal is to proactively look for ways to introduce more Drivers and reduce the Negators.
Whose Job Is It, Anyway?
One of the questions that comes often is who is responsible for employee engagement.
Here’s a revelation: “Gallup’s most profound finding — ever — is probably this: 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” 70%!
That means that law firm managers (i.e., those who have people management responsibilities, like senior associates, partners, business unit managers, practice group chairs, and office managing partners) need to have a clear understanding of their management roles and be provided with the training and resources they need to be effective managers.
Incidentally, we covered this topic in our June 2023 LeadWise Forum, and you can find the Executive Briefing for it here – 6 Key Stages for Helping Your Lawyers Become Better Managers.
Step 4: Review & Adjust
Once you begin to implement your initiatives, be sure to periodically measure progress against set objectives and success metrics. At LeadWise, we are partial to OKR-style success metrics, but you can use any type (like KPIs) as long as you have clarity of what you are measuring. Keep an eye on your annual and quarterly metrics, and be ready to adapt your strategies based on the insights you gather.
Here are a couple of sample OKR-style success metrics:
Things to consider:
- Review the OKRs: Your OKRs serve as the compass guiding your firm toward its strategic goals. But simply setting OKRs is not enough; they must be reviewed periodically to ensure they’re still aligned with the firm’s evolving objectives and challenges. A quarterly review is often effective for this purpose. During these reviews, evaluate each OKR for its relevance and performance and adjust as needed. Are they driving the behavior and outcomes you intended, or do they need refining?
- Designate roles responsible for tracking progress: It’s vital to assign specific individuals or teams the responsibility of tracking progress toward achieving OKRs. This isn’t merely clerical work; it’s a strategic role that requires analytical skills to interpret data and suggest course corrections. Whoever is in this role should have the authority and resources to collect relevant data and the capability to present it in a way that enables informed decision-making. Remember, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
- Create review guidelines (how and when): To maintain uniformity in the review process, establishing a set of guidelines is indispensable. Set specific timelines for when these reviews will occur. Monthly check-ins with a more comprehensive quarterly review could provide the right balance between oversight and agility. Consistency is key here; sporadic reviews will erode the structure and credibility of the OKR system.
- Determine what can be adjusted: Not all aspects of OKRs are set in stone; in fact, they shouldn’t be. Being agile can make the difference between staying relevant and falling behind. Of course, any adjustments should be carefully considered and supported by data.
By understanding the what, why, and how of employee engagement, we not only set the stage for individual success but also build a foundation for institutional excellence. So, what steps will you take today to enhance engagement in your organization?