Retaining Talent in the Legal Profession
Law firms that communicate with their employees about what they want from work and put in place smart strategies to deliver workplace promises will have a huge advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent.
We are hearing a lot about the Great Resignation, with reports of law firms in a number of countries experiencing higher rates of attrition, and some being forced to reject work and engage in salary wars.
The recent International Bar Association’s “Young Lawyers’ Report” also revealed that most of the 3,000 young lawyers it surveyed globally are likely to leave their current employer in the next five years, and that one in five is likely to leave the profession entirely.
Legal organisations will need to have a robust talent-retention strategy if they are to successfully navigate the Great Resignation and achieve their business strategy.
Here are three key steps to develop and implement your retention strategy:
- Find out what really matters to your people;
- Reimagine your employee value proposition; and
- Deliver on your promises and learn from experience.
These steps will enable you to retain the best talent by better understanding and delivering on what really matters to them, during the great resignation and beyond.
Find Out What Really Matters to Your People
Research indicates that employers often make incorrect assumptions about what is important to their employees. For example, a recent McKinsey study reveals that many employers are struggling to fully understand why their people are leaving. This highlights the importance of getting adequate and timely feedback and insights from your people.
You need to know what are the top things that really matter to your people, and the extent to which those needs are being met by your organisation. You may already have some of this data from internal sources (new joiner surveys, engagement surveys, pulse surveys, exit data, career conversations etc.) and external sources (Glassdoor comments and ratings etc.).
You will need timely data as there have been major shifts in employee expectations, accelerated by the pandemic, around many issues including flexible working, work-life balance, well-being, values and purpose.
One of the timely interventions being advocated to deal with the Great Resignation is the “stay” interview or conversation. This is a one-on-one conversation with an employee to determine what really matters to the individual, and what can be done to help retain them.
Naturally, these “stay” conversations will not be necessary if your leaders and managers already have good insights from other discussions, such as regular check-ins and career conversations, and have acted on these insights.
Invest in developing the capability of all of your leaders and managers to have these critical conversations. Reinforce that many issues influencing retention are under their direct control; for example, work allocation and delegation, recognition, coaching and feedback, development opportunities, career guidance etc.
Data from these conversations should be used to build an organisational-wide picture on key retention issues. These will help identify actions that are required at the individual manager and organisational level.
The references below include an article on stay interviews by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. It discusses why these conversations are important, how to conduct them, and provides good sample questions.
You can also use employee focus groups and surveys to build the organisational-wide picture of what really matters to your people. Focus groups can be set up relatively quickly to sample different segments of your population. Well designed and facilitated focus groups are engaging and provide valuable insights.
If using surveys, ensure that these are not lengthy as those can lead to data overload, and a considerable time lag between the conduct of the survey and the implementation of any actions. This can increase employee cynicism about the organisational commitment to change.
Overall, this step will result in a list of the top things that really matter to your people, and the extent to which their needs are being met by your organisation.
Reimagine Your Employee Value Proposition
Employee value propositions (EVPs) are important as research indicates that organisations that are effective in delivering on their EVP attract the very best talent, deliver a great employee experience, and have high retention rates.
Typical EVP promises include competitive compensation, career progression, challenging work, learning and development, and collaborative culture.
Based on the data from step one, check if those things that really matter to your people are included in the “promises” of your existing EVP, and how your organisation is performing in the delivery of its existing EVP promises.
Given the shifts in employee expectations and the increasing competition for the best legal talent, it is likely that most legal organisations will need to reimagine rather than brush up their EVPs, with a stronger focus on delivering on their promises.
It’s been reported that almost 70 per cent of the world’s most attractive employers have changed their EVP in response to the shifts in employee expectations. Changes include promises on diversity and inclusion, flexible working, well-being and inspiring purpose.
Many issues are interlinked as pointed out by the IBA report in its discussion on young lawyers’ concerns about toxic workplace cultures, poor work-life balance and mental well-being. These issues will need to be understood and dealt with in a holistic way.
Included in the references is a Gartner guide on reinventing the EVP for a post-pandemic workforce. This calls for a human-centered value proposition and lists flexibility, well-being, relationships/connections, shared purpose and career growth as key areas of focus, with suggested actions for each of these areas.
Actively collaborate with your people in reimagining your EVP, which includes building on any insights you have gathered from step one. Design thinking is a great way to engage your people in producing and testing creative ideas for your EVP. For example, if well-being is one of the promises in your reimagined EVP, the question for the group working on this becomes “How might we improve well-being in our firm?”
Ensure that actions address causes and not just symptoms. For example, actions to improve well-being that will change organisational practices and management behaviours that lead to employee burnout. Here, it’s going beyond wellness programmes that help employees become more resilient.
This step will enable you to generate the promises for your reimagined EVP, and a list of the key actions required to fulfill each promise. Having a reimagined EVP will mean that some promises will be aspirational and require more work to translate to reality.
Deliver on Your Promises and Learn from Experience
Delivering on the EVP should be a strategic priority with clear accountabilities and metrics to ensure its successful delivery.
Besides the top leadership team and HR, establish clear accountabilities for all leaders and managers, as they directly impact the employee experience of their people. This includes having clear behavioural expectations of their role in making the EVP come alive. They also need to be well supported through capability development and tools.
Implementing a successful retention strategy is an iterative process in the fast-changing world of work. It will mean new behaviours, ways of working, learning what is working, what is not working, why that is the case, and being open to making revisions. Continue to engage with your people by including them on implementation working groups and getting their ongoing feedback on the delivery of your promises.
Employers who engage and collaborate with their people in developing their retention strategy, as outlined, will have a huge advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent. They will be curious, ask the right questions, listen actively to their people, engage with them on the EVP, establish accountabilities for the delivery of promises, and learn from experience. These are the employers who will win, and win big, in the race to attract and retain the best talent.
- IBA Young Lawyers’ Report. Legal Policy & Research Unit. International Bar Association. 2022.
- “Great Attrition” or “Great Attraction”? The choice is yours. De Smet, Aaron et. al. McKinsey Quarterly. September 2021.
- How to conduct a “stay” interview with your employees and why you should. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. Fast Company. January 23, 2022.
- CHRO Guide: Reinvent Your EVP for a Postpandemic Workforce. Gartner for HR, Gartner. 2021