We were recently asked to make a presentation to managing partners of small law firms in Texas on best hiring practices. In preparation for this seminar talk, we were reminded of the importance of RETAINING existing talent.
Hiring is just the start of building a team, once someone is found and trained, the law firm or legal department needs to know how to KEEP them! The costs of turnover are mostly hidden, but affect the bottom line of small law firms significantly. The firm loses the skills and historical knowledge that the departing employee is taking with them, as well as the time and cost invested in both hiring and training them. Departures can also impact the firm’s clients, who may have come to like and trust the former employee. Avoid all of these negatives by KEEPING the employees you VALUE.
What can law firms do to prevent star talent from leaving for another position?
Fortunately, you don’t have to simply watch your star talent slip away. There are steps you can take to minimize or eliminate employee departures. The following list of 13 preventative measures is based on our many years of daily candidate interaction, talking with and meeting candidates every day, either when they call us to get active or when we call them with a new opportunity.
Treat staff as valuable and respected members of your team
While staff members may not have the same education and training as you, they deserve as much respect and consideration as you expect reciprocated. The quickest way to lose good people is to fail to let them know, through your actions, attitude, and words, that they are a valuable member of your team. This goes beyond merely offering gracious words and financial incentives. Consider managers, who are the authority figures with whom rank-and-file employees most commonly interact. Letting them know that they carry the culture for the entire organization and enabling them with the skills to do so both lets them know that they’re valued and carries that sense of respect to all of their subordinates.
Do what you say and say what you do
Nothing makes employees lose confidence in their employer quicker than being promised something that is not delivered. Lead by example. Be clear in your communications, especially about expected timing and amount of raises, bonuses, etc. so that there is no misunderstanding.
Make sure employees know what you expect of them
It may seem basic, but often in small firms, employees have a wide breadth of responsibilities. If they don’t know the scope of their job responsibilities and what you need from them, misunderstandings and recriminations start to occur as they fail to perform as expected.
Staff members are often juggling the responsibilities that come with families as well as their careers. Flexibility in work schedules may be difficult in a law-firm environment, but allowing for some flexibility goes a long way. Similarly, rewarding your most loyal contributors with sabbaticals may prove challenging from a scheduling standpoint, but it provides your most loyal contributors with a sense of personal value and flexibility.
Foster employee development
This could be training to learn a new job skill, paying for them to join a local professional organization, and encouraging/allowing their participation in the organization, even if occasionally during the workday. Their participation in professional organizations will likely benefit your firm as well. As employees learn, they’ll bring best practices and ideas from colleagues in similar environments back to your firm.
Additionally, employee development should start as soon as you’ve made a new hire, and one of the best ways to implement it is through a mentoring program. Employee engagement platform Vantage Circle has noted that employers can increase retention by 82 percent with an effective onboarding process, and 70 percent of current employees say that they would consider leaving if another company offered better development and learning opportunities.
Keep employees fit, mentally and physically
Related to employee development is the idea that your staff needs to remain physically and mentally fit if they’re to remain with your firm. Commenting on HR insights over recent years, Vantage Circle states that half of turnover owes simply to employee burnout. Additionally, “companies that provide the option for remote work have 25 percent lower employee turnover.” Ensuring that your policies and facilities promote employees’ physical and psychological wellbeing helps to ensure that they’ll stay.
Build team morale
Consider a quarterly event outside of the office, such as a Fun Run, Softball Team, Book Club or a way to give back to the community as a team. Morale-building exercises can also have more direct integration with job tasks. Collaborative team-based problem-solving exercises such as hackathons can provide inspiration and cohesion while reaching company goals. By implementing such morale-improving measures, you will also be creating long-lasting relationships between employees, which will ultimately improve performance and retention.
Provide some sort of feedback system
Staff members often feel that their feedback or input is not welcomed or valued. Consider a system where proactive feedback is welcomed and addressed. Feedback should be a two-way street. Many managers naturally congratulate staff when they accomplish a task successfully, and providing such recognition is an effective retention policy. But no one can guarantee success, and your team should also understand that employees equally appreciate having their hard work praised, no matter its ultimate outcome. Vantage Circle reports that “employees whose managers consistently acknowledge them for good work can reduce turnover up to 31 percent.”
Empower employees to grow and make decisions
Employees also feel good about themselves when they have the latitude and autonomy to make truly significant decisions. If you’ve continued to invest in their personal development during their tenure, they should have all of the tools they need to perform well and wisely.
Conduct “stay” interviews
In addition to performing exit interviews to determine why your employees are leaving, consider asking long-term employees why they choose to stay. Ask questions like, “Why did you initially come to work here?” “Why have you stayed?” “What would make you leave?” and, “What are your nonnegotiable issues?” “What would you change or improve?” Managers and employers should also ask employees for feedback on what steps they could take to better improve the company culture.
Promote from within whenever possible
Always give employees a clear path for advancement, even if it just means added responsibilities. Some employees may become frustrated if they do not have goals to attain or if they do not see a clear future for themselves with the firm. Promotions aren’t your only option here either. Job rotations and lateral opportunities help keep employees engaged even when promotions simply aren’t feasible.
Know that it’s a learning opportunity when your employees leave
Sometimes employees simply won’t stay, and there isn’t much you can do about it. However, turnover can teach you important things when your creative ways to retain employees fail. If possible, speak with employees before they’ve left your firm about the reasons for their exit. They can provide valuable insights about your company’s culture if you’re willing to listen.
You’re probably surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet. But YES, it is important.
- Offer competitive compensation. Make sure your staff members are well-compensated. Any employee who is underpaid is ripe to be recruited away by another law firm. Talk to your colleagues at other law firms and legal recruiters who focus on your market to obtain data on what other law firms are paying their staff.
- Offer a benefits package that will suit your employees’ needs. Providing health insurance, life insurance as well as a retirement-savings plan is essential in retaining your star employees. If group plans are not possible due to your small size, help them find individual plans and offer to pay a portion of each.
- Provide less-traditional benefits. Sometimes the smallest things, like “Free Bagel Fridays” may seem insignificant to you, but can make a staff member feel more at home and more loyal to the firm. Allowing them to take off a couple of hours early on days like Halloween are other small perks which are not expected but go a long way towards keeping morale high.
Even if you pay top compensation, for some employees, even top compensation cannot make up for a lack of some of the other intangibles mentioned above. Know your employees well enough to know what they value about their current job and focus on providing the aspects described above that mean the most to them. A great deal of time, cost and risk is involved in any new hire. Avoid this cost and risk by keeping the proven talent already among your ranks!