Build an enjoyable place to work and the rest will come

By Peter George|27 June 2018
enjoyable workplace

“Perception is reality” goes the saying, meaning that the way clients see their reality is their truth, writes Peter George.

The NAB Professional Service Awards in conjunction with FirmChecker, sister company of Beaton Research + Consulting recently released a blog entitled “Best lawyers: What makes them great”.

Using data from client surveys taken as part of the 2017 awards, it looks at how frequently clients mentioned a firm’s strengths. The data presented is simple, but therein lies its power.

Strengths mentioned are divided into three categories – fees (fee certainty and low fees), hard skills (which includes quality of advice and results, expertise and fast service) and soft skills (including effective communication, proactive service and reliability).

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The picture painted is a stark one, with “fees” achieving only 2 per cent of all mentions, “hard skills” appearing in 33 per cent of responses and “soft skills” appearing in 65 per cent.

Put briefly, when asked “what did your law firm do particularly well in the most recent matter completed for you?”, clients are twice as likely to mention a soft skill than a hard skill.

“Perception is reality” goes the saying, meaning that the way clients see their reality is their truth.

It’s that truth that we, as service providers, must understand and accommodate. So, how do these survey results inform the work I do as managing partner at CIE Legal? What does it tell me about where we focus our resources and attention?

First, it tells me that the so-called soft skills are either more valued or noticed more often by clients than hard skills, overall, which at first blush seems somewhat surprising. After all, if isn’t it the case that provided the advice is right, who cares how it’s delivered? These results suggest that this is not the case. Of course, the advice has to be right but what remains at the end of a matter or a project isn’t just the result itself, but also the perception, the feeling left with the client. It seems that soft skill strengths linger longer or deeper than hard skills.

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Reflecting on the meaning of the strengths led me to the second point: that the distinction between hard and soft skills is really an arbitrary one. “Quality of advice and results”, for example, don’t exist in a vacuum. It is the result of technical expertise (a hard skill) combined with numerous soft skills, such as effective communication, reliability and professionalism. Delivering one without the other is not an option. So, yes, while we do focus on service delivery at CIE Legal, we don’t lose sight of the need for our advice to be spot-on.

Third, the results speak to our culture of value, decency and enjoyment. When I look at the list of strengths, it strikes me how much easier it is to deliver so many of them when working in an environment of openness, trust, enjoyment and decency. It seems to me that a happy place to work is a prerequisite for delivering friendliness, professionalism and effective communication.

As other managing partners will attest, the role is not an easy one and even the most strident managing partners at times question their approach. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t. So it’s doubly valuable when independent feedback supports what we do.

Even though many of us know the importance of soft skills deep-down, it’s always valuable to see it in black and white (or blue and red). My take-away? Quality of advice and results is still king. But it can’t be delivered without soft skills, and soft skills can’t be delivered without the right culture.

Ultimately, it comes down to one thing: build an enjoyable place to work and the rest will come. And as to only 2 per cent of mentions being about fees — clearly we aren’t charging enough (joking!).

Peter George is a managing partner at CIE Legal.

Build an enjoyable place to work and the rest will come
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