Passion… We tend to think that you either have it or not. But for a firm? Yes it can be cultivated with some intent. Fast Company ran an article by Paul Alofs… 8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture. Alofs’ rules are written for companies, however could have great impact on law firms as well.
1. Hire the right people. Hire for passion and commitment first, experience second and credentials third.
I know this seems counter intuitive for lawyers who are building a firm. Credentials are usually first, right? Well, what if you tried Alofs’ rule, my sense is that it could be a game changer… You can't ignore experience and credentials. Just make passion and commitment the filter by which you judge the other two qualities.
2. Communicate. Once you have the right people, you need to sit down regularly with them and discuss what is going well and what isn't.
Imagine how this could change your success with new hires or partners? For lawyers who don't have much experience with this concept, I caution… this is about feedback… not an opportunity to complain! Constructive conversation is the order of business here.
3. Tend to the weeds. A culture of passion… can be compromised by the wrong people. One of the most destructive corporate weeds is the whiner. Whiners aren't necessarily public with their complaints. They don't stand up in meetings and articulate everything they think is wrong with the company. Instead, they move through the organization, speaking privately, sowing doubt, strangling passion.
This is all too familiar in a law firm. You know the shareholder that says black if someone says white. Nothing will ever be right for this individual. The challenge is facing that truth and doing what you have to do… part company.
4. Work hard, play hard. To obtain passion capital requires a work ethic. It’s easy to do what you love. In the global economy we can measure who has a superior work ethic, who is leading in productivity. Not many industries these days thrive on a forty-hour work week. A culture where everyone understands that long hours are sometimes required will work if this sacrifice is recognized and rewarded.
This is a tough issue in law firms. Long hours are expected. Some work them, others do not. But are they rewarded in a way that encourages the behavior? And money is not necessarily the only motivator.
5. Be ambitious. ‘Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood.’ These words were uttered by Daniel Burnham, the Chicago architect whose vision recreated the city after the great fire of 1871.
All too often I have seen law firms back off of lofty goals for fear of not reaching them. Better to consider the possible progress they would make in the pursuit of that lofty goal.
6. Celebrate differences. When choosing students for a program, most universities consider more than just marks. If you had a dozen straight-A students who were from the same socio-economic background and the same geographical area, you might not get much in the way of interesting debate or interaction. Great cultures are built on a diversity of background, experience, and interests. These differences generate energy, which is critical to any enterprise.
The legal profession has a way to go on this one. The evidence: a plethora of diversity conferences.
7. Create the space. Years ago, scientists working in laboratories were often in underground bunkers and rarely saw their colleagues; secrecy was prized. Now innovation is prized. In cutting-edge research and academic buildings, architects try to promote as much interaction as possible. They design spaces where people from different disciplines will come together, whether in workspace or in common leisure space. Their reasoning is simple: it is this interaction that helps breed revolutionary ideas. Creative and engineering chat over coffee. HR and marketing bump into one another in the fitness center. Culture is made in the physical space. Look at your space and ask, 'Does it promote interaction and connectivity?'
Industry teams are great at fostering this kind of interaction… try taking it one step further and create physical space that takes it up a notch.
8. Take the long view. If your culture is dependent on this quarter’s earnings or this month’s sales targets, then it is handicapped by short-term thinking. Passion capitalists take the long view. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in five years. The culture needs to look ahead, not just in months but in years and even decades.
The question is… Does your firm even have a long-term strategic plan? It's time you develop one. Commit to a culture that is passionate about the practice of law, business development and producing innovative ideas that could have the entire profession stand up and take notice.I know it is extremely difficult to find the time and commitment to put these rules into place in your firm. On the other hand, what is the cost when the firm lacks passion? I suspect if you really analyze it you will find the cost is extremely high… the lack of productivity… the smothering of ideas and innovation… the lack of team work and cross selling… the list goes on. Much is at stake. Are you really okay with the status quo?
Read more from Paul Alofs’ book… Passion Capital: The World’s Most Valuable Asset.