February 17, 2022
Want to Win the War for Talent? Prioritize Employees Over Clients in 2022
If you’re a business leader, the Great Resignation poses a significant threat to your firm’s wellbeing in 2022. We believe the best way to address that threat is to start treating your talent with the same emphasis you historically place on attracting and serving clients.
As unprecedented numbers of experienced professionals re-evaluate their careers and exit their industries altogether, you’re faced with a significant challenge. How do you attract and retain the employees who will drive your business forward? If you’re in the legal industry, you’re likely aware that associate turnover at the nation’s largest law firms increased to nearly 25% in 2021 – up from 18% in 2019 – an alarming number that likely explains the historic rise in associate salaries, that also is an imminent talent and financial risk to firms in 2022.
We’re seeing similar attrition in other segments of professional and financial services, as well – and this isn’t just a problem for your HR and marketing teams to solve. As a business leader, you’ll need to personally make sure your firm is the kind of place where the most talented people want to spend their time and devote their efforts. In fact, you’d be wise to prioritize this issue ahead of client growth for the foreseeable future.
Here’s how to make your firm an employer of choice amid one of the most competitive and challenging hiring landscapes we’ve ever witnessed.
Define and Communicate Your Firm’s Behaviors
Although often conflated, your organizational values and culture are not one and the same. Values are what you say. Culture is what you do. Behavior is the connective tissue that links your stated values to the boots-on-the-ground reality of what it’s like to work at your firm. When your values inform and influence behavior on a consistent basis, you have a healthy culture that’s worth joining.
It takes intentional effort to create a values-infused culture. Here are two ways to get started.
1. Talk to your talent
It sounds simple, but very few professional services organizations communicate with their own people with consistency and intent. If you’re like most professional services organizations, you interview your clients on a regular basis. And that makes sense — you want to know that your relationships are healthy and that your account teams are delivering the value you’ve promised.
But are you regularly conducting similar interviews with your employees – beyond an annual performance review or other HR-led initiatives? Understanding your culture begins by collecting qualitative insights from across your organization. Imagine what you could learn if you created a safe atmosphere for employees to answer questions like:
- How would you describe our culture to your family?
- Does the way we approach our day-to-day work match our values?
- Do you believe our core values are an accurate reflection of how we behave as an organization?
- Is this an environment where you feel confident that you can reach your individual goals?
- Why do you think we exist as an organization?
Of course, these conversations will only be useful if your employees are candid with you. To earn their trust, leaders should demonstrate vulnerability and a genuine desire to listen and show that they’re willing to invest the time to shape and own this process. That’s the best way for it to truly have an impact.
2. Articulate the Specific Behaviors You Expect at Your Firm
After you obtain a clear understanding of your current culture, spell out the specific behaviors that will create the type of environment you want your firm to embody. Your mission statement should drive your organizational values, and your values should then influence and inform the behaviors you expect.
For example, Greentarget’s mission is to drive smarter conversations for our clients. In pursuit of that mission, we value being authentic, working hard, embracing curiosity that drives creative thinking, embracing the stretch and growing as individuals and as a team. But without specific behaviors that bring those values to life, what we value are just words on a page. To really bring this to life, we identified the concrete actions we need to take to solidify our culture. These include:
- Drawing on colleagues
- Asking insightful questions
- Focusing on the details
- Responding with “yes…and”
- Bringing fresh thinking
- Staying informed
- Building personal connections
- Embracing inclusivity
- Recharging strategically
- Getting uncomfortable
- Asking “how can I help?”
Take time to define and communicate the mission, values, and behaviors that will attract the best and brightest talent. Compile persuasive stories about your employees’ achievements and successes. While a competitive salary might be the element that gets a prospective employee’s attention, an authentic, purpose-driven work environment is what will inspire them to stay. Purpose-driven team members seek out and stay with organizations where they feel they have strong relationships, are making an impact and see the opportunities for growth.
And keep in mind this isn’t a “one and done” exercise. There’s a reason author and consultant Patrick Lencioni fondly refers to the CEO as the “Chief Reminding Officer.” Great leaders articulate the behaviors they expect, emulate those behaviors themselves and then remind, remind, remind until they’re sick of hearing themselves talk about it. (And even then, they keep going).
Take on New Clients Based on Whether They’re a Good Fit for Your Team
Your internal culture is important. But it’s not the only factor determining whether your employees remain happy and fulfilled at work. Your clients also play a significant role in shaping your team’s day-to-day experience.
That’s why it’s so important to consider client engagements carefully. No one wants to work with a client who is harsh, demanding and capricious. Difficult clients deplete your employees’ motivation and hinder the creativity necessary to do great work.
Likewise, you should be careful to take on clients whose values align with your own. For example, if one of your core values is authenticity, don’t take on a client who pushes your team to misrepresent the truth or uses passive-aggressive behavior to bully your team. That only undermines your firm’s stated ideals and communicates the wrong message to your employees.
Greentarget evaluates new client engagements using a quadrant that plots them based on financial opportunity and cultural alignment. Even if the potential client could bring significant revenue to the firm, we turn down the work if there are signs of low cultural alignment. We’ve assessed what we’ve learned over the years about strong client relationships, and we use this list to assess “fit” using more than our gut instinct.
There is plenty of client work to be had — especially in today’s climate. Be choosy about whom you welcome into the fold. Engage clients who are a pleasure to work with and who will treat your employees with respect. These engagements foster the best collaboration between your team and their clients, which in turn will keep them motivated, engaged and loyal.
A client once told us: “I want to be the account that your team is clamouring to join. The one that people talk about around the lunch table with appreciation. That’s how I know I’ll get your best and most creative work.” What does that type of client look like for your organization?
Prioritize Talent to Realize Greater Success
The only way you’ll meet your growth targets is if you have the talent to support your business objectives. And it will take more than pay and incentives to overcome the challenges brought on by the Great Resignation.
The good news is your culture can become a differentiating factor that attracts and retains the employees you need to drive your organization forward. A leading technology-focused professional services firm with an enviable culture and impressive DE&I track record recently added “Culture” to the head of communications’ title and responsibility. This individual is now focused both internally and externally on continually demonstrating and celebrating the firm’s most important cultural assets, initiatives and successes. This is an excellent example aligning culture and brand.
You too can prioritize culture and employee experience over client growth, thereby creating the conditions that will ultimately lead to higher levels of success. And rest assured – if you take care of the talent, the revenue will follow.