June 29, 2023
Appealing to Next-Generation Stakeholders: Build Trust by Embracing Transparency and Authenticity
We hear it all the time: the next generation of talent—and leadership—wants more. More balance in their careers. More alignment with their values. More engagement with social issues.
The world of professional services firms—buttoned-up places that have traditionally skewed white, male and older, especially in leadership ranks—is particularly vulnerable to emerging stakeholders’ preferences. In a recent poll, less than 40% of Gen Z lawyers said they would like to join one of the U.S.’s largest 200 firms, down from nearly 60% just three years prior. Meanwhile, recent news out of law firm Barber Ranen involving the name partners’ racist, sexist, homophobic, and antisemitic emails (and those partners’ subsequent exit from the firm) is just one more indication that times are changing. Behavior that might once have been papered over now (rightly) carries significant consequences.
The question, then, isn’t whether these generational shifts are here or will have an impact. That’s a fait accompli. Rather, today’s business leaders should be asking how they can best communicate with their younger workers and clients to mitigate risks and set themselves up for success for years to come. Here’s how.
Get to Know This New Audience
You can look up all the statistics you want: that younger employees care more about corporate culture; that almost 90% of millennial lawyers want flexibility and work-from-home options; that roughly half of accounting and finance students and young professionals cite personal well-being and mental health as a concern and think a great work-life balance is a key attraction factor for employment.
But while that’s a good start, it takes more to operationalize efforts at your own firm. Start by asking some key questions to help hone in:
- Who is our audience, internally and externally?
- How quickly are their expectations evolving?
- What messages do they need to hear and who should they hear them from?
- How can we support our messages with tangible actions?
Social media listening, focus groups, surveys, and routine conversations with teammates and clients are extremely helpful tools for answering these questions.
For instance, one major law firm we work with held a series of focus groups last year to create messaging that would help attract and retain attorneys in a post-COVID landscape. The resulting messages—highlighting alternative career paths, the firm’s supportive culture, its initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion, and a robust benefits program—were in large part aimed at this next generation of lawyers. They also helped with the continued evolution of their sponsoring and mentoring initiatives and talent outreach.
You can do the same with clients: Voice of the Client research can help build a multi-faceted understanding of your client’s needs, expectations and pain points—and can update your approach to the coming generation.
Establish and Live Up To Your Firm’s Values
What does your professional services firm stand for? Why do you do what you do? And what impact do you make in the community, the nation, and the world?
These questions may sound lofty or even squishy to hard-charging business leaders. But these are the elements that millennials and Gen Z care most about. And MIT research shows that even if companies have a set of values written down, far too few are translating them into action in any tangible way.
The good news is since many organizations don’t meaningfully connect their actions to their values, you have an opportunity to set your firm apart in the minds of emerging stakeholders. To do so, you’ll need to look at your existing mission, governing principles, and values and honestly assess how well you’re living up to them.
For example, if your values state that you’re committed to creating an internal culture that’s welcoming and inclusive, evaluate what building blocks you’ve put in place to make that value a reality. Have you taken steps to attract and retain a more diverse workforce? Are you actively combating harassment at your firm? Are you elevating diverse voices and ensuring people from underrepresented groups have a seat at leadership tables?
You’ll also need to be able to read the room and pivot when necessary. One professional services firm we work with did just that – after a series of acquisitions, the firm realized it needed to step up its executive communications game, particularly when it came to reaching newer, younger and prospective employees. A content campaign of internal emails and byline articles from one of the firm’s leaders brought the organization’s values to life in a personal, authentic way—and aimed to infuse the firm’s work with purpose, meaning, technological innovation, and fun.
Embrace an Authentic, Transparent Approach to Communication
Finally, you’ll need to evolve your firm’s communication style to earn the trust of a younger audience. Follow these best practices as you get started:
- Carefully consider who to appoint as your firm’s spokesperson in each PR situation. Your CEO or managing partner may not always be the ideal choice, even when you’re countering negative press. A community leader, boots-on-the-ground manager, or third-party expert might be better suited to make your case and establish (or reestablish) trust.
- Be strategic about the channels you use when communicating with younger audiences. Social media channels—especially YouTube and TikTok—are more effective at reaching Millennials and Gen Z than traditional media outlets. When you do communicate using these channels, be sure to keep a close eye on your audience’s comments and reactions. Staying engaged even in the face of criticism or intense questioning is key to demonstrating trustworthiness.
- Avoid jargon and corporate speak. Use clear, straightforward language that paints a compelling picture. Don’t be afraid to pull back the curtain on your decision making process or draw on personal experiences. Younger audiences in particular roll their eyes at any hint of obfuscation.
- Back up your words with action. Authenticity doesn’t just come from words—it comes from meaningful and concrete actions that support those words, whether it’s new hybrid working policies, benefits programs, mentorship opportunities, or DEI initiatives.
The Future is Now for Better Communications and Better Business
It’s imperative that professional services firms recognize the capabilities of Gen Zers and millennials, and work towards meeting their needs as soon as possible. That makes sense from more than a recruitment standpoint. Soon, those generations will also be in need of your services—but only if you take the time to establish trust now.
Taking steps to develop and adhere to strong corporate values, operate transparently and ethically, and understand stakeholder sentiments just make good sense, for your operations today as well as for the future of your business.
Greentarget knows how to develop PR strategies that speak the language of every generation. As a full-service communications firm, we’d love to help you position your firm for success now and down the road. Let’s talk.