Recently I read an article that discussed what it really means to have “engaged” employees and what that means to your firm.  I am sure that your first inclination is that disengaged employees can mean decreased productivity, low morale and low employee satisfaction.  Unfortunately, employee engagement goes far deeper and therefore has deeper implications for your firm.  In a recent article written for Forbes magazine, author Kevin Kruse defined “employee engagement” in the following way: “the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals.”  This emotional commitment means that engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.  They don’t just work for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.

I imagine you’re now thinking, how do I get my firm’s staff and attorneys to actually become “engaged”?  The answer isn’t simple, but there are a few things you can do.  Here are the keys to engaged team members:

  1. Employee communication is a two-way street – Allowing your employees to feel free to supply feedback as well as creating a channel for doing so is crucial. Senior/managing partners and firm administrators need to hear what staff persons have to say. Feedback is more effective when it is given immediately.  It is important to let a staff person know how much they are appreciated for their efforts when they go above and beyond for the firm.  It is also crucial that any reprimands be handled as quickly as possible so that all errors can be rectified before the problem gets out of hand.
  2. Clear communication of employee roles – Do your staff personnel understand the goals of your firm? Do they know how they fit within your plan for success?  It is important to let your staff know what knowledge and skills are necessary in order for the firm to excel and where they fit those needs.  Make training or coaching available so they can attain further knowledge and skills in order to better assist in helping the firm meet and exceed its goals.
  3. Maintaining trust within the firm – It is just as important that staff persons see and understand the big picture as it is for the partners and associates. If the senior/managing partners and/or firm administrators are changing directions and breaking promises on a regular basis then the staff persons will begin to lose trust in their leadership.  If they understand the big picture then you gain their trust which in turn will help ensure the success of your firm.
  4. Creating “Buy In” – By pushing some of the decision making power down to the lowest level of your firm you are actually creating engagement at every level and “buy in” from all of your staff. When your staff members participate in the decision making process this creates ownership over the decision and a greater sense of being valued by the firm.

It is important to remember that staff engagement really starts when the staff person is hired.  Having a “mentoring” program, as well as a coaching program, for new hires will start the engagement process off on the right foot.   To continue this engagement process, it would be a good idea to implement a career coaching program where senior level staff persons, the firm administrator or even the senior partner periodically meets with staff persons to discuss career growth and future plans.  By engaging your employees early on and keeping them engaged throughout their careers you are ensuring not only their success, but the success of your entire firm!