Last week I wrote about about the challenges facing Mary, a junior attorney in a law firm (Disparate Partners and the Probability of Succeeding). The three partners in Mary’s firm have differing visions and ways of doing business and it has left Mary feeling very uncertain. At the very least Mary can accumulate significant experience and move on but the future of the firm is another matter.
Mary really likes the people she works with, she knows they do good work and she’s confident that their mission is important. She feels strongly that she can make a difference and has decided that she must make an effort to help them out, even at the risk of falling out of favor with the partners.
Let’s take a walk through the possible steps Mary might take to help.
I Can See Clearly Now
Step one is recognizing that there is a problem. Mary has been suspicious for some time and she has corroborated her suspicions with a number of her peers. Here are a few tip-offs that the partners are not on the same page (and that it’s impacting the business)-
- Failure to move beyond the status quo (even when conditions merit change)
- Lack of and/or ineffective communication
- Inability to reach meaningful consensus
- Lack of consistency in direction and action resulting in staff confusion
- Frequent panic mode response
Tell Them About It
Now that Mary has observed, corroborated her findings and assessed the impact it’s time to prepare a thoughtful explanation of what she has learned. This explanation must be accompanied by concrete examples as well as details of potential impact. Supportive testimony from other staff members is essential to ensure that Mary is not singled out as a discontented employee.
Sensitivity to the organizational structure is important. Mary’s immediate supervisor is naturally the first person to be contacted. The information she has assembled may well result in a defensive response, therefore it’s essential that she explains her concern for the organization as a whole. It should be clear that improving the success and stability of the firm is her goal.
Securing buy-in from her immediate supervisor is the first step towards reaching the entire partner team. At this point, Mary has done what she can do.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If anything is to become of this effort, the concerns must be brought before the entire partnership. Provided Mary has been persuasive enough, her immediate supervisor should initiate this step.
The partners, who are clearly at the center of the conflict are the ones most likely to struggle with the matter. Faced with the reality that the firm is not functioning as it can and that it’s at risk of growth stagnation or worse will hopefully provide the impetus for action.
The situation described is hypothetical, though I’ve seen circumstances like it on a frequent basis. The comfort of the status quo is very seductive, even when it’s leading a business down a perilous path. The bottom line is this- change is possible, never easy, but possible. Success is often just a matter of scrutinizing what you have and making the right choice.