Managing Employee Engagement During Times of Change


Our law firm will soon be celebrating its 5-year anniversary, and we have experienced our fair share of evolution and change. Since its inception, the law firm has nearly quadrupled in size, adding partners, associates, paralegals and staff of different professional backgrounds and experiences, each with their own ideas of what the organization should become and how they should fit into the organization. For the first few years, we had very little formal structure and very few rules. However, at some point in the growth cycle, an ad hoc management style can become not only unwieldy but unworkable. Therefore, over the past few years, firm leadership has made a concerted effort to clarify our culture, identify and communicate our core values, establish clear performance expectations, and align people into functional teams. These functional teams include team leaders that are responsible for ensuring that employees not only meet the measureable performance expectations, like billable hours, but also fit well culturally and exhibit the firm's core values.

For us, cultural fit and alignment with our core values is largely demonstrated by employee engagement. Employee engagement involves emotional and behavioral responses to a given work environment. From an emotional standpoint, employee engagement involves focus, motivation and passion around the work. From a behavioral standpoint, engaged employees are simply more willing to contribute discretionary effort, such as "doing whatever it takes" to complete the work, thereby positively impacting the overall business. In short, engaged employees are positive about the organization, they commit to remain in the organization, and they strive to give extra effort to ensure the success of the organization.

Employee engagement falls on a continuum from highly engaged employees, who have a strong personal alignment to the culture and core values of the organization and who actively seek opportunities to improve the work environment, all the way to the other end of the spectrum with actively disengaged employees, who feel disconnected from the organization and who display poor attitudes that spread throughout the organization, negatively impacting their own performance as well as the performance of others. Actively disengaged employees can literally destroy morale and are nothing less than "culture killers."

Interestingly, research has shown that during times of organizational change, the percentage of highly engaged employees does not significantly change, indicating that these employees are resilient to such changes. However, the percentage of actively disengaged employees can increase substantially during times of organizational change, unless management strategies are implemented to address the concerns of moderately engaged employees and help them stay positive.

When employees are faced with changes that impact their jobs, research has shown that the top drivers of engagement are: (1) control (involvement and empowerment over decisions involving their jobs); (2) understanding their career path; and (3) capability (training and development).

In addition, employees undergoing change also appear to have significantly more need for a fourth ingredient: (4) connection. In particular, employees want connection with their leaders, meaning more two-way dialog. They also want connection with their co-workers. Employees need to see their co-workers pulling together, providing reliable support to one another, and making personal sacrifices during stressful times of change.

During a cultural or strategy transformation, employees must let go of old behaviors and adopt new ones to help the organization remain competitive. Organizational leaders can drive engagement during this type of transformation by keeping an open, two-way dialogue so that employees will feel that, despite the changes, the organization still values their input. Leaders need to stay visible and make time to listen to and validate employee concerns as well as convey rational, factual information about what is changing. In addition, finding ways to build team cohesion and a sense of "pulling together" helps employees stay engaged through transformational events.

Sources: Daniel P. Rubin and Ken Oehler, PhD, "Managing Employee Engagement During Times of Change", Aon Hewitt White Paper, June 2013. consulting/2013_Managing_Engagement_During_Times_of_Change_White_Paper.pdf

The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

The firm publishes Intellectual Property Trends (latest developments in IP law), Conversations with Innovators (interviews with thought leaders), Leaders in Law (insights from law leaders), Culture Counts (thoughts on law firm culture and business), and Legal Insights (in-depth analysis of IP, litigation, and transactional law).