I am teaching a book study on my book – Coaching for Attorneys (http://www.mclarencoaching.com/coaching-for-attorneys/) – the values chapter. We were discussing how firms can determine their values. We said that in order to consciously choose values as a firm you must first determine what you are actually valuing. And that may not be a process you enjoy. It may reveal things that you do not like hearing.
One of the class participants (the owner of a small law firm) went back to her firm and asked her staff, “what do we value?” She was lucky to have staff who felt they could be honest with her. (Actually, that was probably NOT luck.) Her assistant said, “we value stress.”
What a great answer. The reason she knew how to answer this question was that she had the “what do we value?” question defined for her. The instruction is – look around at actual behavior. Not at intention or words or wishes or a mission statement written on paper. Look at the evidence. Lawyers are good at that. What do you actually see? What do you hear in your firm? Where do people spend their time? their money? their energy? She saw stress. What you see occurring is what the firm values, especially if you see many people in the firm acting in the same way.
Of course, once she had this information, she could then ask herself, “is this the firm I want? Is stress a value that I wish to espouse in my firm?” If not, changes could be made and new values articulated.
I do strongly advise firms to come up with a list of values. It will support you in choosing the appropriate clients, cases, associates and staff. It will help you with how you work as a firm and how you treat each other. You can choose values to aspire to and you can define them. You can buy into them as a group. Remember the first step though is to ask, “What do we currently value at this firm?”
It is a form of feedback that can be humbling and scary. Of course, a great place to do this also is in your family. And there is no one better in your family to give you feedback to the question, “What do we value in our family?” than your children. Explain the concept of the question and then ask what they see. In firm or family, if you hear something like, “we value stress,” ask what they see that tells them that is a value. You need to know in real terms what this means to people. Their “stress” may not be your “stress.”
You can do this among spouses. The question should be framed this way, “If you stand back and observe our entire family from the outside, what does it seem that we value?” Again, back it up with evidence. If you have no evidence, it is not a value.
If, as one firm I coach recently did, you say “we value work/life balance,” but then you look around and you see people working 7 days a week and in the office until 1AM, you can know you are not really valuing work/life balance. You can choose it as a value, but don’t assert it if it is not so. You must start where you are.
And once you choose your values, you must state what they mean to you. What does work/life balance mean in your firm in actual terms? What will you see people doing?/what will be firm policy? when you are really valuing work/life balance.
So…what are your values?
And…what would you like to consciously choose as a firm or family?