A client recently shared with me that he thought they must be getting something wrong with their job ads as they were not getting any quality candidates applying. I had to reassure him that no, his ad was probably perfectly fine, we are just experiencing a severe talent shortage. Actually, make that a talent drought. And all signs indicate that the drought is likely to be around for a while yet.
When we manage to unearth talented candidates, they will often have multiple offers to consider. They have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what they think is the best next step for their career. A significant component of their decision-making process is the question “what is like to work for this firm?” And candidates do their research. They will ask around and see what people have to say about the firm. It’s not just about brand recognition or the depth of legal expertise, but it’s more about ‘do people really like working there’? Will I be looked after in that firm? Can I develop my career with them? If candidates don’t like what they read or hear about your firm, you may well be very disappointed when they choose another option.
Every year we get asked by law firms what do we need to do to win the Employer of Choice award at the NZ Law Awards. How can we be recognised as a good employer and a place people really want to work? We have sponsored this award for many years because we know how much of a difference this recognition can make to a firm’s ability to attract good candidates.
Following the 2017 Law Awards, I met with the three firms that won the Employer of Choice in their categories, to get their perspective on why they believe they won. The winners in 2017 were Russell McVeagh, Wynn Williams and Webb Henderson. There were some fascinating insights from these firms.
Firstly, there is not just one thing you need to focus on to be recognised as an Employer of Choice. You can’t just put in a wellness program, increase everyone’s pay by 5% or launch a diversity initiative and expect to win. It needs to be embedded into the firms’ culture, and out of that will flow a range of actions. This might seem really simple but one of the firms stressed the importance of asking employees what they want. It’s all too easy to just assume you know what people want, but you might be surprised.
If you are going to tackle a particular issue within your firm, you need to go at it with full strength. One firm mentioned they don’t just have one initiative to encourage diversity, they have 27 different initiatives. Another mentioned that when it comes to getting pay right, it’s important to have evidence to back your decisions, so your team know you haven’t just pulled a number out of the air, but some thought and a thorough process have gone into determining your pay. You also need good quality remuneration market data (we can help with that).
Another firm focuses heavily on professional development for their employees. This includes providing the right training but also providing clear career pathways and opportunities for promotion. Career development is consistently linked to employee engagement, and if you continue to provide opportunities within your firm, your employees won’t need to look elsewhere.
One thing I noticed when visiting each of these firms, and it is that they all have made clear, deliberate decisions about their premises. It’s not just about a convenient location, but ensuring the offices are well designed, fit for purpose and reflect the type of work environment the firm wants to build. Your physical environment can say a lot about your firm’s culture and creates an important first impression.
One firm was very clear on the type of culture they were seeking to develop within the firm. The Partners all understood the firm they wanted to create, and how they wanted to be different to others. For this firm, winning the Employer of the Choice award was the most important award they could win as it was recognition of the hard work they had done to build their culture. In fact, they were nominated for the award by staff members, not the Partners or management of the firm. For this firm, they understood deeply that if you get the culture right, everything else follows. When you are clear on who you want to be, and you put in place a structure that supports that, it becomes easy to know what you need to do to continue to develop. If you put in place the right structures and processes, this reinforces the culture, which further validates the systems you have in place.
Also, it was not lost on me the importance of the Employer of Choice award in the wider success of the firm. Over the past four years, 6 out of the 12 Employer of Choice winners at the NZ Law Awards also went on to win the overall Firm of the Year award in their size category. And that success is also enduring. Of the 10 firms that have won either Firm of the Year or Employer of Choice awards in the past four years, 6 of the firms have won multiple awards (between 3 and 5 awards), and 5 firms have won a single award. To put it another way, of the 28 awards in the past four years, 23 of them have been won by 6 firms. Clearly, these firms are doing something right.
Legal Personnel will again be sponsoring the Employer of Choice award at the NZ Law Awards. Get in touch if you want to know how you can be nominated for this award.
Jarrod Moyle, Managing Director