How do we Spread Flexibility in the Workplace?

Despite the desire by many attorneys at some time in their careers to have more flexibility in their working arrangements, particularly now that technology makes it so much easier, decision makers and even the candidates for flexibility themselves resist such arrangements. The deterrents to faster progress are perceived fears and uncalculated costs and benefits.

This is everybody’s issue - male, female, with and without spouses and children. Everybody has parents at some time in life, and they are becoming an issue for life/caretaking in greater numbers for people with demanding careers. Everyone has a right to personal time and the pursuit of outside interests.

It will take a substantial portion of the still male majority joining with both the outspoken and silent women getting behind this issue to remove the stigmas, correct erroneous perceptions, and change things for the better. The management challenges can be worked out if there is a will. There is a solid business case to be made - numbers that demonstrate the exceedingly high costs of turnover due to a desire for more flexibility and the increases in revenue from productive, creative professionals who enjoy the benefits of flexibility. We can hope that the younger generations in the workplace will continue to push so that their work and life objectives can be fulfilled without having to make career changes.

But more than hope is necessary.

In implementing flexibility, significant issues still remain regarding establishing trust and credibility. Talking through objections, having those objections challenged and allowing an exchange of views so that issues can be fully aired out will bring the underlying problems to the fore and provide an opportunity for resolution.

Flexible schedules must be planned carefully. This is not just with respect to the agreed salary, bonus, benefits, work hours and locations and the like. Talking through the arrangement in advance with a facilitator enables potential problems to be anticipated (such as child care or elder care problems, how to contact the person in an emergency, handling work spilling over to other lawyers). Not only can this process result in practical answers and pinpoint remaining problem areas that need to be addressed, but it can also model the way forward for the participants. It will encourage open communication rather than silent resentment over unaddressed problems.

To make headway on these deep-rooted issues, it is necessary to establish a common language among the various parties involved. It is usually a mistake to assume that all people have the same motivations, needs, expectations, means of satisfaction and definitions of success. Similarly each person does not necessarily hear and interpret the same message in the same way.

Assessment Tools

Professionals feel more comfortable with concrete evidence or at least tangible assessments and reports than abstractions and policies. It increases the credibility, and the measurement factors enable evaluation of results.

There are two assessment tools we use at our firm to lay the foundation for a common language. One is a personal profile (click on "DiSC Classic" or DiSC Indra"). This profile identifies: personal behavior style; the strengths and weaknesses of the style; how to read others to identify their styles; and how to modify behavior to build rapport with them. Having the flexible work arrangements (FWA) candidate, supervisor and work team complete this profile and interpreting it with them will provide a common language and a means of building and deepening trust.

The second tool is a profile of work expectations ( click on "Work Expectations Profile"). With it, individuals identify and rank the importance to them of 10 types of expectations in addition to compensation in ways that people ordinarily can’t articulate. Having this type of profile completed, analyzed and interpreted not only for the FWA candidates, but also by their practice heads, supervisors and teammates lays the foundation for clarification of mutual expectations, open dialogue, adjustment of expectations, if necessary, and increased accountability. It also helps to ease the acceptance and approval process for a viable business plan by the FWA candidate.http://www.pdcounsel.com/flexibility%20scorecard%20Q.htm.

Business Plans

Another critical tool is a business plan from each FWA candidate. The business plan can be developed as a natural outgrowth of the dialogue among the parties (FWA candidate, supervisor, team members) with a facilitator. These are rarely required but should be.

The business plan should cover all the aspects of the proposed arrangement, not merely hours, commitments, place of work and compensation. Again this provides a concrete document spelling out all points of agreement between the individual, supervisor and practice head and the work team. It would cover roles and responsibilities to a work team, management issues, and record keeping. In addition, how the individual and the arrangement is to be evaluated would be spelled out in the business plan. These specifics take the arrangement from an ad hoc, subjective leap of faith to a road map for building trust and enabling measurement. For management in particular, the firm can track the costs associated with flexible schedules, rate of turnover, and revenue generated by all participants, to assess the financial viability of flexibility.

While we can make an excellent business case for cost savings related to retention, high morale, and client satisfaction and loyalty, it is true that there will be some up front administrative time and costs associated with a flexible work arrangement. On balance these will be minimal. especially once the firm is set up to handle requests and monitor each arrangement. In fact, in slow economic times, voluntary flexible arrangements at reduced compensation are an obvious win-win for both firm and individual. For the firm there are: compensation cost savings while retaining talented professionals and their knowledge of clients’ business; happy clients because they dislike turnover; avoidance of the poor morale that lay-offs inevitably bring; and ability to re-negotiate the arrangement when work loads increase.

Attitudes are slow to change, requiring dedicated effort and experience in the changed environment. The more flexibility is tried, the more allies will be gained if information is shared and flexibility is viewed as a possibility for anyone at any stage with a good business plan. How is your firm doing? See our Flexibility Scorecard:

In our consulting services, we have developed a process for implementing within organizations recommendations from the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) and Catalyst studies using behavioral style and managing work expectations tools and dialogue techniques to transform well intentioned policies into usable and used options for a more satisfying and productive work environment. This is a benefit for men as well as women and involves the building and nurturing of trust, which is at the core of both internal and client relationships.


Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2004. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Practice Development Counsel
Consulting/Coach to the Next Generation
Creator of *Coach-for-the-Coach* and *The Flexible Firm*
Voice:: 212-593-1549
Fax: 212-980-7940
pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com
please visit: www.pdcounsel.com
 


Already a member? log in here.

Editor's Choice