January 2023
VOLUME 42, ISSUE 1

Table of Contents

Features

  • Legal Industry/Business Management

    By Paula Tsurutani

    As law firms continue to hire C-Suite professionals to drive business operations, earning your CLM designation will help advance your career.

  • Communications and Organizational Management

    By Phillip M. Perry

    With such a polarized society, disagreements will inevitably spill over into the workplace. Here’s how to preempt any repercussions.

  • Human Resources Management

    By Erin Brereton

    Vital position suddenly opens up? Be prepared with these passive recruiting tips.

Innovations Fresh Thoughts For Managing

How Legal Administrators Can Get a Seat (and Voice) at the Strategy Table

It’s an annual ritual. Around this time, an executive or strategy committee meeting is held to discuss priorities for the year ahead. As a legal management leader, you’d love to be in that session. 

But with limited seats available, how can you get a seat? And then how can you make sure you’re heard? This all depends on your perceived value to the managing partner or committee chair. This article will give you several practical ideas for demonstrating your value and becoming an indispensable part of the strategy team, whether “chief” is part of your title.

FIRST, WHY DO YOU WANT A SEAT AT THE TABLE?

Most legal administrators and operations managers want leading roles shaping their company’s strategy and initiatives. They know effective collaboration (what we call smarter collaboration) generates various benefits for them and the organization. Based on over a decade of research at Harvard University, these smarter collaboration outcomes include:

  • Higher revenue and profit
  • Better talent engagement and retention
  • Faster innovation
  • Deeper client relationships
  • More efficient processes

When you collaborate effectively — including with strategy setters in your organization — you achieve solutions that are multifaceted and optimal for a wider range of people (employees, clients, customers, partners, patients, suppliers, citizens, etc.). Challenges and opportunities have been considered from more angles — including your perspective as someone focused on running a successful practice.

NOW HOW DO YOU GET A SEAT AND VOICE AT THE STRATEGY TABLE?

Getting a seat at the strategy table isn’t easy, let alone making sure you are heard by others. Our combined research at Gardner & Co. surfaces achievable steps legal administrators can take to boost their chances of being brought into the company’s inner circle. Let’s take a look.

1. Build your network in the company: In addition to subject matter expertise, senior executives are looking for team members offering “representation.” By that we mean they have a true pulse on people within their firm — whether it’s a group they manage or a broader set of colleagues.

Let’s be honest: The strategy table is not big enough for everyone. But if its members deliver good representation and insights from across the firm, senior executives have greater confidence they are acting on behalf of their employee base. As an example, a chief operating officer might primarily work with practice leaders and rainmakers. But this could be extended to office managing partners across different geographics. Or a chief human resources officer might work most with leaders across offices and practices. But they could also cultivate a strong network of associates. Identify key people across a broader group and make time to collaborate with them, building trust and getting them to share their perspectives on culture, operations and more.

2. Launch and “sell” high-impact initiatives: Another way to boost your attractiveness to the C-suite and board is by implementing programs that advance the strategic priorities of the firm. These priorities could be revenue growth, operational efficiency or employee engagement, for example.

“The strategy table is not big enough for everyone. But if its members deliver good representation and insights from across the firm, senior executives have greater confidence they are acting on behalf of their employee base.” 

But this isn’t enough: You must also show that a diverse group supports the initiatives and participates in their identification and development. This group could be strictly within your organization or also with peers outside of it. For example, collaborating with other members of ALA could give you access to best practices for a specific investment (for example, a new CRM system or employee perk), helping you maximize success and minimize risk. Together, these different collaborations breed support and achievement, catching the attention of your company’s top leaders.

3. Integrate talent: Talent retention is an important component of your organization’s health and performance. If you can help new hires adjust to and thrive in their new environment, you will stand out among your fellow leaders. This might mean bringing them onto a core company project that leverages their strengths, or meaningfully introducing them to your colleagues so they can benefit from their expertise going forward. Or perhaps it leads to sitting down with them to explain the company’s values and cultural principles and how they are manifested in day-to-day work.

Whether the new employees are administrative staff, associates or lateral hires, your role in engaging and retaining them will once again set you apart. Senior executives will want to tap into these skills for the benefit of the larger company.

You play a critical role in how your legal organization functions and thrives. These are just a few ideas to help you remind key stakeholders that you belong at the strategy table. 

 

In a recent episode of Legal Management Talk, we sat down with Heidi Gardner to talk more about what qualities make a good leader in the post-pandemic era. We also discuss how collaboration can help managers work through many of the issues law firms face today, as well as how a compassionate approach toward your employees can boost productivity. Give it a listen here. And for more ideas on cultivating smarter collaboration, check out my new book with Ivan A. Matviak, Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work. 

 

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