fivehundred magazine > The Big Issue: Leadership > How to empower and encourage your employees

How to empower and encourage your employees

Ted Blum, managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig’s Atlanta office and chair of the firm’s Atlanta Corporate Practice, outlines five ways to foster a culture of empowerment within your organisation

Most companies recognise that employee empowerment is a critical component of an organisation’s long-term success. Giving employees a certain degree of autonomy often leads to new ideas and innovation and, simply put, trying out new things is always a worthwhile experiment. Yet, developing a culture that supports empowerment is often easier said than done. This is especially true in the legal industry which can be slow to embrace change and quick to instil fear for making mistakes.

As modern law is increasingly being tested and applied to a rapidly changing world, empowerment and innovation have become vital to meeting the needs of clients and sustaining firm growth. At Greenberg Traurig (‘GT’), we’ve come to realise that it makes good business sense to prioritise creativity and outside-the-box thinking, now more than ever.

Here are five ways we’ve worked to spark development within our organisation.

1. Define your strategy

A defined strategy is at the core of every successful business initiative, and empowerment is no different. What works for certain companies won’t work for others. By outlining a strategy unique to our industry and unique to our business, we’ve found success.

In the legal world, adapting to the needs of each and every client is critically important. As such, our firm recognises the value of catering to our clients on an individual basis. Giving our employees the autonomy to prioritise our clients’ individual needs allows our team to focus on results and efficiency, rather than billable hours. We offer alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), we’ve developed a technology platform to streamline communication, and our attorneys work tirelessly to learn the ins and outs of each individual client they represent so we can better serve their industry-specific legal needs. The result has been improved communication across the board, along with a higher level of client satisfaction.

2. Lead by example

For any new process or procedure to have a lasting impact, management should model the required behaviour in order to signal a shift to the rest of the organisation. By aligning individual efforts with our company’s overall business goals, we’ve created a trickle-down and trickle-up effect. Supporting and encouraging company-wide empowerment gives employees a greater sense of control in the work that they do.

We encourage shareholders to seek strategic input from associates and business staff, and we stress that every individual’s daily efforts contribute to the overall success of the organisation. Employees who feel that the firm supports and values their expertise have the confidence to be innovative and share their ideas.

3. Encourage creativity on the individual level

We’ve worked hard to establish a sense of freedom by encouraging employees to think beyond their defined roles. We motivate employees to go beyond their jobs to realise their full potential.

Most law firm associates view their position as a stepping stone. At GT, we invest in our associate development programme by emphasising business development and civic leadership. Our firm organises networking events, arranges mentoring relationships, hosts continuing legal education (CLE) seminars throughout the year, and encourages staff to give back to the community through volunteer efforts. By empowering younger attorneys, the associate role offers unlimited possibilities for growth and success. We’ve found that associates who feel self-assured are more willing to assume leadership roles within the firm.

4. Accept failure as part of the learning process

The connotation around the word ‘failure’ is extremely negative and we’ve worked hard to reframe that narrative. Our firm stresses that failure is inevitable, so it’s important to learn from it. We don’t even think in terms of failure, but rather in terms of excellence; always striving to get better and learning throughout the process.

We reassure employees that ideas that don’t work are still viewed as positive, proactive efforts to keep the company moving forward. This approach has led to a more positive work environment that allows associates and business staff to take risks and think outside-the-box without the fear of failure.

5. Recognise employees for a job well done

Encouraging innovative thinking can mean listening to any idea that moves a company forward to maintain its relevance and increase its market share. It can be as significant as a revolutionary invention or as simple as a morale-boosting activity that engages and inspires employees.

We work hard to recognise employees who go ‘above and beyond’ during quarterly staff meetings. By shining a light on their hard work and creative ideas – big and small – it not only rewards the individual, but also serves as a source of motivation for their co-workers.

Our experience has taught us that the corporate culture should be one that encourages idea generation and creative thinking from every employee. Statistically, the more ideas that are brought to the table, the greater the chances that one of those ideas will be a breakout.

The strategy here is quite simple. A culture of empowerment begins with the individual and is reinforced company-wide. When new experiments don’t work, applaud the effort. When they do, celebrate. A true firm-wide commitment to empowerment will create a better work environment for employees, their leaders, and the entire organisation. n

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