Firms have successfully moved their entire office to a virtual model – seemingly overnight – and it’s working really well.
What is more challenging is keeping the culture of their firms alive in this virtual setting. We’re hearing that firm leaders are unsure how to preserve the culture of their firms when their people can’t live and breathe it each day. This challenge threatens how successful firms can be with their greatest asset: their people.
Marketing and business development professionals are in a unique position to help curb this issue. Their roles touch everyone and everything in their firms. Their character types are typically ones with more natural and heightened EQ and interpersonal skills. One of their functions is to listen for and understand where connections can be utilized or leveraged, which involves having that closer connection in the first place. Their vantage point is wonderfully unusual.
We interviewed six CMOs from law and accounting firms who are tackling this issue of preserving firm culture in a virtual setting. Put simply, our experience is that the best way to understand and think about culture in a professional services firm is that it’s ‘the way we get things done around here’. Each of these CMOs are getting things done with their teams. They are helping and pushing their people to still experience their firm culture together despite being apart.
We sincerely value the candid and perceptive thoughts shared by each. Thank you to Murray, Bruce, Courtney, Pam, Linda and Dave.
How CMOs are contributing to firm culture in a virtual setting
Six key themes were evident after talking with each.
1. Culture = professionally vulnerable
We all know to be professional in our roles. Additionally, with an actual window into everyone’s homes over the last eight months, the lines between professional and personal are very blurred, and in many cases, lost altogether.
Kiss regularly checks in with her team, one on one:
“Being transparent about how people are doing – professionally, personally, mentally and emotionally – is so important right now, and unless you take the time to check in with the team, it’s impossible to know.”
Kiss uses these one on one check-ins to talk shop and project statuses, and also subtly pivot to “ask how everyone is feeling”. She gives her team permission to be very candid and honest with their own situation.
Coffey also prioritizes one on one settings to understand how each team member is handling their professional and personal life balance:
“We should be aware, now more than ever, that each person on our team is an individual and will respond to the stress of living through a pandemic differently.” He adds “So, do the things we are supposed to do. Check in, engage in a little goof-off time together, and never assume you know what may be brewing under a seemingly serene surface.”
Both Kiss and Coffey are humanizing the situation we are in and asking their individual team members to acknowledge and talk about their vulnerabilities. Their ability to be so naturally in tune with their teams’ emotional intelligence is hard to do, particularly when they themselves are also dealing with the same issues.
Moss shed’s some insights on how she deals with this.
“My team wanted to hear from me, and I have to make time for that. I am in tune with these elements and so I prioritized that; it’s important. You have to put aside any lack of energy you might be experiencing to be the leader your team needs of you, and talk about how they are each being impacted, from all angles.”
Synonymous with professionalism is the projection of a certain technical quality, a strong and diplomatic communication style, and an unwavering strength despite any circumstance. Covid has unraveled this for many. It has pushed our working lives and personal lives into one another in a way that no one has ever experienced before. These CMOs are using their empathy and personal leadership styles to encourage a lowering of the guard to talk about the transition we are all currently in.
2. Culture = unwavering long-term focus
A firms’ culture shouldn’t blow one way in 2019, and then change direction and blow the other way in 2020. Even in the most trying of times, a culture should be something far more steadfast. Good CMOs understand the need to acknowledge the present and to also project into the future to help keep focus and purpose amidst the chaos and uncertainty.
Southern shares his view on the importance of long-term focus:
“Each of our team members have shown a terrific ability to keep our long-term goals in focus and step up to ensure that we make progress every day - in addition to ensuring that we're dealing with all the continued press of business.”
Kiss shared that continuing to plan for the future is the glue keeping a lot together right now:
“Of course, we need to deal with the here-and-now, but it brings me a lot of hope to start putting plans together for when the world goes back to “normal”, or even in our new normal. It is exciting to reimage how we might do things.”
With long-term thinking, the ability to see opportunity – and to embrace that opportunity – is something that Moss has encouraged and values:
“I am fortunate to work with a team of marketers who love to get things done. My team is full of high-driving people who were relieved to be able to step up, focus and find opportunities to contribute to the firm.”
Moss encouraged her team to celebrate that moment, because in times of uncertain change, being able to see the long-term and the opportunity “is rare and special.” She further added that:
“Work was a source of satisfaction and was one area of our lives where we could have some control. We applied ourselves to uncover ways we could seize the moment and gain traction after the pandemic somewhat leveled the playing field. There was a real sense of urgency to make an impact for the long term.”
This longer-term thinking is always hard in a world where firms are typically focused on year-to-year short-term growth. True partnerships with a vision instill a culture that goes 3, 5, 10+ years forward to show its people and clients who they really are and what they are striving for. This strength of vision attracts like-minded people.
3. Culture = acknowledging the likely after-effect
Few of us have had to deal with a pandemic in our lifetime. The narrative has shifted to the “new normal” and what that looks like. In my view, nothing about our current situation is normal, and nor should we accept that it is. We are right in the middle of a global pandemic and “transitional” or ”temporary”, even “survival”, are words that I think many may better relate to.
CMOs are acknowledging the current situation and relating to their teams in realistic terms. In this, they are acknowledging what the likely after-effect will be on their people and team culture.
Ditman offers this very real take on this moment in time:
“This is a real emergency. When we are called upon to work in an emergency, don’t take it lightly that you are asking so much of these people. Understand it is not just their work, it is their life. Get good people on your team to reflect the culture of the firm, and then treat them with respect.”
Coffey believes that the pandemic has triggered our basic brain function to be focused on day-to-day survival, a part of a neural network that is sometimes referred to as our reptilian brain:
“It is my strong belief that the pandemic has put us all in an extended fight-or-flight mode. The previous short term emotional and energy dip we felt after the reptilian brain stands down, is now much longer lasting. The effects of this are palpable."
Ditman shares the likely effect on his team as a result of the type of characteristics marketers typically have:
“Extroverts are being isolated. Highly social people can’t socialize. This will have an effect.”
Coffey understands how this is playing out day-to-day right now and also in the years to come:
“People are sleeping more hours yet not feeling refreshed. They are eating comfort foods but getting no comfort. For the first time they may find themselves in extended conflict with loved ones. I expect that in the coming years we will hear much about the global impact of millions of us being in fight or flight mode for so many months.”
4. Culture = technology
It is interesting that technology comes up as a common theme. It is because of the wonders of technology that we can have this virtual environment. It is also because of technology that we have the struggle of how to maintain firm culture.
Metzger shares the following on how technology has been essential:
“The Covid environment has definitely accelerated our adoption of many new initiatives that are working well to keep us all in touch and maintain the culture of our firm. As a result of converting internal meetings into a larger, virtual event the feedback has been outstanding and everyone is excited to contribute to this new format. Additionally, technology additions to our firm allowed us to easily collaborate on virtual team meetings, quick video calls and general updates.”
Kiss has also used technology in a new way for her team which may not have otherwise happened:
“We had a positive and productive virtual team experience when we held a virtual ‘brainstorm and reflect together’ exercise. Using the technology of the firm and its shared platform, we came together to share differing perspectives, observations and relatable common goals. These moments allowed us to gain insight into framing what we tackle in the next few weeks and months.”
5. Culture = noticing nuance
These sentiments resonate on what the more nuanced pieces are that are keeping people at our firms. After all, individuals make up the culture of the firm, and should be protected and developed.
Southern has worked in firms where a people-first culture is paramount. He shares “Our managing partners have put a lot of energy into communicating continuously and in a very transparent way. They have sent a daily email to all members of the firm, sharing client successes, personal achievements of members of our firm wide community, and even ideas for helping everyone ‘keep their chins up’ throughout our remote experience”. Southern adds that this has “really been an inspiration.”
Re-state (what may seem) the obvious:
Ditman shares that “when Covid hit, I made a point of reinforcing team spirit, reinforcing collegiality, and restating our business objectives.”
Kiss says that “Being appreciated helps keep motivation higher”. She shares that “nothing is worse than working hard and not knowing that your efforts were meaningful.”
Lead by example:
Coffey shares that “the hallmark of great leaders is to lead by example”. He wants CMOs to acknowledge that “we cannot be the psychological salvation for our teams.” What we can be, he continues, is to be leaders who are “emphatic, patient, resolute and stoic in their outlook about their team members.” He adds that “if leaders are taking time for themselves, your team sees you are taking time for self-care, and they will do that too.”
Predict natural energy dips:
Moss offers that she “needed guard rails against complacency”. She shares that “one of those guardrails was sharing successes, and another was ‘learning-sharing’ calls to encourage professional development and continued learning. She says that down times are natural right now, and she sees it as one of her many roles is to be in tune with that personal side of her team.
6. Culture = the lighter side
Embracing the lighter side and enjoying what you do each day is an element of firm culture that is easily forgotten in such a serious and worrisome time. Remembering to value one another’s company and inject some fun and laugher into our days is making these CMOs bring back feelings of normalcy and team spirit in inventive ways.
Metzger shares that their team and greater firm have held some socially distanced activities to help people connect, notwithstanding the pandemic. She says they have held some “safe-distance lunches and a lawn bingo event” which has been a much-needed in-person experience.
Moss shares that her team is competitive and loves games. “We shared our favorite comedy movies and tried to match the movie with the teammate who submitted it. We conducted a scavenger hunt within our homes. We even hired a professional to conduct a family feud game. They are fun! And, they work for us.”
Coffey says that it’s important to “smile more, laugh easily, embrace the eccentricities of working from home, such as annoying dogs, cat bombs, and kids needing a hug and a cookie.”
To recap: Acknowledging and encouraging professional vulnerability. Unwavering long-term focus. Dealing with the affect-effect. The wonders of technology. Noticing the nuances that matter most. Embracing the lighter moments. These themes are perpetuating culture during this transitionary moment in time. They require different skills and mindsets than many are used to.
There is incredible power with knowing how our marketing and business development teams are preserving their culture right now. It takes everyone. Leaders need their people to both believe in and practice it despite not being able to see it personally each day. Individuals need their leaders to be overly visible and have a level of empathy that surpasses anything they’ve experienced previously.
(This piece was first published in the Association for Accounting Marketing's 'AAM Minute' on September 24, 2020: https://bit.ly/335Jvu0)
The compensation structures for the Business Development Executive (BDE) in an accounting firm is widely varied. For context, a BDE is typically a senior and experienced client-facing professional, tasked with growing revenue at their firms.
The compensation structure variations are, generally speaking, most easily defined by looking at the relative firm size. Alongside these generalizations, the top influencing factors can also be analyzed and understood.
The following table outlines a formula for determining a compensation structure for a BDE based on three things: experience in conducting executive searches, experience in negotiating compensation structures, and anecdotal evidence.
See this table to help determine compensation structure.
When determining compensation, it is important to remember that there are exceptions to every rule, with some individuals having vastly different experiences. These exceptions should be balanced against the generalizations and best practices when creating compensation structures for Business Development Executives.
In many conversations over the past months, I heard common themes from CMOs, managers and teams. Often I’ve been asked “how are my colleagues in other firms handling this?”. To help answer these questions and share insights across the profession, over 200 colleagues responded to our survey which was conducted between May 13 - 22, 2020. Thank you to all who participated.
First, here's who responded:
Secondly, here's what we learned:
People are working longer hours during COVID-19
We’ve all seen dozens of social media posts and news stories discussing the challenges of working while isolated at home. This has included surviving endless Zoom meetings, supervising dependents and making sense of the world around us. So how is this impacting our work hours?
Some key questions for our profession:
Marketing and BD are focused on ‘protecting the base’
Marketing and BD teams are famous for wearing multiple hats in any given day. Responding to pitches and RFPs, organizing events, executing on business goals, planning ways to enhance and sustain existing relationships... this list never stops. Given this context, when asked to share the major focus areas for the marketing and BD team during the COVID-19 response, the respondents answered as follows:
The trend among survey respondents is highlighting an emphasis on externally facing initiatives. They appear to be “protecting the base” by providing support and knowledge to existing clients and taking next steps on already defined strategic business development plans. Comparatively less focus has been applied to marketing to new clients, implementing new initiatives or responding to RFPs.
Old teams, new tricks?
Many discussions with firms early in the pandemic response considered how marketing and BD teams could use their transferable skills to support other teams (at the expense of traditional marketing and BD activity).
There are a number of takeaways from this data:
Our colleagues prefer working from home
For years, we have heard a growing number of colleagues talk about wanting more flexibility in their professional lives, with the option of working remotely (or at home) for at least some of the time. COVID-19 has pressure tested this working model in ways few of us could have imagined. Close to three months in, our survey respondents have indicated their preferred working styles:
It will be interesting to see whether these rates persist if current restrictions continue for months (or years). Anecdotally - and supported by the data above relating to working hours - it would seem that productivity has not dropped despite teams working from home. This has long been a concern of firms considering more flexible working arrangements. One unexpected benefit from these challenging times has been this ‘case study’ in working from home. I’m sure this will lead to a lot of consideration for ‘the office of the future’ for law firms.
Which Industry & Practice groups are the busiest for your firm?
Which Industry & Practice groups are the quietest for your firm?
Recruiting practices should be evaluated at regular intervals. They should be relevant to the professional being interviewed and responsive to the market.
Here are three recruiting practices that should be overhauled when recruiting senior marketing and BD professionals into your firms. “Senior” here means the marketing and BD professionals who spend the majority of their time on strategy and management, namely, Manager, Senior Manager, Director and CMO.
Consider these alternatives:
Recruiting the senior marketing and BD professionals that are the right fit for both firm and individual is a challenge for any CMO or marketing team leader. Having the right process in place makes this much easier. It also makes you and your team and firm look qualified to be hiring the senior professional that you are.
Reputable economic commentators are predicting an uncertain economic market in the US for the coming year. Whether this results in volatility, slow down or a recession, it will impact professional services marketing and BD team leaders.
Firms will either see the uncertain market as a time to double down on marketing efforts, and look to their marketing and BD teams to be providing client-advancing and value-adding strategic support and guidance to get ahead. Or, they will scrutinize their marketing and BD teams, seeing the uncertain market as a time to react and cut cost-related positions (despite their remit to increase business).
In either case, the marketing and BD team is susceptible as the pressure mounts ("stepping up or stepping out"). Managing, retaining, sustaining, growing and then elevating your team has never been of greater importance.
A small time investment up front will ensure you have done all that you can, regardless of where the economy goes in 2020. Take the time now to put into place these six best practices to help recession-proof your team:
Good marketing and BD team leaders will have one, maybe two, of these best practices in place. In this market, in this economy, and in this moment in time, consider increasing that count to all six points above to safeguard your biggest investment: your people.
Let’s talk about the problem with titles in legal marketing.
Many legal marketers take pride in their title as they can accurately reflect technical proficiency, seniority and credibility. There are, however, many examples where this is unfortunately not the case. This presents a tricky dilemma for many team leaders.
For example, is the experience of a legal marketer who holds the title of Business Development Director and who has 25 years of tenure the same as a legal marketer who holds the same title, but who has less tenure? Are the technical demands of a legal marketer who holds the title Senior Manager in a global firm the same as a Senior Manager in a mid-sized firm? Is a legal marketer who holds the title of Director and who manages a team of five in a mid-sized firm more or less qualified than a Director of a team of three in a large firm?
The problem is that there are no standardized rules that are applicable when determining what titles should be used when labeling legal marketers. This really matters because labels are truly just that. They stay with that professional throughout their whole career and people frequently judge others based on those labels. This is despite legal marketers all having different experience in variously sized firms and roles.
Further, layer onto this problem these two additional nuances. First, partners’ understanding about what titles are applicable at each level of a legal marketer is greatly different in each firm. This is because there is still a large variance on what partners think of and perceive marketing and BD roles to be in their firms; they have all started from a different place on the value of marketing. Secondly, firms are not always getting title-to-salary or title-to-experience information correct when making hiring decisions.
The need for standardization
I’ve asked two legal marketing veterans and CMOs to weigh in: John Byrne and Trish Lilley. Byrne and Lilley each have 30 years of experience leading marketing and BD teams in law firms. Additionally, both have held multiple leadership roles within LMA and currently lead their respective regions, the Midwest and Northeast respectively. Byrne is the CMO of Chicago firm Gould & Ratner and Lilley is the CMO of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan headquartered out of New York City.
Byrne agrees that many small, well-intentioned decisions on titles can lead to a confusing result: “Titles are always a bit of alchemy, especially in larger departments.” He adds “Any CMO wants to be able to build their department the way that it makes the most sense. But often internal processes and policies, and pay ranges, get in the way. Marketing pay ranges are often compared to other departments within the same firm.”
Lilley similarly shares this view: ”There’s a huge need for standardization in this area within legal marketing and business development”. She continues “While we (department heads/team leaders) can craft our own schemata within our firms, we face a dilemma when hiring because there is no uniformity relating to titles and roles across the industry. This makes the candidate assessment and getting stage of recruiting much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it should be, and that inefficiency often flows into the interview stage of the process as well.”
These comments go to the heart of addressing the lack of standardization that legal marketing leaders are faced with when hiring and building their teams. While the default is to compare and contrast on titles across the industry, when there is no uniformity on titles generally, this task is problematic.
The need for internal differentiation
In addition to the lack of standardization in legal marketing titles, I also frequently see team leaders struggle to deal with how to differentiate their existing team members to distinguish them and reward them based on their efforts and contributions.
Both Lilley and Byrne also weighed in on this difficult task.
Byrne talked about the limitations within the current structure of titles as we know them. He stated that “there are issues with layering people when they need to move up, but the titles don’t always help that if someone is already a Director, say.”
He continued on to acknowledge how tricky that really is, as these issues impact both the person you’re trying to change the title for to acknowledge their efforts, and then for the other people in the team who may feel slighted because of any title changes around them. He said that in practice what typically happens is that “the title can be the same, but the salary, bonus and raises are far different” for different team members. External people to that team or firm, however, won’t see this internal recognition.
Lilley shared her vantage point on how to adequately structure different team members’ titles, noting the difficulties with more junior legal marketers: “I do think that the greatest disparities and variations we in hiring roles see across positions are found in the ranks of coordinators and specialists. I have come across both very junior specialists and those so senior that they left those roles to take first-chair and/or client-facing positions at other firms. Coordinators and specialists are both non-exempt at certain firms and both exempt at others.”
This is a practical side effect of wrongly labeled professionals. They have to then explain their moves when seeking external advancement so they can be understood and placed into a certain title bucket that makes sense to the person hiring. And this works well if those buckets are neatly defined; unfortunately, that is often not the case.
Practical takeaways for team leaders to move forward
There are no easy answers to these issues. And proposing significant changes to these issues will of course take time to take effect and create the meaningful change that is needed.
Having said that, there are some takeaways that Lilley and Byrne shared that can help us all in the meantime:
For further consideration…
I’ll also add these five thoughts for your further consideration, especially when hiring professionals into your team.
Legal marketing titles can be accurate or they can be misleading. While we are all in this existing structure together, implement these takeaways to ensure greater consistency for our legal marketing professionals. They work hard and deserve a correctly labeled title and recognition from their peers and leaders.
On August 8, 2019 I co-presented on the topic of advancing your career in legal marketing with Clare Ota. Together we discussed the various careers in legal marketing, what skills are essential in these roles, career road-maps, the role of a mentor, annual reviews, the salary history ban, and more. This presentation was to the West Region of the Legal Marketing Association and was aimed at all levels, from junior to mid level to seniors in the marketing and business development space.
Here is a recap of this program - which never takes the place for attending in person, but David Juarez does a great job in this recap: https://www.legalmarketing.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=5808
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.