Employee Engagement and its Impact on Clients
It is well-known that engaged employees are a major factor in the performance of a professional services firm. People are considered engaged when they feel motivated to use their talent, creativity, inspiration and resources for the benefit of the firm. Yet many firms discover through the informal grapevine and the more formal appraisal process that all may not be well between the partners who own the firm and its employees. In such situations many employees cite the lack of direction within a firm; others are concerned about the way that they are treated. Given the importance of having engaged employees, you may wish to conduct an anonymous survey of all your people to determine how they feel about their firm and how they feel and act regarding Clients. This process is often called an employee engagement survey. People are asked anonymously what they believe are the firm's values, especially if it is evident that these are not currently clear or understood. Having conducted such a survey, it is critical to demonstrate that employees' views have been listened to and acted upon.
Typical questions in such surveys include the following:
• What are the values expressed by partners, managers and others?
• How Client-oriented are these values?
• How well are these values expressed and communicated?
• How aligned are the values of partners, managers and support staff?
• What are the biggest gaps between these?
• How well are the objectives and direction of the firm explained to you?
• How well does management support you when you want to help a Client?
• How did you make a difference to your Clients' experience of the firm?
Employee engagement surveys are becoming more commonplace as professional services firms try to establish the appropriate attitudes and feelings of those who deliver and support services to Clients. Many firms seek to secure awards for their level of employee engagement to attract new recruits. It is well-accepted that a firm that treats its employees well is likely to treat its Clients likewise. One firm recently surveyed used the phrase 'Happy Employees means Happy Clients'. Once the gaps between actual and desired engagement attributes are known, improvements can be made in areas such as flexible working, work-life balance and building the appropriate level of trust between employees and top management. The issue of transparency is also becoming more important as professional services firms grow. Improvements in all these areas can then be monitored over time. A good measure of progress is often shown by a reduction in employee churn.
Apart from such internal research, many firms enjoy the status of being among the 'Best Companies' to work for. This can be a powerful differentiator with Clients. There is an annual ranking of 100 Best Companies, created by workplace engagement specialists Best Companies Ltd and published in the UK's Sunday Times newspaper, which has become an important characteristic. Around 1,000 medium- to large-sized companies are surveyed, resulting in responses from 250,000 employees. The ranking achieved is the result of employee feedback and is now considered a critical benchmark by employers and employees in today's battle to attract the best talent. The Best Companies Accreditation uses the 'Michelin star-style' rating system and is awarded to companies that demonstrate high levels of employee engagement. Professional services firms occupied just six places in 2012 and five places in 2013, all being law firms. The rankings and accreditation clearly recognise firms that place a high priority on working culture and values, factors that are also important to Clients. Another related listing, the Sunday Times '25 Best Big Companies', featured three of the largest accounting firms but no law firms in 2013.
Question areas in these published surveys cover the following categories:
• How employees feel about the head of the company and its senior managers.
• How employees feel towards their line manager and day-to-day managers.
• How staff feel about their immediate colleagues.
• How employees feel about the stress, pressure and the balance between work and home duties.
• To what extent employees feel stretched and challenged in their job.
• Feelings about the company people work for as opposed to the people they work with.
• How happy employees are with their pay and benefits.
• How much companies are thought by employees to put back into society generally and the local community.
Benefits to companies appearing in these rankings include the following:
• Enjoying high-profile attention given to the accreditation in the media.
• Publicity from these lists has been proved to help attract talented people.
• Enhanced reputation in the eyes of its Clients.
• Publicity helps to retain the best employees.
Annual trends enable companies to benchmark themselves against their peers.
If it is felt that the firm needs to review and perhaps transform its culture into a Client-facing one, it is important to have leadership from the top, engaging the board and senior management team, rather than to delegate the task to a particular individual or department. Commitment from the top is critical in developing and embedding a Client-facing culture. Then for greatest impact on Clients, everyone must play their part if the culture is to be truly Client-facing. Clearly a 'Best Company' accreditation logo can be used as a differentiator for professional services firms, especially in bid submissions, and can be very effective as a magnet to attract new talent. Employee engagement surveys are best carried out annually.
AN ENGAGED TEAM
Ideas consultancy Man Bites Dog has won PR Week's 'Best Place to Work' award for the last five years and MD Claire Mason believes that her people are critical to Man Bites Dog's success.' A professional services firm is a people business - if you don't look after your people how can you expect them to look after their Clients? People are the brand experience, look after them and they will take a pride in going the extra mile for your Clients. Ours is an entrepreneurial business where everyone is valued and has their say in how the company is run and our ambitions for the future. This two-way desire to succeed is what drives our remarkably engaged workforce and enables our pedigree pack to deliver outstanding work for our Clients.'