The Effect of Blame on Innovation
When firm managers confuse accountability and blame, they (unwittingly) elevate the importance of conformity and risk-aversion. The immediate impact is that employees feel they’re not trusted and so they’re less motivated. For associates, this means they bill fewer hours, and managers respond by punishing failure to meet billable hour targets, which reinforces the negative cycle.
But the long-term impact is more important — and it’s what kills innovation before it can begin. In this environment, employees are discouraged from proposing changes; and collaboration and knowledge-sharing become a risk. Employees spend more time protecting themselves from other employees rather than working with them. They operate in self-preservation mode, hoarding knowledge and hiding experiments. If anyone is trying new things, that experience and those lessons learned are siloed and secret. This prevents the law firm from leveraging knowledge and building upon it—which is a key contributor for breakthrough innovation.
How to Build Trust
To gain the financial benefits of the high-trust dividend and lay the groundwork for innovation, managers must lead the charge to build trust. According to an analysis of 360 assessments of 87,000 leaders, three key traits are the foundation for trust in business:
- Positive Relationships. Managers must demonstrate interest in the concerns of others, cooperate and resolve conflict, and give feedback in a helpful manner.
- Good Judgement/Expertise. Managers must show they have deep expertise, good judgment, and the ability to anticipate problems.
- Consistency. Managers must follow through on the values they espouse, honor commitments, and exceed obligations.
But those traits may not yet exist in firm managers, so to build up those traits or to rebuild trust in a business, Covey suggests there are three keys actions to take:
- Declare Yourself. Managers should skip the unproductive guessing game and spell out what’s important to them, what they believe, how they work, and what to expect from them as a leader—and seek to hear the same thing about the other person.
- Demonstrate Respect. Managers should show respect for others’ feedback and contributions. Repeatedly. Recognize those contributions in public and in private.
- Deliver Results. Managers must do what they say they will and deliver the results they declare. This gives employees the confidence to follow the manager’s lead.
Repeating these three activities will help build the three essential trust traits.
When managers build (or rebuild) trust, they move toward a culture of accountability and away from a culture of blame. Trust makes it easier to share and consider viewpoints, which improves decision-making and learning from others’ experiences. And trust in others encourages them to ask how they can contribute to achieving the law firm’s desired results. This cultural shift will improve near-term revenue and profitability and create a culture where innovation can thrive.
Lawyers should update their strategy to: “Empower others to do good work.” But this requires trust and a change in law firm culture. Though some changes can be driven from the bottom up, for it to work, cultivating a culture of trust must come from the top—and there’s no room for blame.
This article was originally published March 19, 2019 on Above the Law.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Chief Strategy & Growth Officer for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.