Over decades of working with law and other professional service firms and knowledge workers, I have observed the prevalence of particular interpersonal dynamics, often intergenerational, and institutional practices that proved to be obstacles to firm and individual business development, including:
- Territoriality or not introducing or allowing relationships to develop between clients and other team members. This hinders succession planning and transitioning, often leading to loss of talent and clients.
- Disputes over or refusal to share credit with team members or colleagues for lead generation and bringing in a client.
- Dominance by senior professionals over younger ones for control over the business development and marketing processes and budgets beyond strategic benefit to the firm.
- People of different generations not tuned-in enough to clients’ wants and needs.
- Erroneous assumptions about the effectiveness of various marketing strategies and tactics, such as differences in views about social media return on investment, which chief marketing officers often confront when dealing with younger professionals and older business unit leaders.
Potential Cross-Generational Client Attraction and Retention Obstacles
The above are clearly significant issues and point to the urgency of addressing these threats to the firm’s sustainability and profitability as well as to the need to develop a new multigenerational paradigm of cross-generational conversation within law firms. Both internal and external relationships are extremely important to any enterprise, and we deal with both in my work.
An issue that has come to the fore in recent years in several industries and situations is the challenges that can arise when there are generational differences between clients and service providers, such as legal professionals and other knowledge workers. For example, as lawyers continue to practice with their many years of experience and accumulated knowledge, they now find they are frequently working with clients who are decades younger.
Alternatively, younger professionals with special skills and state-of-the-art knowledge are now working with older clients and may encounter discomforts, insecurities, comfort-level issues or communication disconnects unrelated to their own technical skills.
Since the law field depends heavily on a large influx of junior staffers annually, Gen Zers (those born in the mid-1990s or later) will be part of the mix quite soon. They are significantly different from Millennials. More and better training, mentoring and coaching is needed. More is not being done because of the expectations that junior professionals will leave anyway — an attitude that leads to a vicious circle or a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Generational differences may result in professional relational disconnects, such as with older generation mergers and acquisitions (M&A) lawyers whose clients are young entrepreneurs with younger investment banker or venture capital advisers or funders. I worked with two very successful people-oriented M&A lawyers who had held executive positions at different firms. They both voluntarily retired earlier than they had to because of what they felt was a mismatch in work-style and communication preferences with their clients’ team, owing to the age differential. These are not isolated examples. And the outcomes ultimately might have disadvantaged their firms if they hadn’t had the insight to let go and smoothly transition out.
In forming teams to serve clients or customers, it’s wise for the law firm leadership to think through how external situations and relationships determine internal needs, expectations and culture.
Call to Action
Learn to use those elements you cannot acquire by “googling” — Perspective, Trust, Empathy, Conversation, Relevance, Curiosity, Reciprocity, Transition Fluidity, Personalization-High Touch and Inspiration — but are instead gained through cross-generational conversation.
These elements are crucial to the success of both individuals and organizations. Become aware of multi-generationally-based problems, solutions and actions that you can take to make a difference in your career and create more productive, profitable and happy work environments.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2018
A portion of this article was excerpted from You Can’t Google It! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work by Phyllis Weiss Haserot (Morgan James Publishing).