(This is a little long but worthwhile :-)
There has been much discussion recently about the Millennial in the workforce and particularly in law firms. I need to weigh in because I feel differently then those in the legal community who have been quite vocal about their disdain for what is being called the 'Slackeoisie.' While I immensely respect the writers of What About Clients? and the prolific Scott Greenfield, I view this generation differently then they do. (And as 60 minutes portrays here.)
Maybe it's because, even though I'm two generations removed from a millennial, I understand some of what they feel. I don't believe the mindset of the Millennial is a new one. I think in large part they just harbor more entrepreneurial drive then previous generations....and I get entrepreneurial. They are not willing to put off starting their dreams. They are certainly less inclined to sacrifice unless their career goal is attainable within a relatively reasonable period of time. They don't see their world segmented - work life in one corner and personal life in the other. They just see 'life.' And there is a stronger belief in one's self but it has been nurtured on a fast food mentality. They are simply in the fast lane 24/7. It's saying 'no' to the old model. And it is by saying 'no' some interpret them as arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive of those who did work within the old model to get where they are today. I believe this is what irks those who have trudged the traditional path....barefoot through 10 feet of snow...to school...without a winter coat. We can't be mad at an entire generation because they don't want to play by the rules most of us felt we had to abide by.
Of course, there is much more (positive and negative about this generation) that can be (in)appropriately broad-brushed. Yet, as in any generation there are those who are driven to achieve who have a strong work ethic and those who are slackers. But for some reason, this generation is really getting slammed. I believe it is unfair.
What role has corporate America (you and me) played in this? Let's see. These kids grew up:
- watching their parents slave away at jobs only to be laid off over and over, again,
- lose their pensions and health benefits to criminals like Enron;
- watching corporate America outsource their jobs overseas;
- seeing a corporate culture change from one where employees were valued and shown appreciation to a culture of poor treatment and being told they should be grateful to have any job;
- being told if they didn't like 'any job' there's ten more people who look just like them lining up to take their place.
The days of feeling proud for having given all your working life to one company and getting the gold watch and retirement dinner have disappeared. Today's young worker sees working for another based upon the old model as indentured servitude with no realistic brass ring and they want no part of it. This is especially true after being told over and over again that their generation will be the first generation to not do as well as their parents. Now there's an exciting future to consider as they carry $100,000 + in student loans.
So, if they want to do an end run around the old model because they think it's broken can we really fault them? If they want to look up at the sky and see endless possibilities of their own creation rather than the big round butt of a manager who blocks their innovation and creativity can we blame them? If they want to try and figure out a new and better way that works for them should we tell them they're wrong and publicly ridicule them for trying? Who are we to say what is best for them? Now who's being arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive? What I have heard over and over, again, from clients and others is, "I wish I hadn't been so scared? I wish I had their guts."
Bravery, stupidity...call it what you will. But those brave or stupid people created Google, Zappos, Amazon and so much more than we could ever have anticipated because they DIDN'T follow the traditional models (all driven on customer service and regard for their employees, mmmmmm).
And for those who are in management at law firms, have you ever heard of 'internal marketing?' It is a wonderful phrase coined by Sybil Sterchik who discusses the concept during an interview with Toby Bloomberg at the very popular Diva Marketing Blog. She says that when you value your employees, your employees value your customers.
Internal Marketing is a strategic blend of marketing and human resources focused on taking care of employees so they can take care of customers. While that still sounds warm & fuzzy, nonetheless it’s critical because if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers!
Appreciation, involvement in the process, being part of a company's dialog and success, the creation of a community, translates into loyalty by the employee and profits to the company.
And this is not a new concept. It is a forgotten concept, I know because I experienced it in the companies I worked for in the 80's. I worked at not one, but two, companies who had office happy hours every Friday afternoon hosted by the president. One company president drove his motorcycle through the company offices giving employees rides. This same company handed out turkeys to every employee at Thanksgiving, held birthday parties for each employee. Ten year anniversaries were celebrated with a one week trip to London and a stay at their corporate apartment with show tickets. Was this a small private company? One was small. The other was the U.S. headquarters for an international corporation where I worked for 3 years. This was a time before executives took $50 million dollar bonuses while telling their employees the company can't afford to give COLA raises while simultaneously reducing their health benefits. When I left the company with the motorcycle-riding president, it was the only time I actually grieved for 'family" because the company invested in creating a culture within the workplace...a culture the employees didn't want to leave.
And I believe the companies I worked for are being described by Ms. Sterchik when she states:
I find it ironic that many companies who do Internal Marketing well aren’t necessarily aware that they’re using Internal Marketing. These are companies with a workplace culture and operations committed to the value of both customers AND employees.
If a company who has employees really believes they can skip this step and retain employees, either they are paying their employees so well they can't afford to leave or they are deluding themselves.
Despite different generational attitudes in the workplace, companies will still need to engage their employees. And that’s where Internal Marketing comes in – enabling organizations to communicate and reinforce a sense of common purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being part of something special, particularly in workplace that’s becoming increasingly insular. Internal Marketing will continue to be relevant as a ‘high touch’ people-centered management approach in a ‘high tech’ world.
So, you see this isn't a generational mandate unique to the Millennial. This is just good business.
This new generation can't work within an environment which does not respect their goals and values, a management hierarchy which can't conceive of, never mind nurture, a new way of doing things which actually benefits the company and the clients foremost, If law firm managers, even solos looking to hire an associate choose not to recognize this but, instead, behave antagonistically, then they are going to lose the talent they have and certainly not attract new talent. If this talent strikes out on their own without regrets why are the law firms so mad? Why should these new lawyers have to take 20 years to figure out they don't want to waste their time at that law firm? There is 'paying your dues' and then there is selling your soul. This generation didn't create disloyalty. It was the previous generation of employers who were disloyal and dishonest and gave this new generation permission to say, 'screw you.'
So, there are some mea culpas to be made by employers. There are some steps they have to take to create environments to attract today's young worker. Today's generation is suspicious and self-serving because they've learned no one is going to look out for their best interests better than themselves (or their parents.)
This generation grew up (and is continuing to grow up) connected to a vibrant and diverse community through technology and they can no more leave this connectivity when in the workplace then they can leave their left arm.
Employers should capitalize on this connectivity and the freedom they, too, can experience released from the confines of the 9-5 workday and sterile cubicle and harness the additional strengths of the millennial worker instead of straitjacketing them. And when there is a strong work community it mitigates the needs for a rigid caste system. The caste system is dead..at least for this generation.
And that is why I believe, more and more lawyers will strike out on their own. Millennials will be more inclined to pursue their entrepreneurial bend, especially in the law. And you will see those who have worked so hard within the current system who get the boot or are not rewarded in ways which are meaningful to them more inclined to become solo practitioners.
Then consider the economic times we are facing. In a time of uncertainty, the direction this world is going, extraordinary debt, health care in crisis, global warming, endless war...there is a certain 'live for the moment' feeling which propels them to say, 'if this isn't working for me, I'm outta here.' They don't just say, "time is precious." They live and work knowing time is precious.
Rigidity and lack of consideration for the mindset of this generation is a recipe for economic disaster for businesses of all stripes. Law firms are definitely not immune.
As a solo, there may come a time when you may choose to bring on an associate. Remember this. And remember why you chose to go solo, the freedom to control your own time, your own destiny. You realized you'd rather be responsible for your own financial security and you have faith in your abilities to do this. And when you made (or make) the decision to go solo didn't you, regardless if you are a Baby Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y, basically say the very same thing? I think the phrase was 'screw you.' :-)