Getting "quick wins in place" builds momentum in change process
A Perth law firm that implemented a "people first" strategy to address high staff turnover and low engagement achieved momentum and success by getting some "quick wins in place" early on.
Flexible working arrangements encouragedOne of the new values - "making it work sustainably" - gave rise to a number of flexible work initiatives which were implemented well before flexibility was mandated by the Fair Work Act. "We already do it all and it's not an issue just for working women, it's for anyone in the firm who wants a flexible working arrangement," Shelton says.
"We've had people take it on for all sorts of different reasons, such as completing house renovations or being able to do additional study or just being able to coach a school volley ball team once a week in the mornings."
Shelton says this required "an awful lot" of communication. Convincing managers and partners of the business benefits was relatively straightforward, "but then we've had to have ongoing communication with staff for them to feel it's OK... and that it's not just the domain of working mothers, it's something for everybody", she explains.
"I'm always saying to people, 'Suggest something. Just because we haven't done it before doesn't mean that we can't give it a go,' and that's fed on itself because now both the firm and employees are coming up with new innovative things that we can try," Shelton says.
One innovation is "Dads' leave", which allows new fathers to work a four-day week for up to three months with reduced targets - "so there's no expectation that they're making up the hours at any time" - and full-time pay. The idea came about from an engagement survey "that just showed a small difference in women feeling they had more work/life balance than the men". There were also a few men in the firm with babies on the way, "and we were thinking, 'Well, what can we do to help them?'", she says.
The firm also makes an effort to keep in touch with women who are on maternity leave. "We have them in for lunches, we send them out copies of the internal newsletter every fortnight, [and] if we've got small project work that they could do from home we contact them and ask if they're interested in a day or two's work," she says.
So far, the firm has tried every flexible arrangement that staff have proposed. "Sometimes they've required tweaking, and the only time where it perhaps hasn't worked out is where we've had a team that's fully staffed by part-timers - it's just harder to ensure communication." The solution has been to consult with individuals over time to find an alternative that works, she says.
The firm also has two remote workers who are based in Tasmania, but whose secretaries and paralegals are based in Perth, and a lawyer who works casually from Melbourne. "And that enables us to really utilise and improve on productivity and utilise people that we wouldn't otherwise be able to use," Shelton says.
Another innovation is a new approach to partner remuneration. Traditionally, a partner who works three days a week would be paid on a pro-rata basis, Shelton explains. "We've moved away from that measure of inputs in determining remuneration, to it being purely an outputs based approach." Consequently, "you could have a part-time partner who has the same earning potential as a full-time partner". The change means that "if someone wants to work three days a week, they're not capped at 60 per cent remuneration, they could still be running a full-sized team, still have the same reputation in the market and they'll get full credit for that," Shelton says.
The benefits of putting people first - attraction, retention and productivity - have far outweighed the time it has cost to implement the strategy, Shelton says. "We've all been passionate about it... we've all been so excited to do that it hasn't ever felt like a cost".
Shelton, who has taken maternity leave twice since 2006, says she has benefited personally from the change. "I just can't say enough about the wellbeing that comes for me as an individual, but also the other employees, when we have control over our work and our personal lives and how we go about completing our work."
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