While the legal profession is an industry with accepted and clearly defined organizational standards both in law firms and in in-house legal departments, it is the responsibility of both the new hire and the employer to assure the integration process is a success. Firms and legal departments can develop a meaningful integration system for new team members creating loyalty and fostering strong relationships, while a new hire can ensure a successful integration by taking responsibility for her integration and playing a proactive role in the process.
Establishing a clear integration process for new hires is essential to the long-term success of your organization and retention of new hires. A substantive integration procedure is not satisfied by a new employee orientation. They are separate and distinct. A successful integration program is multifaceted, and ongoing, and creates loyalty and strong, lasting relationships within the organization. Failed hires who ultimately leave their positions undermine morale, damage an organization's reputation, create revenue loss and render meaningless many hours of work. The price of failure is high and it can take a long time to recover.
The first few months after hire are critical in the integration process. The more thorough the integration the faster a new hire can make a meaningful contribution to the team. A solid integration program should be viewed as an extension of the recruiting and hiring process and is just as important, if not more.
Welcome dinners or other celebrations. Hosting a welcome dinner or breakfast on a new hire's first day sends the message that everyone is excited about a new hire. Understand that the new hire is probably nervous on their first day and if an organization can convey its enthusiasm and extend a warm welcome from the beginning, it will not be forgotten. These events give everyone an opportunity to get to know one another on a more personal level, creating initial bonds that will also affect how quickly everyone can begin to work effectively together.
Clear conveyance of culture. Identifying the culture of the workplace and conveying that culture to new hires is key to their success. Distilling the guiding principles and values of the organization into a crystal-clear mission statement makes it simple to convey the message to new hires and the business community at large. Do not assume everyone knows the rules and standards. Continue to convey them on a regular basis.
Mentors and creating an integration team. Assign mentors within practice groups, departments and on a firmwide basis. It is important to carefully choose the right people for an "integration team" from a variety of disciplines taking care to ensure mentors are dedicated to the success of the new hire and have deep historical knowledge of the organization and power within it.
Require mentors and team members to schedule bimonthly or monthly meetings to check in with new hires and require them to keep the meetings on calendar! Make the importance of these meetings clear and that they cannot be canceled unless there is a true client emergency.
Opportunity to observe and shadow. It is important to give new hires the opportunity to observe first-hand how the organization and its members work in a variety of settings: client pitches, strategy meetings, etc. This observation should also include different offices and parts of the practice group or groups the new hire will be working closely with in the future. It is a good idea to rotate new hires through teams, and if possible, send them on a "tour of offices" so they are better acquainted with the organization as a whole and are not isolated to knowledge of just their office or those in their practice groups.
While a "tour" may have occurred during the interview process, the dynamic is different once someone is part of your organization. The exposure to the entire organization and development of a broad spectrum of relationships should continue to evolve. Ideally, integration should happen on four levels: at the organization/firm level, at the practice group level, at the office level and at the individual partner level.
No integration program is a success without active, engaged participants. New hires must take responsibility for their integration and play a proactive role in the process. Following a few guiding principles to remember as you participate in your new organization's integration program:
Don't miss the window of opportunity. The first few months on the job are an important time to establish who you are and how you and others view you as a member of the team. The impressions you create now will create the footprint of your tenure and if inaccurate will be difficult to shed. So seize the moment when excitement about you is high. During this initial period, you have an opportunity to ask any and all questions and discover everything you can about your new company whereas after this period has ended, you will be expected to know how the organization works and what others require of you. You need to take this window of opportunity to assimilate into your new firm becoming a valued and indispensable member of your team. Ask your mentor for an organizational chart of the practice and firm or company. Understanding this line of command is critical. Take time to ask questions and listen carefully to the responses and advice from those around you. Inquire about the business case for your hire. The answers will give you insight into the overall business strategy of the team and your role in it.
Communicate. Be self aware. Get to know the culture and business structure of the organization. Learn how people communicate. Communication styles are often the crux of a firm's culture. Does your supervisor prefer you keep her informed on all details of a matter or does she prefer you only come to her with issues? Does your team have complete autonomy? Adopting and adapting to the existing communication patterns is very important.
Seek out your practice group leader and have a meaningful discussion about how the group works, who is responsible for what tasks, expectations and how individuals best work. Schedule regular meetings to check in on progress. Make a meaningful effort to reach out to each member of the group you will be working with to connect and ask questions. Find out what makes the firm special or makes the legal department valuable to the company.
Network and socialize. Avoid the risk of segregating yourself early by diving straight into your workload without integrating yourself into your team. Chances are there is a lot of legal work that needs to be completed immediately upon your arrival, otherwise you probably would not have been hired. But don't forget, this is the time to build relationships with as many people as possible. Take the extra time with everyone you meet to network. While it may be difficult to carve out the time to ask questions and connect with those outside your practice group or team, it is critical that you create the time and seek out advice and alternative views on how to get projects completed. It will benefit you to get to know as many people in your organization as possible and seek out their feedback on the work you have begun to do.
Open yourself up to getting to know people. Tell them about yourself and get to know them. Let them know your work style, how you prefer to communicate, and ask what their preferences are. The higher the comfort level, the better you will be able to work together. Commit to "face time" — do not telecommute the first several months unless necessary. The importance of being present cannot be overemphasized in order to integrate and establish yourself. Get to know your co-workers and let them get to know you.
Building your internal network of mentors, confidants and colleagues will create strong relationships with coworkers across the organization and will allow you to work efficiently and effectively on a variety of projects in the future. Make sure you connect with people in every part of your organization from support staff to management.
Another way to get to know people outside your practice group or department and further build your network is to volunteer for committees and seek out opportunities to participate in internal organizations.
Set clear goals and plans. Another aspect of being proactive is to write an outline of your goals for your new job. Why did you accept this position? What do you hope to gain in this position? What do you hope to accomplish in the next 30, 60, 90 days? What about your annual goals for the next few years?
Assimilation never really ends as an organization evolves and your career evolves with it!
Stacy Miller Azcarate is the founder of Miller Sabino & Lee Inc. Legal Placement Services serving the California legal market. She can be reached at 415-381-5048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.