Culture and Values: the fundamental building blocks of a business

Having worked in 4 different law firms in my career I had a sense (a very vague sense) that each of those businesses had their own distinctive culture.  To an observer without an intimate knowledge of the people who worked in each business they would all have seemed pretty similar.

The simple truth is that the founders of a business will, by definition, shape the culture and the values.  Birds of a feather fly together is the analogy I use.  The other point being that it is perhaps only in times of stress that the defining values become evident.

3 months before the greatest recession for 70 years Everyman Legal was born.  We had grown a team of lawyers who had been forced or had chosen to make a career move in times of pressure.

Over the years helping clients I have come to learn that people fall out either when things going badly or when things are going well; fear and greed are the two greater motivators.

The stress within a growing business in response to customer demand is quite different (and more intense) than the stress of trying to find work to keep busy whilst living off savings.

For our business those stresses surfaced as the country moved out of the recession and we found ourselves embracing the challenges of a busy office.  It had been all too easy to end up doing the wrong work for the wrong people at the wrong price.  Underlying all of this is the need for a law firm to maintain (expensive!) professional indemnity insurance and to operate in a highly regulated environment.

Happily for me as the storm clouds of discontent began to grow I had the great fortune to meet Rod Willis of Assentire Limited.  Rod had a first career running the European sales team of a large US technology company.  His new passion was behavioural change and leadership.

For business owners facing the challenge of succession planning these are the nettles that must be grasped.  In 2014 I found my own need to embrace the new and unfamiliar concepts that Rod taught.

Beginning that year the process of rebuilding our team of lawyers began.  To do that we first had to be very clear on the values that were important to us (me in reality).  We chose four values:  empathy, honesty, courage and community.

Using an online profiling tool called VBIM (values based indicator of motivation) we are able to measure prospective lawyers’ values.  Three years on from my annus horibilis we have said goodbye to home-based solicitors and welcomed 3 new lawyers in Witney.

The cultural foundations of our business are now understood and defined.  We can measure those values.  We can also help our business owner clients understand their own culture and values before they start growing their team on their succession planning journey.