When I was in law school in the late 1990s, I spent a chilly November weekend attending a writing workshop in the back room of a bookstore off High Street in Columbus, Ohio. I remember two of the instructor’s main guidelines: 1) don’t make your paragraphs too long and 2) don’t start a story with a bio.
Then again, that was before Janice Bryant Howroyd hit my radar, who warrants an exception to any writing rules. To those who don’t already know who Janice is, let me introduce her because through Janice, we may be able to come away with some ideas on how to improve wellbeing in the legal profession.
Who Is Janice Bryant Howroyd?
Janice Bryant Howroyd is known for being the first African American woman to self- start a multi billion dollar business. She is the founder and CEO of the ActOne Group, the largest privately held, minority woman owned human resource company, which focuses on the recruitment of talent and technology that employs predictive analytics to support companies in their hiring and planning.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, ambassador, businesswoman, author and mentor, Janice is also a Presidential Special Appointee who has worked with President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama.Janice was ranked on Forbes’s 2017 list of America’s Richest Self- Made Women, a direct result of her efforts and dedication to building an organization (now with over 2200 employees in more than 19 countries helping over 17,000 clients) that has always been firmly committed to keeping the humanity in human resources.
Like a doctor analyzes the inner workings of her patients, Janice’s active industry involvement allows her to assess the inner workings of countless organizations. Armed with decades of knowledge, Janice might be able to inspire us to find the legal profession’s own “prescription” for happiness.
I recently interviewed Janice for the Sweatours Legal Well-Being Podcast, which you can listen to here.
During our talk, it became clear that Janice really embraces her small beginnings and formative years of being reared in rural eastern North Carolina along with 10 other siblings and her parents, who instilled a strong sense of gratitude, faith, and passion in her from an early age.
Janice’s family isn’t just biological or marital, though, it’s also adopted. She has shown how investing in people is a winning proposition through her close bond with so many of her ActOne Group employees, who are like family to her. They stand by one another, support each other, and contribute to one another’s wellbeing on a daily basis.
So How Can the Legal Profession Emulate ActOne Group’s Culture of Connectedness?
Well, Janice says, the answer is simple, though simple doesn’t always mean easy. Janice advises legal professionals to ask themselves the following questions:
What are the proposed (wellbeing) changes we want to make (to the industry) and will those changes actually make legal professionals happy?·
Who gets to be the shot caller for these changes?
What are the exact ingredients to the formula you will employ to make these changes?
What are the Proposed Wellbeing Changes and Will They Make Legal Professionals Happy?
Having a goal of “improved wellbeing” is great, but that is not a proposed change. It’s an end result. If you are coming at this from an organizational standpoint, when you propose changes to the company, ask yourself if the proposed change actually makes employees happy.
As an example, I was recently at Facebook HQ, and I saw countless high end gyms while I was walking around Facebook campus. They were beautifully maintained gyms with late night access and top of the line equipment. Are these gyms a nice perk? Perhaps. But maybe the bigger question to ask is this: why are our employees still “on campus” at 11pm in the first place? Are those late night gyms really the answer, or would a reduced workload make more sense?
Who is Going to Take The First Steps?
Many firms, LAPs, Bar Associations and law schools are already taking impressive steps to improve the well-being of their people, but we can all agree that a lot more still needs to be done.
So whose job is it to take that initiative? Well, there’s no clear answer to that, because groundswells can start in many ways, from many different groups, but Janice breaks it down: real change can come from organizations like bar associations (already happening) single firms, single individuals, the community at large, or a combination of the above.
Will it be a groundswell speaking up to the legal profession in a very thoughtful and academic way? This has already been initiated by the American Bar Association and its Report from the National Task Force Report on Lawyer Well-Being. The only complicating factor? For now, at least, the recommendations are more aspirational than regulatory which means that there is no proverbial gun to the head, no immediate call to action required.
With that said, individual law firms have a rare opportunity to be the pioneers of change and improvement, and can establish themselves as firms that prioritize wellbeing, something that benefits both employees and the bottom line.
Individual lawyers also have the opportunity to drive change. Realistically, it may not be possible for one lawyer to change the entire culture of their firm by announcing, for example, increased flex time. However, she may be able to implement small changes with her immediate team, for example, by reducing unnecessary emails and meetings.
Alternatively, the legal community might change from the outside, from the community at large who will challenge the legal profession to answer to themselves by asking the right questions and listening for the right answer, being where they say they will be, how they say they’ll be, when they’ll say they’ll be and sharing clear circular communication (See Janice’s ABCs of Success).
Law Firms Need to Define a Clear Purpose
Over the past decade, “purpose” has become a management watchword, and with good reason. It’s not just millennials who want to work for organizations whose missions and business philosophies mesh with them intellectually and emotionally: it’s everyone.
If you look at a typical law firm mission statement, assuming they have one, you might find something like “The firm’s mission is to provide a high quality and results oriented legal team to individuals and businesses….”
What? Mission statements like the one above don’t really mean anything. It’s not motivating anyone.
Janice defines success as the progressive realization of worthy ideals. Using her definition of success, let’s look at the fact that many lawyers became lawyers because they wanted to do work that made an impact… so if they are working for an organization that doesn’t match their personal aspirations, or if the organization doesn’t have a purpose to follow, then it can start to erode the lawyer’s happiness, negatively impacting their wellbeing.
If you look at Janice and how she runs her organization, you will immediately see a sense of purpose, which has great potential to inspire and motivate employees. ActOne employees don’t feel lost. They know why they are there and how their work can support the organization’s goals. They know why the organization exists and what principles guide its decisions.
Lawyers need to know why they are coming to work every day at your firm. The clearer you are about what value your firm creates and for whom, the greater your ability to inspire your lawyers. Don’t have a value system you can proudly share in front of your family and friends? Make a change, because it’s not just tomorrow’s lawyers you may lose, it’s tomorrow’s clients.
Connect With Intention
I will continue screaming this as loudly as possible, for as long as possible: technology is amazing, but it is not a substitute for human connection.
At ActOne Group, and in her life generally, Janice practices “circular, complete communication” in which you always talk to people directly. Janice attributes this practice as one critical element of success.
I am the CEO of a legal well-being company which focuses on improving wellbeing through human connection. In the interest of full disclosure, Sweatours Legal Wellbeing does have an app that allows users to connect and chat with one another as part of our customized solutions packages, but it’s part of the solution we offer, not the solution itself.
Whenever a firm approaches us about solely using our app, I am the first one to say that though these communication tools are a great supplement to our offerings, it may not be an effective stand alone solution, because using an app alone is not providing lawyers with the one thing they need more than ever: human connection.
People need to know that their thoughts, concerns and ideas are being heard by the organization itself, and that they are not just being passed over to an app as a surrogate solution to their problems.
You’re Near the End of This Article
As 2019 begins to wind down, the legal profession has a lot to be proud of: our focus on mental health and wellbeing has steadily picked up steam, and the number of firms and law schools who list wellbeing as a priority, not a luxury, is increasing.
But as we grow into 2020, we all need to take a closer look at what wellbeing really means, from a community standpoint, an organizational standpoint and an individual standpoint. We need to look to leadership role models outside of our field, and implement advice that people like Janice provide us.
In my time with Janice, I saw exactly how passionate she is about maintaining a connected workplace. She is running a multi billion dollar business, speaking all over the world, and is very connected to her family: she clearly has a lot on her plate. But when she was talking to me, she made me feel like I was the most important person in her world. She listened. She cared. It’s part of who she is, and part of what makes her so successful.
Janice’s company is committed to maintaining the humanity in their field, and we can all be equally committed to keeping the humanity alive in ours.
Connect with Janice:· Personal Website: askjbh.com· Business Website: The ActOne Group· Twitter: @JBryantHowroyd· Instagram: @JBryantHowroyd· Books: Acting Up· Books: The Art of Work· YouTube: Janice Bryant Howroyd· LinkedIn: Janice Bryant Howroyd