5 Signs Your Firm Is Stuck In A Rut & How To Get Out Now!

On January 13, 1982, a Boeing 737 departed Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Just after its takeoff, however, the airliner crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, killing all but five of its 74 passengers.

The following excerpt was taken from the cockpit recorder:

First Officer: Electrical.

Captain: Generators.

First Officer: Pitot heat.

Captain: On.

First Officer: Anti-ice.

Captain: Off.

First Officer: Air-conditioning pressurization.

Captain: Packs on flight.

First Officer: APU.

Captain: Running.

First Officer: Start levers.

Captain: Idle.

Normally, the above conversation wouldn’t be cause for alarm. In fact, the pre-flight checklist conversation appears to be comfortably routine.

But, that’s also problem.

Air Florida Flight 90 was taking off in freezing Northeast weather—a situation to which pilots based in sunny Florida would be unaccustomed. The First Officer in this case had flown only two takeoffs and landings in similar wintry conditions during his tenure at the company, according to Gersick and Hackman’s “Habitual Routines in Task-Performing Groups,” published in 1990.

So, upon hearing “anti-ice, off” neither the Captain nor the First Officer thought to change their pre-flight checklist routine. And, lack of anti-ice measures did, sadly, lead to the flight’s demise.

Gersick and Hackman’s study, which anecdotally references the Air Florida Flight incident, concludes that “social systems require at least some routinization of behavior to get work accomplished.”

But, sometimes it’s necessary to break out a habitual routine in order to properly innovate, adapt to changing situations, or weather the storm, so to speak.

If your law firm is currently stuck in a rut or routine, the consequences need not be so dire. The deadly plane crash in D.C. can serve as a warning to airline companies and law firms alike.

Here are five signs your firm may be dangerously stuck in a rut:

1. Low employee morale. If you’ve noticed employees taking extra long lunches, skipping out early, or making trivial complaints, it may because your firm suffers from low employee morale.

When productive, meaningful work transforms into a dull, daily grind, it’s time to makes some changes. Create new mentorship programs. Try “lunch roulette.”

Whatever you do, let go of the status quo. Employee morale is linked to higher productivity and performance, aspects of your business both clients and partners can’t live without.

2. Dip in company performance. The recession has hurt most law firms. But, if your firm is performing below expected levels this period, it could be a sign your firm is in a rut.

You need to infuse innovative ideas into your business strategy and operations. If you have a lack of ideas, recruit younger associates to participate. Create “youth boards” that can get your social media up and running and your legal strategy squared away.

Innovation is a radical change—something your firm will never achieve by simply spinning its wheels.

3. No new business.  Sure, business is good. But, if your new business comes from old clients, it may be that your business strategy is stagnant. Make sure your partners are seeking new clients and remaining active in their networking.

Throw a party for the neighborhood businesses. Hold team lunches or meetings at local restaurants and get to know the owners. The only thing routine about attracting new clients is the fact that managers must try out new measures to do so everyday.

4. Recruitment issues. If your law firm is stuck in a rut, it will have trouble attracting the best and brightest first-year associates.

Technologically innovative firms—or ones with creative office spaces, policies, and FLEX scheduling—will ultimately attract the most attention by graduates. The recession has given law firms a lot of recruiting power. But, this generation is looking for a lot more out of their jobs than before.

5. You know exactly what’s to come. You know how today is going to go. And tomorrow. And the next day. This monotony may be problematic for your firm.

Law firms often rely on creative solutions for sticky legal problems. Creativity and “thinking outside the box” are actually skills acquired through practice

If you’re accustomed to the “same old, same old,” then it will become increasingly difficult to adapt to surprises or disruptions of your routine.

The best legal minds are creative, innovative, and adaptive.

The best legal organizations are equally organic.

The first step to getting out of a rut is to recognize you’re in one.

-WB

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