Monday, October 01, 2007

Who Is At The Top of Your Pyramid?

Take a look around you! Look at the Associates at the same level in your organization. Look at the make-up of gender and cultural diversity. Now, stop. Look up! No, dummy, not to the sky, but to the top of the Pyramid of an organization you work in. Look at the gender and cultural diversity up there. . . . . .now stop crying. I know it is hopelessly sad, I know. Now it is time to get smart. Listen up: The people at the top of your pyramid say an awful lot about what you firm values in its people and what kind of people (white males, egos, etc} make it to the top. Although nobody will explicitly tell you what it takes to make partner or when you will even be evaluated for it, the answers are all around you. . . . . they are written on the walls of the office you work in everyday. Look up. Now, look in the mirror. Do you look like they do? You might want to ask yourself some tough questions about the people up there, like:

-- How do they treat each other up there?

-- What types of values do they have?

-- Do I feel like they care about me?

-- Do they treat us Associates with respect?

-- Have they taken the time to show me what a future can look like in this firm?

-- Have they even given me a good employee review so I know how I am doing? NO! Not a spreadsheet with my numbers, but some quality time with me to make sure I am headed in the right direction to make partner?

-- Do I have a CLUE what these old white guys are doing to develop leaders? Or their successors? Do they even care?

-- If I told the Managing Partner of this firm how much of a jerk one of those Partners is do I think HE will do anything about it? Do you think he would fire the attorney if he refused to change?

If you are like every other Associate I know at BigLaw, then the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!! Most associates look up and see an old white-man's club at the top of their pyramid with a small smattering of women who have sacrificed their family and social lives to be there and are unsympathetic to women in our generation who want balance, and a couple self-proclaimed "token" minorities who do not feel valued as equals in the partnership. Most associates look at the top of the pyramid and see big egos, some real jerks who treat their people like crap but develop all of the business. The answers are written on the walls. The answers are all around you. Look at how the biggest rainmaker partners in your firm treat you and ask yourself. . . what does your firm value in its people? What is most important in your firm to succeed. Almost all associates say it is ONLY about the money. . . . that the biggest rainmakers treat everyone around them like crap. . . and everyone. . . yes EVERYONE knows that these people are no there BECAUSE of their values. They are there IN SPITE of their values. There will come a time when you have to ask yourself the tough questions. . . like do you aspire to be what those people are? Is that what you want your life and your working environment to look like 5 or 1O years from now? Do you want to be at a firm that does not value its people? Do you? One thing is for certain. . . . if you do no change it, you will become it.

To this day I have lived by the saying "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything." Ladies and Gentlemen, do you know what you stand for or is your firm taking you for a ride? It may just be your time to figure out what you stand for and stand up for it! There are firms like Exemplar that do care about its people, where values, good character, respect, and success in business development can coexist. The difference is one of courage and vision. It takes courage to stand up for change and vision to pave the way for a better future. We are operating in a time where professional satisfaction in the law is at all-time lows. Attrition rates and depression rates are at all-time highs. Billable hour requirements are reaching a tipping point. Partners at BigLaw have Mortgaged their Associates to the hill to line their golden parachutes for retirement and your pilots will be jumping out of your plane before you. [NOTE: The most profitable corporations achieve significant leverage without these deleterious effects on its people] If you do not see strong young leadership in your firm. . . or a "flight plan" on what you career can look like in the firm, it is because there is no flight plan. So, while you are at the gate of decision it might be the right time to take a different flight. To stand for something instead of falling for anything. There are colleagues around you who are waiting for someone to lead the way. . . even dreaming of it. With courage and vision, together, we can be a part of the future of the profession. I will stand with you in your journey!


Mary Frances said...

This was interesting to read - I'm currently trying to work through whether it's time for me to (1)leave accounting for good, (2)find a firm that has the same values and beliefs as me, or (3)work for change in my current firm. I'm leaning towards (1) or (3).

Option 1 looks good because I'm so frustrated now that I'm not sure that I would like accounting under any situation. And I like Option 3 because I think it would lead to personal growth for me and, hopefully, the betterment of the firm. With Option 2, I feel like I'd just be running away from the problem if I changed firms. On the other hand, I'm in the 3-5 year experience range and unsure how much change I can affect by myself.

I'm not sure if this will add to the discussion any at all, but it felt good to get it out. Any insights from anyone would be appreciated =)

Christopher Marston said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your contribution and your thought. So many professionals face the same frustrations, especially in your experience range. I am interested to know why you are no inclined to find a firm that matches you values. . . or does that simply seem like too daunting a task? Why would you feel like you are running away if you changed firms? After all, think of it as a regular company. . . sometimes the corporate culture is simply not a match for you. Switching companies to one that is a match is better for you, the lucky company that finds you, and the one that you leave. Arguable, option 1 seems more like running away that option 2. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter and think it all comes down to some soul searching about who you are now, who you want to be, and whether you are dreading the work of accounting or your work environment (the people and culture, etc}. If you are like most professionals, it is the latter for sure.

However, I can help you make this an easier decision. Try to share your perspectives for change to the higher-ups and see how they respond. If they do not repsect you or take your thoughts into consideration, you will have your answer as to whether or how quickly you can affect change from within. The questions is this: Is change from within a professional battle you want to fight? Is that your fight or are you meant for other challenges in your professional life? first and foremost, you deserve to be challenged, respected, and happy in your career. You should NOT have to fight for that right ANYWHERE!! Why not go where people do value you and your contribution and not see you simply as a leverage tool?

Thanks Mary!