When the Broncos were created three decades ago, they had no existing culture on which to build.
Inaugural captain Wally Lewis suggested to coach Wayne Bennett that it would be a good idea to instil the ‘family club’ ethos that had been the foundation of Lewis’ old club, Valleys. From all appearances, the King’s suggestion found little favour with his new coach.
Instead, Bennett created a ‘win at all costs’ culture, most prominently evidenced by the way the club showed Lewis the door when they had got what they wanted from him. Some might say the culture was justified by Brisbane’s five premierships – others would argue that, given Brisbane were putting what was basically the Queensland State of Origin team on the field every week, the club should have twice as many titles to show for it.
Either way, the legacy of Bennett’s culture is at the heart of Brisbane’s current woes. The club has struggled to find and hold talented players, and in large part it is because players and their agents know Brisbane will drop them like a hot potato if something flashier comes along. Every player that walks through the doors at Brisbane has it in the back of their minds: This is the club that dumped the greatest player of all time. Translation: Expect no loyalty, and give none.
It also explains the current flaunting of the COVID-19 rules by Broncos players. A culture in which winning cures everything results in a view on the part of the players that all will be forgiven as long as they win. One suspects that if the Broncos were on top of the ladder, rather than second-bottom, the club would be taking a different approach with its delinquent players.
While the Broncos will no doubt survive and recover, law firms and legal teams cannot be so sure. Attracting and keeping talented lawyers is vital to a firm’s survival and success, and the key to that is a good culture. Get a reputation for standing by your employees, listening to them and giving them the chance to thrive, and everybody will want to work for you. Become known for cutthroat decisions and doing business with lead-pipe cruelty, and your staff will always have one foot out the door.
Even worse, any firm which adopts the mantra that success cures everything will soon find itself in real strife. The history of our profession shows that turning a blind eye towards the conduct of big billers has devastating consequences, especially for young women in the law.
Simply put, culture matters – and how you set yours will go a long way towards determining whether or not you succeed. Creating a supportive and inclusive atmosphere is a good start, and while each firm is different, there are some things that will assist in al situations.
- As far as possible, include staff in decisions. They have an understanding of your firm and can bring insight and perspective to the process.
- Explain why you are doing things. Most staff can handle change and challenge, but knowing why something is happening will go a long way towards getting buy-in from them.
- Actively seek feedback from your staff. People who feel they are being listened to are more committed, and tend to take ownership of things on which they have been consulted.
- Speak with your team, not at them. Nobody likes being lectured, and a genuine dialogue with staff will keep them engaged and happy.
- Hold everyone accountable. No matter how good a lawyer is, or how much they bill, bad behaviour is bad behaviour and it needs to be called out.
The Brisbane Broncos are now dealing with the fallout of a bad culture over a long period, and it is ugly. You do not want your firm to ever go through that, so concentrate on creating a strong, positive and inclusive culture that sustains and nurtures staff, rather than putting them under the pump.