With so many firm mergers and consolidations, retirements, and simple moves occurring across the legal industry, most of us in the marketing and business development functions have encountered team leadership changes at least once during our careers. These transitions can be full of uncertainty and often require a great deal of patience and communication while both team members and new leaders settle into changing roles and expectations. In this article, we share perspectives from three marketing professionals on navigating these changes.
Rachel Patterson – Stay Positive, Communicate Well, and Embrace Opportunity
Change brings uncertainty, but it can also bring opportunity. In the time I’ve been at my firm, there have been several major departmental changes. We went through a restructuring and then, more recently, we had a change in leadership. Whenever a major change is announced in your organization, your immediate reaction might be fear or anxiety. But I find it helpful to reframe your perspective and think of the positives.
As humans, often our instinctual reaction is to focus on the negative rather than the positive, even though most changes are a mix of both. The next time you are faced with a change at work, try this: instead of thinking about what might go wrong or get worse, focus on what could be better. Consider this an opportunity to make your voice heard, to bring up issues that you would like to address, and to help make your workplace a more positive and collaborative environment. If you find that anxiety or fear about changes at work are affecting you at home, consider seeking the help of a therapist or practicing mindfulness techniques and meditation.
As a senior coordinator in my department, it sometimes feels as though I don’t have a lot of say when changes are made. A good supervisor will help relay concerns up the chain. Hopefully, if your firm gets a new chief marketing officer, that person will make time to meet with you either individually or in a group, as mine did. Try to be open to the process of discussing your expectations and theirs. Try to be optimistic. Find a trusted advisor to talk to about your worries and concerns, but refrain from gossip or negative speculation in groups, as a negative outlook can be infectious.
If you are a new CMO or director coming into an established team, know that the non-leadership members of the team want to feel they are being listened to. They want to feel like their voices are heard. Building trust takes time, but if you make the time to hear the concerns of everyone on your team, at every level, you will go a long way toward establishing that trust. People in roles like mine want to know that you are taking them into consideration, and that you are there for them and not just for the team leaders.
Ultimately, a new leader or a change in the team can be a great thing for a firm. To make it work, remember to communicate well, keep office talk positive, and make the change into an opportunity, not an obstacle.
Scott Pacheco – Big Changes for a Small Team
Being part of a two-person marketing team at a mid-size firm has both advantages (access to everyone from the managing partner on down) and challenges (no BD or marketing teams to leverage). When there’s turnover in one of these positions, the resulting state of flux can be disruptive. Having found myself in the position of de facto solo marketer after recently losing my department head, I have several takeaways that have helped me manage the process.
See the situation as an opportunity to recast your role in the firm. Change can equal opportunity – if you seize it. Make it known that you want to be in the room where the decisions are being made. When there’s an opportunity to sit in on meetings, take notes and provide feedback. Come through on items when asked. And because you are temporarily a solo, capably keeping the trains running on time can only pay dividends down the road.
Leverage your relationships. This is a big one. Without a large team of marketing professionals to delegate tasks to, you may find yourself straddling the line between tactics and strategy (more than usual). Communicate regularly with management to crystalize priorities – what should be at the top of your to-do list and how does it align with the firm’s overall goals – and lean on an intern (or see if you can bring one in if you don’t have one), or legal secretaries/staff to assist you when they can. And your attorneys are much more likely to be responsive and helpful if you’ve maintained strong relationships with them.
Make sure you are growing, not just professionally, but personally. Running meetings with decision makers and influential attorneys can be intimidating. And having hard conversations, such as challenging an attorney on a large spend or admitting you missed a line item in a contract, is no picnic. But the only way you learn and improve is to do those things. Challenge yourself to prepare for and tackle these types of tasks, and the growth won’t just be measured in your performance review but also in your confidence and maturation as a person.
Have a say on who your next boss is. It goes without saying, but you have a large stake in who becomes your new boss. Request a meeting with the finalists before a decision is made and make sure to provide feedback. If all else is equal, your voice may tip the scales toward someone you’ll feel more comfortable working with, which benefits everyone.
Change is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As noted author Tom Peters once said, “If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade.”
Gina Eliadis – A Word for New Leaders
But what does change look like for an incoming leader? First, I will second everything Rachel and Scott shared above. Communication, trust, and positivity are critical. To this, I will add respect. New marketing and business development leaders are under pressure to raise the bar at their new firm. This means assessing the team's strengths, strategies, and initiatives. Leaders, do so with respect. Recognize that your new team had been working hard and contributing great ideas at your new firm long before you arrived. Listen to them on everything from the "what" to the "why." Where changes are needed, communicate the need and the strategy clearly. Team, understand that a new leader is working to not only understand you and your role, but also the firm as a whole. You can aid the transition period by sharing your institutional knowledge and by being open to change, as Rachel and Scott thoughtfully advised.
Above all, it's critical to remember that no matter our role, all of us are invested in the success of both our teams and our firms. The transition period welcoming new leadership should always be guided by clear communication, respect, and an openness to leveraging new opportunities.
By Rachel Patterson, Digital Marketing Technology Sr. Coordinator at Crowell & Moring LLP; Scott Pacheco, Communications Specialist at Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chtd.; and Gina Eliadis, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Goodell DeVries