Let’s throw the skunk on the table and talk about it…PROFESSIONAL COURTESY. Yes, this is a topic often met with an immediate defensive response, an eye roll, or a shrug. I can see you thinking now, “Don’t start.” OR “But wait…we are courteous!” OR “Hold up, are you talking about my/our firm?” In this blog, I’d like to challenge you to hold off on being defensive and really examine the ways your firm is being intentional about professional courtesy. Are you and your team practicing it? And if so, how?
Pinning it down
I encourage you first to embrace an expanded definition of professional courtesy. The term can refer to both the practiced standards of conduct, behavior patterns, and values extended to ALL members within an organization, and, in addition, to any outside vendors and clients. There are many facets of professional courtesy, including honesty, integrity, loyalty, trust, and respect.
The degree to which these facets are CONSCIOUSLY practiced defines who you are. It is, at its core, very simple: It’s the Golden Rule practiced in the workplace: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You provide timely responses to communication, you say please and thank you, and you always try to embody both a positive and a professional attitude. What could be easier?
My, my, my…How things have changed
It’s important to acknowledge the evolution of the workplace over the past few decades in order to properly evaluate how professional courtesy is being demonstrated in your organization today. Before I was born (hehe), the majority of “work” was conducted by walking around and having face-to-face discussions with employees. Upper-level managers spent the bulk of their days in the office, attending in-person meetings around a table of colleagues.
Heck, people were still having the majority of their conversations OVER THE PHONE. The upside to this “way of working” was that we were forced to build solid human relationships and mutual respect, in most instances. This is NOT the workplace we are in today.
Technology continues to evolve, and, in doing so, forces the landscape of the modern workplace to change at breakneck speed. My children, 11, 10 & 6, as well as my husband, are constantly on my case about being on my cell phone and checking my email. I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone, Microsoft Outlook, and access to social media. Not to mention, as a recruiter, I literally can’t work without Skype or Zoom. Today my accessibility is off the charts. It takes an act of Congress to unplug. What does all this have to do with professional courtesy, you may ask?
While all the positive technology advancements are staggering, to say the least, they are also causing a MAJOR roadblock when it comes to professional courtesy. Weeks could go by when we don’t see co-workers. We may never actually have a face-to-face meeting with a service provider or client. EVERYTHING, including basic communication, is done electronically. And while some may not see this as a problem, we have to bridge the gap between what it was and what it is, so that professional courtesy doesn’t become totally extinct. There is a HUGE need to integrate today’s technology with the fundamental teachings of the Golden Rule.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you and your firm can promote the evolution of professional courtesy in the modern workplace.
Ask the tough questions
The extent to which your firm practices professional courtesy is directly related to employee retention, client satisfaction, and your firm’s reputation. That makes it incredibly crucial to get right. If you’re ignoring it as a leader, I can almost guarantee you that your team is following your lead. They’re failing to treat clients, referring attorney teams, and their peers with professional courtesy.
Make sure the mission of heightening your firm’s professional courtesy is always a top priority. It’s important to be in a constant state of self/firm evaluation. That’s how we grow. The level of and effectiveness of your professional courtesy practices says volumes about your firm. What is it saying about yours?