Making Work, Work

Can you believe we are already a whole week into 2019? How are those New Year resolutions shaping up? Are you, like many lawyers in our network trying to adopt healthier habits, or have you pledged to declutter and organise your workspace? Perhaps you have something bigger in mind, such as a change of career path?

It may be too soon to judge whether a resolution is on track to succeed, but if you are already finding things aren’t quite working out as you’d have hoped, it may be time to scrap the list and focus on one single goal: to step outside of your comfort zone more.

Comfort: the enemy of progress

Resolutions have merit as general guidelines to what kind of year you want to have, but as a checking off list they can sometimes have a negative effect on our long term motivation. If we don’t achieve all that we have listed in the speed and manner that we had hoped, we leave ourselves feeling as if we have failed, and can overshadow the real, tangible progress we have made all year.

There are others reasons so many of our New Year Resolutions are doomed to fail. One is the tendency to see January 1st as a giant reset button. The start of a new year is of course a logical time to commit to starting a new project or hobby, or begin work on a long thought about goal. However, our lives don’t begin with a clean slate once the clock hits midnight. We are the same people as we were last year, and the year before. We still have the commitments and responsibilities and problems of life that we had a few hours ago in 2018. Life as we know it goes on, and the feeling of ‘business as usual’ can be at odds with both the big and small things we have pledged to changed or take up from January 1st.

But by far the biggest barrier to changing habits and achieving long-held goals is staying within our comfort zones. There is nothing wrong with having a comfort zone – we all need a state where we feel secure and grounded with familiarity – but we all need to find the will and ability to step outside of it on a regular basis to keep moving forward and growing as individuals.

Keep the resolutions by all means, but add these tips for stepping out of your comfort zone to the top of your list…

#1 Stop being ‘busy’

Yes, finding time to do what we want to do is an issue for all lawyers, but often we can get so used to being ‘busy’, we lose sense of what are necessary tasks and what we do to feel and appear productive. Making time for your personal goals will help you continue to be truly motivated and productive person. Take a look at these time management tips from to help you free up time and headspace for achieving new goals.

#2 Get to know your fear state

There is a science behind stepping out of your comfort zone which suggests you need to find the right level of anxiety that will spur you on – too little and you won’t make the move, too much and you’ll freeze on the spot. Knowing how you reflexively respond to unfamiliar and difficult circumstances will help you identify just how far you should be pushing yourself.

#3 Change up the daily routine

The best way to get out of your comfort zone is to make small changes to your overall routine. Start the day with a walk instead of emails, take the scenic route to the office, try to visit a different lunch venue each day of the week, walk into an exhibition on a whim. Make differentiation the norm in your life.

#4 Recall previous accomplishments

Take note of how you felt about yourself at the time, what steps you had to take to get there, the luck or good timing that was involved. This will help you to visualise how to create a similar situation again.

#5 Sit back and observe

While self reflection is vital in this process, you may also need to step out of your bubble. Slow down and take time to see how other people make decisions and try new things – there may be something to learn from watching others navigate their own fears and obstacles.


What’s the worst that could happen?

Stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean taking a huge bungee jump off the edge of it (though it absolutely can mean that if you want it to!). The first seemingly insignificant small step is as important as the one that really makes you say ‘wow, I can’t believe I just did that.’ Doing the thing that scares you e.g. public speaking (a big one for many lawyers) might involve gradually conquering the fear through practice and building resilience. Whatever it is that you have actively avoided doing in your life, or have never given yourself the chance to try, start with small steps to take to achieve it – such as going along to a local Toastmaster’s event or doing a speech at a social gathering.

The Obelisk team has a range of different health, travel and personal development resolutions we want to accomplish this year. All will involve a small or bigger step out of our comfort zones and routines. Last year, one small-yet-big thing I did that was outside of my comfort zone was ask people in my network for help with work. It paid off – I realised the worst that someone could say was no, and in fact it was a truly pleasant surprise to see how someone took the time to recommend me to their peers. I have pledged this year to support more people in what they do in any small way I can, all part continuing to try to stretch my comfort zone by reaching out to people and communicating more.

Make the New Year not about new beginnings, but continuing on a positive footing, whatever that may entail. With a promise to yourself to do at least one thing this year that takes you outside of your comfort zone, the rest will follow.

Making Work, WorkTrending

Law firms should be focusing on growth through diversity in their workforce, challenging the legal industry’s appalling status that means it needs to catch up with other industries on diversity. While women make up 47% of all lawyers, this number falls to 33% when considering partners. Cultivating an inclusive and diverse work culture in the law is a social justice issue, but it can make a real difference to the global growth and financial performance of a firm. At Obelisk Support, diversity in the legal profession (or the lack thereof) was the very reason we were founded in 2010 and it still makes total business sense for us. This could be anecdotal but it’s not. It is reinforced by the statistical findings of a January 2018 McKinsey report, Delivering through Diversity.

An organisation cannot aspire or claim to be global without true inclusion and diversity (also referred to as I&D) throughout each level. Often I&D in the workplace is talked about in terms of targets and numbers, but it shouldn’t be just about bodies; there needs to be a clear and thoughtful approach to creating a diverse working culture and inclusive leadership.

Why Diversity is So Strongly Linked to Financial Performance

Why should firms concentrate so much of their efforts on growth through diversity? The link between diversity and company growth is not an unexpected one: A company can only really claim or aspire to be global with a global and diverse team to drive them. By employing people of different ethnic and social backgrounds, you bring in a broad range of talent and viewpoints to help gain better understanding of different markets, clients and societies at large.

In the McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity were 15% and 35% more likely to experience above average profitability. Exploring this correlation further, the more gender diversity within an executive team consistently correlated with higher profitability. Overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability.

McKinsey’s hypotheses about what drives this correlation are that “more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making; and to secure their license to operate—all of which we believe continue to be relevant.” 

An ethically and gender diverse workforce attracts the top talent as it brings fresh perspectives from global enterprises and structural philosophies. Diversity brings first hand experience of other cultures and ways of working that can enrich and improve an organisation’s approach to all aspects of their work, from workplace culture to communications, client relationships to hierarchies and departmental structure.

Expanding Measures to Improve Diversity in the Law

Ethnic and gender diversity in the law still lags behind many other sectors. As frustrating as it might be, the industry is still trying to figure out the best approach to incentivising and encouraging diversity in the law. The typical starting point is targets, however it has been argued that targets in the judiciary are not effective. Writing in The Times, David Pannick QC states that though he agrees the lack of diversity of ethnicity age and gender present a real problem, but he believes targets would only serve as a distraction.

To some degree he is correct: there is little sense in implementing national targets when the focus should be on the factors that are not just preventing people entering the law, but also staying and progressing in their career. Going further than targets, some companies introduce incentives and punishments such as HP’s diversity mandate, which we previously discussed here. However, targets and incentives should not be the first point of call. We need to answer the questions as to why women are disproportionately leaving the law to have children/care for family. Also the motives need to be correct: with targets in place there is less focus on an organisation adapting to ensure it is a good environment for a diverse workforce and making the best use of that talent, and simply reduces it to good representation on paper.

How to Successfully Implement a Diversity Strategy

Diversity can be incentivised, but this needs to come with true inclusion and a vision for growth. This is a slower process focusing on the culture and attitudes within the organisation, and approaching the issue from a business perspective as well as a social justice concern can be more effective. The suggestions put forward in the McKinsey report for implementing a successful strategy for diversity are:

  • Commit and cascade. CEOs and leaders must articulate a compelling vision, embedded with real accountability for delivery, and cascade down through middle management. This commitment can be solidified by making a formal pledge, such as the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity & Inclusion in the USA, which was started by a group of business leaders including the US chairman of PwC.
  • Link I&D to growth strategy. The I&D priorities must be explicitly defined based on what will drive the business growth strategy. Leading companies do this in a data-driven way. This fascinating Forbes report on Innovation through Diversity features examples and case studies from companies such as L’Oreal, Deutsche Bank and Mattel demonstrating how each have leveraged I&D priorities to meet their business innovation goals.
  • Craft an initiative portfolio. Initiatives in pursuit of the I&D goals should be targeted based on growth priorities, and investments made to both hard- and soft-wire the programs and culture of inclusion required to capture the intended benefits. Examples of initiatives employed by large corporations include Intel’s Diversity in Technology Initiative and Ericsson’s participation in TechWomen. Initiatives can be applied to smaller organisations at a local level too.
  • Tailor for impact. I&D initiatives should be tailored to the relevant business area or geographic region context to maximise local buy-in and impact. If your firm deals with more than one locality or business area, initiatives need to be tailored, taking into account the priorities and/or cultural differences within each. This is where local, first hand expertise becomes vital, and it may be worth considering employing the services of a diversity consultant to ensure these are applied successfully.

All of these things can be applied to legal services and the judiciary. A clear commitment to reducing barriers to diversity from the top, recognising those values as being key to future success and global impact, and implementing a range of initiatives and targets once the problems and barriers in each sector have been identified and have begun to be addressed. Diversity in the law is in danger of being reduced to another buzz word, when it is central to performing better as lawyers, and being better as humans first.

Making Work, Work

A successful career is never out there waiting to be gifted to us from a company or someone else. We forge our careers, we shape our path and it’s all down to the choices we make and efforts we put in. We will hopefully align with like minded people along the way who will offer mutual support and inspiration but ultimately our success is not waiting to be offered: we have to own our career and be accountable for what we do.

Of course, not all career choices are always freely available to us. Often we have to take the best choice presented to us in the situation we find ourselves in. But it’s important to not let those things become barriers in our minds to dampen our motivation and allow us to lose focus on where we want to get. Here are some key pieces of advice for owning your career and being accountable for your actions.

Get to know you

Perhaps the biggest part of forging a successful career is getting to know ourselves. Work ethic is something that is instilled in us from a young age, whether it is through our background or through school or early ambitions, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be worked on and nurtured. This involves not just focusing on the bigger picture of our long term goals and where we see ourselves in life, but also those daily wins. It means spending each day thinking about what drives us; those little moments that put a smile on our face, set off a mini adrenaline rush and make us want to tell our friends what we just accomplished. It means knowing what environments we work best in, what times in the day we are most productive or most efficient, and when our most creative ideas start to flow. It also means knowing our weaknesses, and more importantly, how to address them.

Recall that feeling you get after a productive, successful working day. Make that your aim every morning when you wake up. Of course you can’t predict how things will work out but going to sleep each night knowing you did the best you could throughout the day will help you sleep better and prepare for the next. It will also make the time off you get so much more satisfying!

Break down your life patterns and responsibilities

Once we are acquainted with our characteristics, we also need to examine our schedule and life patterns, allocating time that will need to be spent paying attention to children’s homework or essential personal responsibilities such as financial administration. Communicate thoroughly with clients and colleagues when things are disrupted. This means we can better avoid overcommitting or overestimating the time we have available. Pretending you don’t have a life outside of work is only going to stall your progress, as you start to lose control of your schedule and judgement of how much work you are capable of taking on and completing. It is much better to build a solid relationship with a few clients that you know you can handle, and look to carve out long term/repeat work off the back of it. Build a reputation and level of experience that allows you to command rates that represent the quality of work you will put in.

Assess where there is room for improvement

As well as looking at what we are achieving, it is important to honestly assess the areas where you could work harder and focus more attention to – and answer why this is happening. Is fear holding you back? How can you push through it? Is there something in your life that needs to change to make it easier for you to go after the things you want? Could you spend more time seeking out clients, is it time to call in a favour from someone to help you on the next step? Most of us with any level of ambition can probably admit to areas that require more proactivity on our part to take our careers to the next level.

And when things go wrong – act, don’t react.

Allow yourself space to vent emotion: talk to a confidant or write out how you are feeling in that moment. Then look at what needs to be immediately done to put things right – is an apology needed, what solutions can you present to rectify the situation or get things back on track? What steps will you take to see the solution through and ensure that a similar situation won’t occur again? Once the situation is under control, return to your page or the conversation you had previously, and talk about your role in what went wrong and ways in which you were responsible. Whether or not there were other factors at this stage are less important, the focus needs to be on you and the things that are within your own control. Then, accept it as a learning curve and move forward – as much as these occurrences are to be kept to a minimum they need to be owned as part of the tapestry of your career, just as much as the successes.

As you can see, owning your career is an ongoing process, and regular self reflection and goal assessment is necessary as we journey through life. We are all a work in progress after all.

Making Work, WorkTrending

How many hours are being lost in your organisation due to un-flexible working practices? That’s the question we have been putting out there since the launch of our #mymillionhours campaign towards the end of last year. We calculated that we have a total of 1 million hours available in our pool of legal talent. With that in mind, it’s easy for us to see the competitive advantages of flexible working. Employing flexible working practices have increased productivity and given organisations the competitive edge over others.

Outside of our own clients, organisations that are citing flexible working practices as a direct cause of an uptick in productivity include Lloyds Banking Group, where, in a Future of Work Institute report conducted in 2012, 66% of line managers and colleagues said they considered that flexibility improved efficiency and productivity. Cisco was another example from the study detailing significant productivity gains.

One of the main arguments for flexible working practices in business is the wellbeing and happiness of employees. But there are a whole host of reasons why flexible working provides a competitive advantage…

Individual productivity and morale

Starting with the main argument – flexible and remote ways of working allows employees to do what is required of them in their role in a manner that fits with other priorities in their day to day lives, as well as getting proper rest and recuperation time throughout the year. Happier, healthier employees naturally have more energy and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, as well as reduced absenteeism due to sickness. However, there is another aspect to this – flexible working shouldn’t just be about avoiding burnout or working around obstacles to being in the office, it’s about fostering an entire working culture that treats everyone as individuals. Flexible working practices show trust, understanding and supportive attitudes towards all. Rather than feeling pushed out or a burden on the organisation, with flexible working culture open to all people feel more included and valued within an organisation.

Business overhead and efficiency savings

Our rapidly evolving technological landscape and globalised economy means that businesses have to be more agile and streamlined than ever. Every business of every size should also be considering its energy usage on a daily basis as part of a commitment to protecting the environment on which we all depend. Moving to mobile devices, shared office space etc. can dramatically cut down on wastage.

Optimisation of labour

By renouncing the culture of presenteeism in favour of a flexible model, organisations can better plan labour resources required at any given time, thus ensuring that no resource is underused or overburdened and everyone is working on exactly what needs to be done and is not losing time through travel, unnecessary meetings and the need to show face late into the evening just to impress the boss. When those pressing tasks are out of the way, the hours gained can be used to look to the next challenge, or allow you to spend more time on creative ideas and ways to grow the business – the bigger picture.

Bigger talent pool

By employing freelance, part time and contract staff your talent pool becomes broader. Re-activated talent makes up a huge portion of our legal workforce – many who had found it difficult to get back into work due to a culture of presenteeism have been able to take their career to the next level, and their clients have benefited immensely as a result! Latent talent is a huge cost to our economy – it’s high time organisations tapped into it to reap the rewards.


Women in Law

Why do we find it so difficult to own our ambition and drive in the same way as men?

The short answer to the idea that ambition is a dirty word for women should be no of course it isn’t, how ridiculous. However, it’s unfortunately not that simple, yet. The way we talk about female ambition compared to male ambition (and indeed, the very fact we identify them as separate things) suggests there are still some prejudices when it comes to women aiming for the top.

There are lingering negative external attitudes towards women who are ambitious; but also internal conflict about ambition. It is often presumed that women do not have the same ambitions as men – or rather, that men are presumed to be ambitious by default, while for women it is an exception. With that and looking at the fight that other women have had to put in to gain their position in male dominated industries, many feel there is still no room for overt ambition displayed by women. We talk amongst ourselves in secret or in innuendo about our drive and passion.

Attitudes amongst women themselves are starting to change. There are interesting divides between younger and older women in ambitions as laid out in a Time Inc. survey in 2015. 48% of women in their 20s said they were “very” or “extremely” ambitious, compared to only 26% of women over 60. Younger women are also less likely to say it’s okay to not be ambitious– almost 60% said it was “not so” acceptable or completely unacceptable to be unambitious, compared to 44% of women in their late 40s and 50s.

So there remains a complex relationship between women and ambition as a result of sexist undertones in our society and its institutions, but does the problem also lie in the way we view patterns of work? The idea that long hours, constant ‘switch on’, endless meetings and trips are apparently the hallmarks of a driven, ambitious individual. Why can’t someone who is looking to work in a different way, or want to find a way to continue to progress their career around other commitments not be deemed ambitious too? Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi caused controversy in 2016 over comments about women not having the vertical ambition of their male counterparts. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition; it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy… I don’t think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem. I’m just not worried about it because they are very happy, they’re very successful, and doing great work.” Many felt he seemed to be saying that the lack of women at the top wasn’t a problem because they didn’t want to be there, rather than looking at the institutional barriers that prevent them being there.

It is assumed that having different priorities in life reduces one’s level of ambition, rather than considering the ambition that someone has to create a more suitable path to achieve the things they want, across ALL aspects of their life. Even men who are seeking to work in a different way are being branded as ‘not ambitious’ in comparison to those who are never at home.

At Obelisk we think that ambition in this century means working towards your goals and recognising that at different points in your life, your focus of ambition will change according to different priorities. It is time we felt comfortable with that. This approach allows for a ‘portfolio career’ path, which is non-linear and non-traditional and reflects not only the current economic reality that we see around us, but also the fact that organisations these days don’t expect ’employees for life’. As we evolve as a business we see the different ways that men and women of all ages are creating new ways of working that reflect their desire to work and balance their life. That is ambitious!

Anna Fels, writer of Do Women Lack Ambition? in Havard Business Review says we “have confused [ambition] with narcissism, with people who simply want to promote themselves at any cost. But really, what ambition is about is getting appropriate recognition for your skills.” And that should apply whether you work part time, full time, at home, in the office, or whatever way you choose.

So in order for ambition to not be a dirty word for women, we need to change how we define it, and not associate it with success at all costs or workaholic patterns. We need to start defining all of what we want in life – balance, manageable progression, new skills, and new experiences as part and parcel of our ambition. We need to re-examine our own bias and perceptions about ambition when applied to women, and we also need to challenge it when we hear those biases voiced by others. Say it loud and clear: I am an ambitious woman!

Making Work, WorkTrending

Now that December has arrived, it’s a natural time to reflect on the past 12 months and focus on your fulfilled goals and achievements.

The year is ending, we get some time off and a change of routine, which allows us all to step outside of the day to day distractions. A bit of distance from work allows more objectivity, and indeed honesty, about what you’ve achieved this year and what more you want to do. The Christmas party season is a reminder to us to appreciate and evaluate what has gone by, and what is to come.

Lawyers in particular can sometimes be too hard on themselves and focus on what hasn’t gone to plan, seeing it as failure. It’s probably a legacy of focussing on fine detail, and looking out for potential problems that can colour their outlook.  Even more reason then to consciously celebrate the wider achievements; so a once-yearly opportunity to do that should be seized. We all have the desire to do better and be better in all aspects of our lives; we want to be happier and make others happier too. Taking stock of your achievements and progress is all about authenticity. A positive way of doing this is to embrace a ‘growth’ mind set, a name given by psychologist Carol Dweck to the idea that intelligence can develop, and that effort leads to success. It’s important to remember that the new SRA Continuing Competency framework recognises the need to reflect on what you need to do in your professional life and to build a plan to support yourself in achieving these goals.

Rather than looking backwards in a critical way, it is more helpful to look back over the cases and projects that have been completed – look at what you have achieved. You will of course recall the things that didn’t go to plan, but there will be so much more that you can appreciate. Focus on your strengths, what characteristics that are unique to you and how you can use them in all spheres of your life. Taking stock gives you that moment of confidence, to objectively focus on your performance and take those conclusions with you on the next step of your journey. Here are some steps you might like to follow when taking stock of your year…

Write your year from start to finish

Look at where you started the year, where you hoped it might lead and what happened. If you had to sum up the year in a paragraph, what would you write? What was the theme or story of your year? Is there anything you wish had not occurred or had played out differently? Would you like to maintain that, or see it change completely in 2017?

What are your key tangible achievements?

This can range from wins and awards, to client satisfaction, securing repeat work, solving a particular problem in your life, or making something right. It’s much easier to remember what went wrong, so compiling a list of both small and large achievements will provide balance and remind you what you managed to resolve and do better.

Note personal milestones and progress

Other positives may not feel like achievements as such (maybe not yet) but are steps in the right direction, or important milestones to be marked. It can include things you do better now than the previous year, and things you hope to do better going forward. Look at where you might have stumbled, you carried on and didn’t give up, that is an achievement in itself – you just need to do the things to ensure that won’t happen again.

Highlight opportunities that now present themselves

Even if certain things haven’t taken off as you would have hoped, the way things have played out may present a clearer or even different path to follow into 2017. You may find that you have learned more about yourself and you may have a new perspective on success, career goals and priorities in your life that you are now going to focus on.

Tackle unfinished business

Call them resolutions if you like. Assess your immediate and long term aims: pick up on things that you wanted to do this year but didn’t get to, what you want to take further and overall what sort of year you want the next to be compared to this one. Keep the list as a fairly broad set of goals and don’t give yourself unnecessarily restrictive deadlines to avoid them becoming an extra point of stress in 2017.

Give thanks

The best way to end the year on a high note is to share the joy and good feeling with those who have played a role. Take time to send wishes to those who have been pivotal in your life and show how much you appreciate them and look forward to spending more time with in the future.

Making Work, Work

Without access to flexible working, a large pool of knowledge and talent is going to waste. This is costing us greatly, stifling growth and impacting workplace wellbeing.

For all the progress made in communication technology and digital working platforms, and for all the conversations on work life balance and the importance of workplace wellbeing, it seems society is still attached to a culture of long office hours and presenteeism. Women’s careers continue to stall due to a lack of options for flexible working, so say the findings of recent in depth studies into flexible working and the progression of women in the corporate workplace.

A report compiled by Digital Mums in association with Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found 60% of mothers with children under 18 do not have access to flexible working. 64% of returning mothers found that their skills were compromised in some way in order to find a flexible job. The findings indicate that women are still finding it hard to return to work, and feel unable to progress as a result of career breaks, maternity leave and family commitments.

The Women in the Workplace 2016 study looked even more in depth into women’s career development and presence in the workplace in corporate America, finding that women are still falling behind men on the corporate ladder, with companies struggling to put their commitment to gender equality into practice for a number of reasons, including concerns about positive discrimination. And where flexible working programmes are offered to parents, it was found that 61% of employees worry that working part-time will hurt their career, with 42% believing taking a leave of absence or sabbatical will do the same.

Why should so many women have to compromise their experience and skillset in order to find work that suits them? Why are employers and managers stretching every hour given, instead of calling on the expertise and skills they need when they need them? Why are there pools of latent talent still being left untapped? These are the questions we still find ourselves asking of the legal sector, and indeed many other industries beyond.

What happens when we increase the opportunities for people to work flexibly and remotely, when different life stages mean that they cannot be tied to the office and commute from dawn to dusk? It’s not a stretch to say that productivity is boosted and everyone’s work life balance stands to improve. The real, tangible benefits of flexible working and of changing traditional approaches to legal consultancy can be seen every day at Obelisk. From talent reactivated after a lengthy career break, to those changing to freelance remote work as life priorities change, the talent and expertise is there ready and waiting for the opportunity to take on new challenges, to find work that fits with their lives and fulfils their sense of purpose.

The CEBR also calculated that widespread access to flexible working could add 66 million hours more work per week, with an economic output boost to the UK of approximately £62.5 billion. But the benefits go even further than economic gain. It is not sustainable for business owners to be pulled on all directions when they need the time and headspace to create, shape and grow their business. Nor is it sustainable for employees who will not feel valued or incentivised by restrictive and lengthy hours expected of them, when there are people with the knowledge and talent available. Allowing people the time to concentrate their efforts on their core responsibilities and the bigger picture of their business, rather than fighting daily fires such as contract resolutions and other areas of time draining micro-management can change our overworking, long-office-hours culture for good, for the benefit of everyone’s wellbeing and personal growth, as well as the growth of the economy as a whole.

It’s time we all asked ourselves: What would we do with #MyMillionHours?