Learning from the downfall of Heenan Blaikie

Posted Thursday, February 13th, 2014. Filed Under Corporate - Tips/Tools Blog

Heenan Blaikie, until last week, was one of the largest law firms in Canada with approximately 500 lawyers. For 2013 they declared their financial results: profit of $75 million on revenue of $222 million. Not bad!

How is it that a law firm with 68 years of experience, large in numbers, powerful in weight can meet its demise in just one week?

This is what companies today really need to question and understand for their own survival. The days of resting on your laurels and longevity have come to an end.

What on the surface looked like a well-oiled machine was a wheel that was rusting in parts. Eventually the downturn in the market, weak leadership and power struggles between Montreal and Toronto, a cultural shift (move to bottom line profit as driver) and some people feeling it lost its way – WHO THEY ARE – tore them at the seams. The model in place moved to short-term success: the next draw, or next quarter, or next year but not 10 years down the line. How can you build your future when you are always thinking short-term?

What once allowed firms, companies and corporations to thrive can be the very thing that brings them down. This issue is more common than not today. Many companies do not know who they are: their vision, mission, purpose and Y. And if they do then perhaps they are not being authentic and walking the walk. Today, especially amongst the Millennial staff, you will find that if a company is out of integrity with who they are: do as I say but not as I do, then the millennial will jump ship.

The irony of the Heenan Blaikie situation is that the lack of loyalty was not amongst the younger lawyers it came from the top, partners that had been with the firm a long time who saw what was happening, changes to their pay structure (less) and thought – forget that I’m out of here and taking my client-base with me. Those other firms were willing and ready to scoop up the cream of the crop.

I feel for the other lawyers who came to work and were told to pack their things.

Companies need to open their eyes and realize their success is tied to their culture. The clearer you are of why you are in business, your purpose, mission and vision, the easier it is to create your strategies for success – everything from who you hire (is there an alignment with your core values, belief and purpose), your clients (do they vale who you are – service and products), your message (website, sales material, social media, contests, etc.), rewards and motivators, and so on.

I am so happy to see that some of the larger national firms are looking at this very issue: long-term success. They know that things can change on a dime and an industry or market can be affected greatly. By asking the hard questions and self-reflecting they have an opportunity to see if they are truly walking the walk; see what is working well, what is not and what needs to be tweaked.

I am currently in discussion with such a national company and I am pleased to say that they are really motivated to continue grow and evolve – not just financially however holistically and from within; they recognize the value of their people and understand that their workplace is multigenerational and want to find ways to bridge the gaps between the groups. It begins with listening to those groups — who are part of the solution.

What about your corporate culture? Do you know WHY you are in business, your purpose and Y?

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