Linda Woolley, managing partner, Kingsley Napley

For the third year running, Kingsley Napley has scored highly in ‘The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for’ survey for its outstanding levels of staff engagement, fulfilment and motivation. This is no accident but something we have worked hard to foster. I firmly believe that when people work in an open culture and feel well informed about the things that affect them, they perform better and care more about their business as a whole

Sharing information

At Kingsley Napley the principle that information is shared openly applies to everything we do. In some firms information sharing is based on hierarchy. I simply ask the question: is there any reason not to share this information? So everyone gets a monthly email summary of our financial performance (activity levels, billing, collections, cash movement) together with a link to team and partner key performance indicators.

Everyone also attends our AGM where we share all of our key financial information. This ranges from PEP and overall and team profitability to factors that are going to influence bonuses, and how much those bonuses might be.

“When people work in an open culture and feel well informed about the things that affect them, they perform better”

The news that we share is not always good. I explain which targets have not been met and why, ensuring no-one feels singled out for blame.

Another important way we involve people in the firm and its fortunes is the access we offer to management and the opportunity to influence decisions about the firm. We have ‘network groups’ covering every role: partner through to secretary. I meet each group twice a year and representatives are regularly invited to management meetings.

The idea is that network groups can ask many types of questions and are consulted on important topics from the remuneration system to refurbishment plans. It takes management time but the dividends come in other ways.

Firm values

Above all else, however, it is probably our values of teamwork and respect, integrity and fairness, and understanding and commitment that contribute to our open culture. They are not just token words, but guide our behaviour as individuals within the firm and decision making at all levels.

Sometimes such decisions are hard – several members of the firm have had to leave because their behaviour was inconsistent with our values. However there is now a such high degree of trust that we really do live by those values. And as managing partner I am often judged by the fairness principle – which is how it should be.

We recently went through a rebranding exercise. Rather than just being a logo change, this was a project to help unite the firm behind a single mission and proposition. We adopted a highly inclusive approach to the listening exercise in phase one as well as during the roll-out; every member of staff attended the workshops, from secretaries and support teams through to lawyers.

It was critical to us to achieve a shared vision and not a strapline dreamed up in a classroom and imposed on members of the firm.

Hot spots

Of course, having such an open and flat culture can bring its own challenges. Managing unprofessional behaviour or poor performance, for example, is hard if the staff member is not only a colleague but also a friend; spotting the signs of breach of trust and acting on those signs can also be more difficult.

In order to deal with these unintended consequences, we now have ‘hot spots’ as a standing item on our compliance committee agenda with the aim of ensuring that we spot worrying behaviour or patterns.

I believe that it is because we have such a team-based, open and inclusive culture at Kingsley Napley that we have seen a 30 per cent growth in our turnover and profit in the last three years.

We have also attracted a number of partners to the firm and have a low attrition rate (about 10 per cent) as well as boasting an impressive 72:28 female/male lawyer ratio.

I am proud of the positive employee engagement rates we scored in the survey– although, this is undoubtedly easier to achieve in a 50-partner, 200-lawyer organisation than a global 2,000 lawyer firm.

However, it is as much about management attitude as bureaucratic scale. If employees are trusted and communicated with on a regular basis, the circle becomes a virtuous one.