CREATE A CULTURE
The 2005 “Best Places to Work” program study showed that, contrary to popular opinion, employee satisfaction didn’t depend on salary. The most given answer as to what makes a company a great place to work is employee empowerment.
And what constitutes employee empowerment? I believe it comes down to a few basic principles, the second of which is the corporate culture.
In the book “Guts!: Companies That Blow the Doors Off Business As Usual, " authors Kevin and Vickie Freiberg discuss businesses that replaced traditional corporate cultures with those where fun and creativity dominate. The book examines 15 successful companies and the leaders who not only operate their companies “in an unusual way, " but who have also defined their businesses “in terms of a cause. " What companies do they highlight? Southwest Airlines, SAS Institute, and Cisco Systems, Inc. , to name a few.
"Most companies are built on a model of control, " Freiberg explains. “But if you treat people like adults, they'll act like adults. "
According to Freiberg, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines encouraged his employees to convey an atmosphere of fun in the workplace and on each airplane. Kelleher encouraged input from all employees, be they pilots or baggage handlers. As a result of one suggestion, the company decided to issue its quarterly profit and loss statements in language more befitting a comic book than a dry, financial document. The only major protest to making this radical change came from the chief financial officer.
While some partners may say that what works for Southwest Airlines probably wouldn't work for them, Freiberg thinks most people aspire to that level. And when they hear him talk about real companies and real people, “far more often than not, people get jazzed, " he says.
What’s the definition of a culture? Shared beliefs, values, and goals, all considered collectively. What’s the culture you want to create? It’s probable that most firms wouldn’t go for the “atmosphere of fun”; however, what about a firm embodying one of the following cultures:
1. ultimate client service
4. highest ethical standards
5. atmosphere of teamwork
6. culture of accountability
7. high tech
8. the hippest firm in town
Those are just a few thoughts; every firm will have its own ideas. The important point is to decide what type of culture your firm wishes to embody, and then focus on that goal. How to decide on a culture? First of all, it has to make sense. Would a probate practice want to have a high-tech, hip culture? They would probably be better off concentrating on client service or professionalism. The culture for your firm will probably be evident to you if you think about what the firm’s goal is for their overall image. As a matter of fact, if it isn’t obvious or doesn’t jump out when you think of the firm’s image, a business consultant is needed to help the firm bind their image and message together because there is a disconnect happening. Commit to the culture. Are all the partners in agreement on the cultural change or are some of them going into this idea kicking and screaming? If there’s more than 15% holdout, a big problem can develop. Before deciding on a big cultural shift, ensure buy-in from the major players in the firm. Once everyone sees they’re committed, change will be easier. Focus on the cultural goal. This does seem obvious, doesn’t it? However, it’s funny how little things can set everyone off track. An ‘ultimate client service’ culture can be betrayed easily if the firm decides to cut back on staff. Without staff, client service declines sharply. If that focusing on the cultural goal? Or let’s look at an ‘atmosphere of teamwork’. Attorneys are forced to do continuing education because of their state requirements. Is staff also involved in educational training? If not, that doesn’t put them on equal footing with the attorneys and they don’t feel as valued. Not exactly a great way to enhance an ‘atmosphere of teamwork’, is it? Make activities consistent with the culture. Consistency is the key to building a culture. If Southwest Airlines suddenly decided to dress all its flight attendants in black business suits and speak formally to the passengers, it wouldn’t make sense. They would be betraying the atmosphere of fun they’ve created and are known for all over the country. People know when others, including companies, are true to themselves and their cultural identity. When a company goes against its culture, it loses credibility with the public. It took Wal-Mart years to recover when the public found out that, during their ‘Buy American’ campaign, they were actually buying products from foreign countries. Include everyone. The key to creating a culture is to include everyone in every position on the training, benefits, ideals, goals, and achievements. A culture is all-encompassing. If only the attorneys are involved, then there is no culture for the firm – only goals for the attorneys. Staff can make or break a firm; help them make you by including them. Ask for input. If everyone is expected to be part of a culture, they should also be included in the planning stages. Ask for input from anyone that’s expected to be part of the process. You’ll be surprised at the innovative ideas that are suggested. This doesn’t mean that all ideas are implemented; however, it shouldn’t matter where the good ideas originate.
Employee empowerment really is the recipe for a high performing organization. Committing to a corporate culture is the second ingredient in the mix.
Nickie Freedman is a professional speaker, business consultant and trainer. She is the founder and principal of Legally Large, a training and consulting company dedicated to helping firms rise to their next level by optimizing what they already possess - their people and their processes. Contact her via http://www.LegallyLarge.com or 512.791.9644.