What Does Your Staff REALLY Want?


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Creating a high performing organization requires a relentless focus on ensuring a great work environment. When staff are enthusiastic about where they work and engaged in what they do, obstacles seem smaller, difficult problems give way to innovative solutions and exceeding expectations happens.

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 first of which is encouraging an ownership attitude.


I train staff in practical working skills for a law firm: ethics, professionalism, attorney/staff communication, hard skills, etc. At the beginning of many seminars, staff come in discouraged: they feel that they have no power over their own work lives, are just ‘worker bees’, and that their talents are underutilized. They feel frustrated, underappreciated, and overworked.

I ask them about their role in the firm. Without fail, the answers are always based on what their position is – paralegal, legal secretary, receptionist, file clerks, etc. In my opinion, they’re wrong. That is their title, NOT their role. I see their role as much more than the title they’re given. I believe in the ownership attitude.

And what is that? To have an ownership attitude, one must think like an owner and take actions to fix problems.

How can legal staff (who will never be owners in a firm) start seeing themselves in this light and how can we encourage that? A few ideas:

  • Let them know their true value to the firm. Staff can make or break a firm. However, most firms rarely let them know their true value. Where would the firm be without them? Appreciation and acknowledgment of their worth goes a long way.

  • Encourage innovative thinking. What do you do when staff complains about a process or procedure? Do you ask them if they have a better idea? Ownership attitude means thinking like an owner and taking actions to fix problems. Encourage that thinking. Maybe even come up with a new rule – no complaining unless a solution is also proposed.

  • Tell them the firm’s status, goals, and plans. Information is not only power, it’s necessary if you’re truly a part of the team – and staff is very aware of that. Does this mean that staff needs to know private information? Certainly not. But staff can be privy to the general financial picture, goals, ideas, and plans for the future. Is one goal to increase revenue 10%? Ask staff their ideas on cost-saving methods and reward the best ideas.

  • Treat staff as career professionals. Many times, attorneys assume that being a paralegal, legal secretary, or admin assistant isn’t a profession. Aren’t they educated in their field, many with special designations? In many people’s view, professionals always have business cards and the lack of one makes a statement. Not only would this small expense make a big difference in perception, but it’s also a great marketing tool – anyone giving out business cards automatically increases the firm’s exposure in the marketplace.

    An ownership attitude will thrive IF the employees are encouraged. If they adopt that attitude and are criticized, ridiculed or feel patronized, the ownership attitude will die a quick death and it will not resurface for years. Staff have long memories – they know when they’re not taken seriously. And they won’t put themselves in the firing line again until the memories have faded for a few years.

    An ownership attitude is the first step toward a high performing organization. The other steps are highlighted in subsequent articles.

    Copyright 2005

    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.

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