I feel like I wear a lot of hats in my job. I am a trial lawyer. I try many, many cases before juries to verdict. I am a litigator. I strategize cases, take depositions, and prepare cases for both resolution and trial. I am a “rainmaker” and marketer. Because I know many people and have achieved some success as a lawyer for my clients, business tends to come my way. And, as the Founder and President of Gomez Trial Attorneys, I also am a CEO-type business person tasked with overseeing the professional lives of more than 30 incredible human beings. I write about that today.
Many have written or commented about the importance of “culture” to the success of a business. One book worth reading on that subject is Patrick Lencione’s “The Advantage.” His premise is that “organizational health trumps everything else in business.” Based on having run my own business for over 10 years now, I agree with that. I recently met with each of my partners. We talked about what we valued most at work. We listed “culture,” “work life balance”, “importance of work”, “money”, “recognition” and some other things. Everyone placed “culture” first. The next most important value, as a whole, was “importance of work.” Money and recognition came last for everyone.
Everyone placed “culture” first.
When I founded the firm in 2005, I wanted to make the workplace an exciting, enriching and rewarding environment for the people that worked there. While sometimes we have faltered and struggled, I believe we largely have achieved that goal. Here are my 5 tips to help build and maintain a strong company culture:
1. It Starts at the Top
I have learned over the years how important I am to the cultural health of my firm. I need to be present, ethically beyond reproach, and available to each of my partners and employees. Most importantly, I need to “walk the walk” and lead by example. By living a life that my team can admire, and by showing that I care about each of them, I can dramatically affect the cultural health of my business. I also need to be able to make the “tough calls” when necessary. Over the years, for example, I have had to terminate employees that don’t meet our very high standards. By doing so, I realize, I am protecting and rewarding those who do.
2. One for All and All for One
Invariably and over time, and with lots of people, there may be opportunities for dissension or gossip. That can destroy the cultural health of a team. We deal with that in a few different ways. First, we try very hard to be transparent and honest about where we are as a firm. I have found that alone will alleviate most problems, which are largely born of insecurity. We also have a “zero tolerance” policy for gossiping or “back stabbing.” We aren’t perfect but we try very hard to create an environment where that does not occur. Finally, and if a particular person drags morale or culture down, I step up and make the hard call to cut them from the team.
We have a “zero tolerance” policy for gossiping or “back stabbing.”
3. Reward Commitment
I really admire some of the old employer-employee models. While not everything was perfect in the “good old days,” I really like how many folks would work for the same company for most if not all of their careers. I also like how those same companies would care greatly for their long-term employees in retirement. In other words, the company created a model that the employee could count on for life. We try to do some of that as well. We provide high contributions to our employees’ 401k plans. We also have a “loyalty” program which rewards long term commitment. After 5 years employment, each employee receives a $10,000 bonus and a $5000 vacation. After 10 years, we give $20,000 and after 15 years, $30,000. We want our great team members to stay with us forever and to be able to count on us for their financial futures.
4. Play Together and Stay Together
We try to do lots of things as a firm outside of the law. We have inspirational speakers, go on field trips, celebrate birthdays every month, and have some epic Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. And when we do these things, we do them all together. There is no “officers party” and “enlisted party” or any rank or distinction at all. We are all just colleagues and team members that greatly respect and care for each other. By spending time having fun and sharing fellowship, we grow closer. That, in turn, creates the trust and goodwill that we will count on when times get tough in the workplace.
By spending time having fun and sharing fellowship, we grow closer
5. Family First
Another thing that was high on our partners’ list was “work life balance.” Many of our trial lawyers and professionals are married, have children or are otherwise in relationships that matter to them. We try very hard to support our team members’ family and personal relationships because we know that is the most important thing in the world to many of them. Bring the kids to work if you need to. No problem. Recital at school? You better be there. We can cover while you are gone. We just had our firm Christmas party. Families and kids, of course, were invited. We started with an early dinner at 3:30. We had a craft room for the kids where they could decorate cookies and make their own ornaments. Santa showed up around 4:30 with a personalized present for every kid in the room. From there, we all drove over the Old Globe Theatre to enjoy a theatrical rendition of the “Grinch.” I love meeting and spending time with the boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses and kids of our great team members. I love we are all a big hard working family that believes in the same things. While it always remains a work in progress, I think we have done a pretty good job so far of creating a strong company culture that allows our team members to prosper. And that means our clients prosper as well.