5 Keys to Create a Workplace Where People Thrive
When Heather Olson started her own firm, she threw out the hierarchy.
No one has a title. There aren’t associates or paralegals or any of those things.
Everyone is on the same level.
She thinks of it like a professional auto racing team. You can't have a successful race if you don't have a good pit crew. You have to value the pit crew who is taking care of the car as much as you value the driver. It's one in the same.
Before she went to law school, Heather was a paralegal (which means she actually knew what she was getting herself into unlike some of us who were just flying blind over here.)
She opened up her own firm in 2010 and has since transformed it into a thriving practice.
I wanted to sit down and interview Heather because I love the environment she’s created. She’s committed to strong core values, and has allowed those principles to guide her practice. Because of that, her firm has been able to nurture incredible talent in the legal industry and serve her clients well.
I asked Heather what advice she has for law firm managers or owners who want to create an environment where people love coming to work.
So here are Heather’s 5 simple ways to create a better workplace environment:
- Strip away the hierarchy.
Stripping down the hierarchy so that everyone is an equal has helped build trust in our firm. It may not seem like a huge deal, but job titles are really important to people. If they have a job title that makes them feel valued, it makes a difference.
For example, the person who answers your phone should not be a receptionist. A receptionist is somebody who just routes calls. The person who answers your phone should be one of the highest level executives in your firm. There’s a lot they need to know as well as being extremely well-versed in intake. I don’t want anyone to feel like, “I’m just the receptionist.” People have a lot more to offer than that.
- Pay attention to people.
I lose sleep sometimes over what I’m getting people for their birthday. I pay attention all year round. If someone starts getting into golf, I’m probably going to do something for their birthday that has to do with golf. People look forward to gifts when we put thought and effort into them.
We also do a Christmas party every year. It started as going out to dinner, but now it’s an entire weekend. I have stockings with everyone’s names on them. We pay attention to the little things.
I tell people, “Be the dental hygienist or the beautician for someone.” Be the person who knows all about them because you’re present and you listen to things that are important to them.
- Reward people for a job well-done.
I'm extremely diligent about making sure I'm looking at KPIs for each person. They know if they're performing the way that they're supposed to, and that they'll be rewarded when they do - whether that be in their salary or benefits or a fun party. People work really hard for the firm because they know their work is recognized.
One quarter I told my staff, “If we hit this goal, we’re having a big party.” Everybody worked their butts off to get to that goal. We had this roaring twenties party where we all dressed up. I got a trolley to drive us around. People appreciate these kinds of special touches.
I think it’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be a party or a gift. It can simply be telling someone they’re doing a good job or smiling at them. We’re so busy running a business that we forget about the people around us, but they’re the most important.
Start small if you need to. If you’re starting out and you have a small budget, just listen to people and notice when they’re working hard. Those are really easy, free things to do. If you're having a meeting, go pick up some coffees and bring in some bagels. That's also easy, and not too expensive.
- Have your door open.
Be accessible, whether that’s actually having your door open at the office or just being available if you’re working remotely. If someone who works for me calls, I pick up. They want to talk to me about something important, so I’m going to have my door open and be accessible.
Help foster the relationships between everybody else too. I want everybody else to think, “I'm calling up so-and-so because I want their opinion on this.”
- Get to know new employees.
The first week a new employee is here, I get the whole office to go to lunch so they can get to know everyone. If we can’t do that, we might order sushi or something at our weekly office meeting.
In those weekly meetings, one of our first agenda items is the icebreaker or the accolades. We say things like, “Good job on this order that came through.” We give each other shout outs. That's another good way for a new person to get to know us and what we're about.
I also preach core values from the start. I talk about them throughout the interview process. By the time I get somebody hired on, I think they have a pretty good idea of what they're getting into, because I don't hire fast. It takes me a long time to hire somebody. It's usually three, maybe four meetings before I make an offer.
Those are Heather’s 5 tips. To listen to the full interview (as well as Heather’s legally blonde moment), hit the link below: https://www.eringerner.com/powerhouselawyerscommunity
I absolutely loved hearing Heather’s story and all the golden nuggets she shared about how we can all show up better for our team.
Making people feel seen and valued is just one more way we can practice law differently.
Even if that’s not something you had, you can be that person for someone else.
That kind of impact lasts longer than any award or accolade ever could.