People are the Foundation for Success in a Service Business

By October 15, 2013Articles

St. Louis Post Dispatch – January 8th, 2006
By: Bill Finnie

Strategy must work for employees, customers and owners-in that order-according to Herb Kelleher, chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines. If the company does a great job of selecting, training and motivating its people, they will do a wonderful job of “wowing” customers. The resulting loyal customers are the solid foundation for superior financial performance and happy owners.

Especially in knowledge and service businesses, attracting and fully engaging the right employees is the foundation for business success. The success of Paule Camazine & Blumenthal, a 25-attorney law firm in Clayton, demonstrates that Kelleher’s “people come first” credo is becoming more valid every day.

Don Paule, Alisse Camazine, Tom Blumenthal and nine other attorneys established Paule Camazine & Blumenthal 12 years ago. They wanted a firm that consistently gives its clients legal counsel and services that meet the highest standards of excellence. Like Kelleher, they realized that this required a people-driven strategy.
Such a strategy does not mean abdicating leadership responsibilities or focusing on making employees happy in the short term. A true people-driven strategy requires first-rate leadership that focuses on the long-term satisfaction of its people. It requires a clear compelling vision and strategy for achieving it, hard and soft incentives so people work together toward that vision, and accountability for results.

“People come first” has many dimensions:

First, within the firm, it means rejecting hierarchy, respecting diversity and individuality, and practicing teamwork. Teamwork is especially important. Partners at some firms spend the first three months of every year yelling at each other over compensation. Paule Camazine & Blumenthal has a simple compensation formula that rewards people for bringing in the work and for doing the work. No one argues over compensation at Paule Camazine & Blumenthal, and no one wants any tinkering with the formula.

Second, attorneys and staff deserve a life outside the firm. Associates are expected to bill a reasonable number of hours a year, but significantly fewer than at many larger firms. Paule Camazine & Blumenthal encourages its attorneys not to make a habit of working late into the night or on weekends.

Family is given priority at Paule Camazine & Blumenthal. It’s OK to take off an afternoon when a child is in a class play. Others fill in-for sometimes lengthy absences-when there is a major illness or death in a family.

Third, and perhaps most important, are the people themselves. Those first two aspects of a “people come first” strategy appeal to top-tier attorneys who want to “have a life.” But Paule Camazine & Blumenthal also strives to hire attorneys and staff members with a passionate commitment to excellence. Paule Camazine & Blumenthal’s concept of excellence is rooted in three non-negotiable values:

1. The goal is always great client service. Being accessible and responsive, for example, means no screening of phone calls and responding to every call each day.
2. All employees must adhere to the highest standards of truthfulness, integrity and trustworthiness. Internally, this applies to staff as well as to attorneys. Externally, it applies to legal opponents as well as clients.
3. “Good enough” is never good enough. Attorneys hold themselves and each other to the highest standards. Support staff are equally demanding of themselves. Each person at Paule Camazine & Blumenthal develops a five-year plan for professional growth, and each receives candid feedback and coaching from others. This especially includes mentoring associate attorneys so they become partners.

Providing candid feedback to partners is not easy. But it is necessary so the young partner in his or her 30’s continues to provide excellent legal representation and service 20 years later. Paule Camazine & Blumenthal learned this the hard way. It has let some attorneys go because they no longer met its standards of excellence.

I recently had the privilege of facilitating a strategy retreat for Paule Camazine & Blumenthal attorneys. One exercise I asked the group to do was to answer 12 questions that the Gallup Organization has found over the years best measure the core elements needed to attract, focus and keep the most talented employees. Perhaps the most important of these questions is, “At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?”

Gallup has found that “only 20 percent of people report that they are in a role where they have a chance to do what they do best every day.” That makes the response of the Paule Camazine & Blumenthal people all the more astounding: 74 percent of the attorneys and 64 percent of the administrators and staff answered “yes” to that question. It’s pretty clear that these are high-performing people in an organization that brings out the best in them.

Every job at a high-performance organization is just as stressful as those at lesser firms. People spend each day pushing themselves to achieve the highest standards. They go home tired. But they also go home with the satisfaction of knowing they are providing value to clients, achieving their full potential and maximizing the financial security of their family. It’s a good tired.

Bill Finnie, a business consultant and adjunct professor at Washington University, writes about the do’s and don’ts for success. Past columns are at www.thesearetherules.com.

E-mail: finnie@thesearetherules.com

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