Building A “Best Places To Work” Culture
“I think that starts with taking an honest analysis of where the culture stands currently.”
Elyssa A. Goldstein, CLM, PHR, SHRM-CP, is the Firm Administrator at Rebenack, Aronow, & Mascolo LLP. Ranked #8 on the NJBIZ 2020 Best Places to Work in the small company division. Elyssa talks with Anthony about how her firm has built up a great company culture and what goes into maintaining it despite certain challenges.
An Even Playing Field
Elyssa: “I think you have to start with an even playing field. So obviously in every business, there’s a hierarchy, there’s people whose names are on the door and there’s people whose names are not on the door. I think the one thing that our firm does very well is permeate the environment with equality. We really make sure that everyone’s voice can be heard. There’s no hierarchy or nobody walking around swinging any weights saying, ‘I’m better than you, I rank higher than you, my position’s more important.’ Every position, bottom to top, top to bottom, is just as important as the next.”
Elyssa: “We pride ourselves in using a version of the 360 degree feedback model, which allows those who are being supervised to share with their supervisors feedback on that person and how they’re interacting. As well as just the traditional supervisor sharing feedback to their employees. I think it fosters a lot of trust in the environment because everyone’s welcome to say what they feel and use it to learn, and to grow, and to make our environment better.”
360 Degree Feedback
Elyssa: “We do reviews twice per year. The employees fill out information about themselves share goals, and feedback. Then we have the supervisors fill it out, and that’s every supervisor from the top to the bottom. So if someone works for a paralegal, who then works for an attorney, who then works for a managing partner type of thing, all three or four of those people are sharing feedback with one another and sitting in on those meetings. So it really allows a wide audience for those types of things.”
Elyssa: “Everyone should feel comfortable sharing within those reviews how they can improve and work together as a team going forward. Maybe where their problem points or pain points of the team that can be improved upon as a whole. It’s not easy sometimes to hear criticism or constructive criticism about yourself, but I think it’s important because if done the right way, like in this type of model, like you said, morale goes through the roof, and people feel very comfortable, and there’s no pretense anymore in relationships, which is really important.”
First Steps To Improve
Elyssa: “So I think that starts with taking an honest analysis of where the culture stands currently, and that may be painful, it’s like ripping off a band-aid. Let’s say the culture is in the basement, as a starting point. So maybe an old guard has now left and a new guard is taking over, or the old guard realizes it needs to change its ways. I think you have to start small because if you make large scale changes, it winds up being very disingenuous.”
Elyssa: “It’s important that you know that things can’t change overnight. It’s like the kid running for president of the school who promises a soda machine in the cafeteria. Those things aren’t going to happen overnight. There’s gradual steps that need to happen in the interim. If you start taking on that mentality of thanking people, even if someone picks up a magazine that you dropped on the floor, that changes culture. It makes people feel valued, seen, and appreciated immediately. I think you need to also be conscientious of language beyond just that.”
Elyssa: “Team, colleague, partner, collaborator, coworker, any of those words, even the most basic level, show that people are on the same playing field. Those type of words really bring about a sense of buy-in and community.”
Adapting To COVID-19 Disruptions
Elyssa: “Transparency is going to be key in this time. People are nervous anyway because of all that’s going on in the world and the current climate. So we don’t want to give them one more thing to be nervous about. As soon as you make a decision, one way or the other, if it’s a new policy, a new procedure, the minute you know about it, your teams should know about it the following minute.”
Elyssa: “There shouldn’t be large gaps in you making decisions, even taking two, three, four steps in the process without people knowing about it. So it’s being clear in your communication, being quick to communicate it, and trying to be as logical as you can. As far as maintaining your culture or substituting things that you did before, we’re obviously not sitting together side-by-side in chairs, reaching across the table to grab food like we might have in the past, so we’ve had weekly staff meetings via Zoom this entire time.”
Elyssa: “We tried a mindfulness meditation class and we’re doing a challenge that’s coming up soon. Again, not everybody participates. Some people, it’s not for them, but we have the option. So we’ve done some things like that, and I think you have to keep getting creative and just really doing all you can to keep that collaboration going. If you’re only focused on bottom line numbers, retention, things like that, you’re going to miss the human aspect of it. That’s where companies can falter. So it hasn’t been easy, we haven’t done as much as we would like, or I would like us to have done yet. Just having even 10 minutes of all of us getting together has been critical to us being able to move along and navigate this.”
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