EPISODE 54 — Eric Farber — The Case for Culture
Eric Farber is an attorney, a CEO, and the author of the highly-rated The Case For Culture, a book all about transforming your law firm, taking control of yourself and your business, and establishing a clear company culture.
Eric knows all too well the pitfalls attorneys fall into when it comes to managing practices, and in this episode, we’ll discuss how law firm owners can avoid these mistakes and motivate their team members to stick around.
Listen for answers to questions such as:
- Why do you need to take a leap of faith and invest in your company culture?
- How can you make your team happy and un-poachable?
- Why should you make progression and development a priority for all your employees?
- How can you encourage others to be comfortable with being vulnerable and asking for help?
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7:03 – Turnover costs your firm more than you’d expect. “There are a lot of different ways to calculate turnover. How much is the ramp-up time? How much does it cost to sit around and discuss the fact that you’ve got a person leaving? Training those people, putting out the ads, and doing the recruiting all require a huge amount of time. I look at it a little bit differently. It’s institutional knowledge. It’s knowledge of the customers. How many customers and how many clients are you losing? Those clients build rapport and they build connections with those people. Just moving them around can lose clients, but when you’re losing people, the clients are wondering, ‘What’s going on over there? Why are they losing people? Why am I talking to a new person every week?’ And so you start adding in all of these different things, and that is a massive cost because you’re breaking the client experience.”
8:29 – Culture touches every aspect of a company. “It’s the air that you breathe in the company. It’s what people do when the bosses aren’t around. You can define culture in a myriad of different ways, but it really is the feeling that people have in a company. That goes for all the stakeholders, whether they’re the clients, the employees, the vendors, or anybody else that the company touches. They talk about a look and feel of a company, the messaging, every single thing. Culture touches upon all of it, which is why I’m a big fan of the Drucker saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’”
14:01 – Investing in culture helps your firm stand out. “A firm’s culture always starts with the firm owner’s values. What do they value? Are they actually creating a mission that is written down on paper? Do they have principles? Can you actually identify the values that they hold dear? Can they be written down? Once they start getting on this path of being a business owner — not a law firm owner — then things can start changing. These are things that will change your financial future. If you’re truly running a business and you can prove it to the people that matter, like landlords and banks, then that’s when things start to change.”
16:50 – Discipline = process + execution. “The process of teaching disciplined and repeatable procedures starts even prior to interviewing somebody. It starts to set the discipline of the whole company because culture permeates every single aspect of the company. Discipline to me is the discipline of process and the discipline of execution. We have a process written down for just about everything; we even have a process for developing processes! So when I think of discipline, I am thinking about the processes of how the phone is answered, how the dishes are done, how the mail is sorted…how everything is done.”
19:17 – The most effective way to gauge your firm’s culture? Listen. “Start out with a basic employee survey that is as anonymous as possible to make sure that you’re getting some really good feedback. And then just talk to people. Take them out to lunch. Eventually, that practice starts to permeate throughout the business. How do you get a pulse? Talk to people.”
21:32 – How to make your employees “un-poachable.” “I’ve come to realize that most companies suck to work for. They just suck. That’s why people are jumping from place to place. But if you can actually meet the human needs of acceptance, of growth, of mastery, of accountability, of the things that matter to people, why can’t they stick around for an incredibly long time? Creating the ‘un-poachable’ person is about creating fans just like your clients. If you have an employee that’s satisfied, they’ll stick around. So I overpay people. We provide lots of different benefits. But it’s really about treating them like people, and what does that mean? It’s finding out what they want. People are individuals, so you’ve got to figure out what they’re really looking for. There’s a very good possibility that if you do these things, then your company is going to grow so big that you can go to them and ask what they want to do next.”
27:09 – How to stay cohesive when hiring new team members. “You’re creating not only ‘un-poachable’ people, but people with range and depth. You’ve got to have a great hiring process to find them. You’re creating people that pivot because the company today will not be the same company in a year or three years or five years. So you’re creating systems and processes, and you’re hiring resilient people. You’re preparing the child for the path and not the path for the child.”
28:42 – The best time to ensure a culture fit. “It starts with determining the best core values and the best things that you need for that particular position. Then the next step is creating the job posting, which is marketing to your team, who are the most important stakeholders. Then in interviews, you’ve got to understand your values so you can weed people out. You’ve got to really state them and understand how you can learn about these interviewees in these conversations. And then once they’re hired, you should onboard them in a way that creates a great experience for them. Swag at their desk on their first day. A mentor to actually reach out before they start. Taking them to lunch. All that type of stuff sets a great stage, because you don’t want them to go home at the end of that first day and feel like they made a mistake. You want them to go, ‘Wow, this place has got their s*** together.’”
32:44 – The first 90 days. “The first 90 days will determine how long somebody is actually going to be with your company. We set the stage for what this looks like, but we also sit down and say that we want to create some mastery for them over the next 90 days. And then we map it out. We talk through the things that they’ll need to learn, setting pillars and milestones. We also want them to know that all they’ve got to do is raise their hand and say that they’re struggling with something. Most people will try to hide the fact that they’re struggling, especially in a new job, but we want them to be vulnerable. Because then they learn.”
36:09 – Marketing your firm’s culture. “We market who we are because people want to do business with likeable companies. It’s the number one thing. We’re then focusing our marketing on who we are as people. Because have we gotten great results for our clients? You’re damn right. Have our competitors gotten great results for theirs? Of course they have. So we’ve got to market who we are and the values that we stand for and why we do this. What do we do for the community? What do we do for our people? We show our cultural values to people who want to do business with us because we look like likable people. That’s why you market who you are, what your culture is, and what your values are.”
41:40 – Being a game changer starts with your people. “Stop focusing on competition and start focusing on the people in your charge. Tell them what the vision is — and if you truly take care of them, they’re going to help that vision come true. It needs to be a shared vision. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. They don’t care how good a lawyer you are. If they don’t feel like you care about them as individuals, then you’re wasting your time with them.”
EPISODE RESOURCES & REFERENCES
The Case for Culture by Eric Farber
An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
The Decurian Corporation
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer