Think quick: What are your firm’s core values? Does your firm even have a mission statement? What is it? Is it displayed prominently on your website or in your firm brochure? Do your partners and associates know what it is? More likely than not it includes a lot of really nice sounding words like “excellence”, “respect”, integrity”, “loyalty” and “commitment”. These are wonderful “words” but are they truly accurate reflections of your firm’s values? Does your firm hire people who reflect them?
A recent report from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, showed what drives Netflix employees. The report shared that Netflix believes that, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go. Actual company values are the behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees.” So, there in lines the question, are your firm’s values reflected in your firm’s culture or is it just a nice thing that you all put on your website and pull out occasionally when asked? Here are three ways to make sure your firm has a culture that matches its values:
1) Clearly establish values – Although you may have you firm’s mission statement hanging proudly in your lobby or in small print somewhere hidden on your website, do your employees and attorneys know it and understand it? The first key in making those words a reality is makings sure everyone knows those words. Having a clear, simple set of values that are accessible to all of the employees and attorneys is key.
2) Start at the top – Having leaders that demonstrate the firm’s values are essential to making it common practice in your firm. If the leaders (the partners and associates, as well as the key administrative staff) don’t abide by and practice the core beliefs and values of your firm, then it is highly likely that the employees won’t either. The leaders in the firm should be the role models of expected behavior. The key here is that values are practiced not preached.
3) Firm policies must reflect values – This is probably the most important. How your firm hires, fires and promotes should all be based upon the firm’s values.
Recently in an article on Grasshopper.com titled “Core Values and the Companies That Do Them Well” there was a list of companies that have exceptional cultures as a result of their commitment to their values. As you have heard me say before, it is often other industries that can teach us the most about efficiency, effective leadership, and many other facets of running a successful law practice. I think that practicing what we preach, living a culture based upon our core values is another of these areas, where we can learn a great deal from the “outside world”. Here is a list of the noted companies:
Southwest Airlines – A textbook example of a company who takes their values seriously. They are always listed among Fortune Magazine’s Best Companies to Work For and were one of the only airlines that remained profitable in a poor economy. Their co-Founder Herb Kelleher has always been clear about Southwest’s dedication to its customers and their experience. Therefore they only hire people whose values match their own.
Google – Google’s core values have always remained simple and very easy to remember, “Don’t be evil.” That is one of its internal slogans and it is one that was expressed early on by co-Founders Larry Page and Sergey Bin. The article states, “Despite criticism of what some believe to be intrusive advertising in Gmail and other services, Google has largely kept its word. In addition to challenging government requests for user data, Google recently made headlines by refusing to continue censoring its Chinese search results” Another of Google’s core values is innovation. Google allows its employees to use up to 20% of their work time on projects they feel would be beneficial to the company.
Johnson & Johnson – Their core values are clearly listed on their website for all to see. It states, “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” A long-time subject of the study in business and ethics curriculums, Johnson & Johnson is a great example of a company dedicated to adhering to their core values. In an unprecedented decision in 1982, they recalled $100 million in Tylenol after reports of cyanide poison in the medicine. The Grasshopper article reports, “While it would arguably have been easier and cheaper to deal with lawsuits from the poisoning deaths on a case-by-case basis, Johnson & Johnson wasted no time pulling its top selling product off store shelves across the country – even though contaminations were later found to have occurred only in Chicago.”
Starbucks – Starbucks is known for many things these days, but one thing you may not know is that it is known for being one of the most ethical companies in the world. And rightly so. Their values include third-world aid, community service and being green. In adherence with their values, Starbucks only buys fair-trade coffee beans and donates a portion of its Ethos water product to help people in under-privileged areas get clean water. They are also always active in the communities where they have stores and were a major help in the reconstruction efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
These are only a sampling of companies that “walk the walk”, who have chosen to make their values more than a “slogan”. By developing core values and evolving them into a culture, they will not only benefit your bottom-line, but your firm, your employees’ lives and the lives of those in the community you serve.