What Makes A Great Place To Work?

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you gentlemen tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Gerhard: I have been Managing Director at the firm for the past 24 years. Before that I held a number of positions with Mobil and General Motors. I have a B.S. in accounting and an M.B.A. in finance from the University of Detroit.

Glincher: I have a degree in finance from Boston College and a law degree from Northeastern University. I have been the managing partner of Nixon Peabody's Boston office since February 2004. I am a commercial real estate and corporate attorney.

Simpson: I came out of the corporate environment, having spent 26 years in human resources at Eastman Kodak. I joined Nixon Peabody 13 years ago as director of human resources.

Editor: Mr. Gerhard, would you tell us about your role as the firm's Managing Director? What are your responsibilities and who do you report to?

Gerhard: I am responsible for the management of Nixon Peabody's business operations. That includes everything from managing the administrative support functions, including marketing and finance, information technology, information services and all of the functions that support the law firm. I am also responsible for the overall business strategy and planning, and I have had significant involvement in mergers and acquisitions activity which has been so critical to building our firm's breadth and depth. Over the past six years we have undergone four mergers and acquisitions, and it has been a challenge to manage growth and maintain the firm's culture in the face of such change.

Editor: How do you go about ensuring that the firm's personality is sustained with this expansion?

Gerhard: To be successful, you must start with a common vision with your merger partner and a dedication to certain common principles, including teamwork. We have a team philosophy, and we approach problem solving and the delivery of legal services on a team basis. Trying to merge with an organization with a different operational approach would not work. A successful merger can occur where very distinct firm personalities are involved so long as there is coalescence around a common vision of what the merged law firm is to be.

Editor: Mr. Glincher, what are the responsibilities of the Managing Partner of the firm's Boston office?

Glincher: I have full day-to-day responsibility for managing the Boston office. Boston is Nixon Peabody's largest office, with 375 employees including 160 attorneys. Inasmuch as I have extraordinary support in terms of human resources, marketing, accounting and other functions, I am able to carry on with my own practice, which is important to me. I am engaged in marketing initiatives, recruitment activities, strategic planning, and communications, and I also work extensively on client development.

Editor: What are the principal challenges?

Glincher: We are fortunate in having a great many creative and talented people. There are times when it is something of a challenge to ensure they are all going in the same direction. In my position I am called upon to deal with many compelling requests that look very good in isolation but, in the context of what makes sense for the entire firm, not so good. I must be fair and consistent in handling these requests in the best interests of the firm.

We have very little turnover here. I think that speaks to the proposition that we are meeting the challenges - and, of course, every organization has challenges in an intense competitive environment such as this - very well. It is our goal to be the "best firm to work for, and the best firm to work with."

Editor: Mr. Simpson, would you give us an overview of the responsibilities of the Director of Human Resources at Nixon Peabody?

Simpson: We recently took the attorney professional development side of human resources and created a new organization. We appointed a new director who is also responsible for on-campus and lateral recruiting and paralegal management. CLE training and other attorney professional development is also part of this new staff group.

I am now responsible for benefits on a firm-wide basis. We want to provide our attorneys and staff with appropriate benefits and contribute to their staying at the firm. At the same time, we must pay attention to our costs. We have an excellent benefits package that provides a wide range of coverage that we believe makes us very competitive in the legal services industry. Our range of benefits was also very influential in the firm being named to the Fortune 100 "Best Places to Work For" list this year. In effect, I am responsible for the entire human resources infrastructure that permits the attorneys to practice law, along with their support staff, without having to worry about human resource infrastructure.

We are constantly engaged in internal benchmarking, so we know what firm personnel are thinking, and we are able to factor these requests and ideas into our strategic planning process.

Glincher: Let me add, we have a very inclusive culture, and we try to get feedback from everyone. If people are too intimidated to speak to the Managing Partner directly, they can submit their ideas or recommendations anonymously. The point is that if people know that you take feedback seriously, they will take the time to give you feedback. We are a better firm for having a free flow of information, and it serves to insulate us from unpleasant surprises as we move forward.

Editor: In an increasingly competitive environment, one of the greatest challenges that a law firm faces is recruiting talented young lawyers, both law graduates and young laterals. In this competition, how does Nixon Peabody go about differentiating itself from other law firms?

Glincher: Our people are our greatest strength. I have found that the best way to get people through the door is to show them who is here already. We take a great deal of pride in our culture, which is built upon mutual respect and living balanced personal and professional lives. In my case that involves, in addition to managing the office and practicing law, teaching at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, something I have done for almost 20 years, and serving on a variety of charitable boards. I am but one of many people here with passions beyond the practice of law. This particular firm culture encourages us to pursue those passions, and I think that serves to enhance our image in this competitive recruiting environment.

Simpson: Nixon Peabody has written values, which include respect, trust, credibility and dignity about the way we conduct ourselves in the workplace. These values are very important to our firm, and become systemic in contributing to strong individual and team performances.

Editor: Please tell us about some of the innovative benefit and career development programs that the firm offers.

Glincher: We are very strong in professional training at all levels. We provide mentoring and leadership training as a matter of course, and communication is both free and open and embraced as a firm value. Nevertheless, we understand that different generations of our employees might have different viewpoints, and we attempt to stay abreast of new ways of looking at things and adapt. We try to listen to what our people say about benefits, career development and the like.

Simpson: I am not aware of another firm that measures the number of attitude indices and job satisfaction the way we do through an extensive survey process. What we have found from this survey process is that job satisfaction and morale are linked significantly to people being challenged and empowered by their work. Task, job interest and meaningfulness of work create a culture that provides individuals with the opportunity to grow with the firm and within their discipline. This provides career paths that lead to solid firm retention and contributes toward a very healthy organization at all levels across the firm. We have known for years that we have a very satisfied group of employees, and so it was not by accident that we wanted to share our accomplishments with the Great Places to Work Institute. We knew what our internal metrics were telling us, and it was time to get a confirmation of this through their evaluation process.

We were one of the first firms to provide benefits to domestic partners and same sex couples. We have an excellent health insurance plan. We have a very unique PTO plan for non-exempt employees to accommodate both scheduled and unscheduled requests. If those employees do not take unscheduled time off, we buy back that time at 120 percent. This often results in a substantial monetary benefit, and is another wonderful way to reward employees for their dedication to the firm.

Editor: What, in your view, are the things that make a firm a great place to work?

Gerhard: We have measured job satisfaction - including morale and motivation - as a key part of our operations for the last 12 years. People who enjoy what they are doing make the workplace a great place to be. The most important criteria for job satisfaction is being engaged in meaningful tasks. A good relationship with management has a high correlation factor with overall job satisfaction as well. People who believe that they are part of what is going on, that they are treated as important contributors to the organization's success, and that they are listened to tend to act in a certain way. People who come to different conclusions on these criteria behave in a very different way.

Simpson: The firm's leadership gets very high grades for their management ability, style and expertise. Overall, our employees are very satisfied with the way that the firm is managed, and I believe that is a reflection of the balance that prevails throughout the firm: our people enjoy the professional challenges of hard work, the esteem and recognition they are afforded for their work, and the collegiality of the workplace. They enjoy each other's company, and when management stands behind these collaborative efforts you have the key ingredients for a Fortune 100 employer.

Glincher: I would say, in addition, that the firm's leadership feels very strongly about these things, and that commitment to making the firm a good place to be is infectious.

Editor: Please tell us about the firm having been named one of the "Best Places to Work For" by Fortune . What was cited there?

Glincher: In the competition for talent, success is measured in the ability of a firm to describe itself as a great place to work. Independent verification of that is immensely important. There are both objective and subjective factors - training opportunities give us something to measure, for instance - but it is more difficult to assess precisely why people stay once they are on board. At Nixon Peabody they do tend to stay, and that is something that Fortune focused on. Certainly, the more people who do stay, the stronger the pool from which the firm is going to promote its employees is going to be, and this will serve our clients and the firm well.

Simpson: Fortune was impressed with our low attrition, and the effort we put into diversity training sessions that were implemented firm-wide in 2005. In addition, our team atmosphere and the way we reach out and support other members of the firm was noted. A perfect example of this attitude occurred a few months ago when one of our paralegals - who happened to have used all of her vacation time - needed to be in Florida with her mother who was seriously ill. Another employee came to me and offered her unused vacation time, and, of course, I approved. Others came forward, and within hours we had more than 40 days of additional time. That symbolizes, for me, what it means to be a great place to work.

Please email the interviewees at jgerhard@nixonpeabody.com, aglincher@nixonpeabody.com or wsimpson@nixonpeabody.com with questions about this interview