Six things lawyers can learn from a workplace culture legend

Ronnie Altit is passionate about creating great corporate culture. As founder and CEO of IT Company Insentra, Ronnie saw Insentra place fourth out of 150 companies in the 2017 Great Places to Work survey.

Speaking at the inaugural Legal HR Meetup, Ronnie shared six major insights into how he fostered a happy and collaborative corporate culture – creating happier clients and a better bottom line. The Legal HR Meetup was hosted by Bartier Perry and was attended by HR professionals, firm management and lawyers.

“What I truly love most is our people,” said Ronnie. “This year, our business grew by 30% in terms of staff, yet the satisfaction levels also grew. I want to be a great place to work because I know this translates into the corporate culture. Corporate culture fundamentally correlates with the bottom line of the business.”

1. Set the rules of the train

Good corporate culture comes from keeping every member of the organisation responsible for creating a productive workplace. Ronnie likens running the organisation to running a train; each compartment represents a different aspect of operations, with Ronnie as CEO driving the train.

“There are no doors on the train, so there can be open communication between the carriages. A hierarchy exists on the train, but it exists to help people. If something needs to be done on the train, I will go and shovel coal. There is no job in the organisation that I shouldn’t be able to do. Likewise, no team member should say ‘not my job’ – they will be the last three words they say on the train.”

The organisation is founded on honesty, integrity, and trust, and driven by a policy of accountability, celebration, efficiency and service excellence – forming the acronym, HIT ACES.

“A champion tennis player aims to hit aces as often as possible. So do we,” said Ronnie.

2. Catch someone doing something right

Ronnie constantly strives to celebrate the successes of his team – in other words, to ‘catch someone doing something right’.

“When you find someone succeeding, shout it out. Send an email to the whole company that they’ve had great feedback from a client.”

“When someone does something wrong in our organisation, they don’t get collared. They get counseled so they can improve.”

Rather than an HR manager, Insentra has a ‘Vibe Manager’ responsible for keeping Insentra employees empowered and happy.

“Our Vibe Manager needs to feel empowered by the organisation to do the right thing by people – not just do the right thing by the business. The right thing by the business will happen if the right people do the right things.”

3. Talk about the pebble in the shoe

“If you’re on a train shovelling coal, you’re going to bump into each other and drop hot coal from time to time. Things will go wrong. We call this the ‘pebble in the shoe’. If you walk up and down the train with a pebble in your shoe, you’ll get a blister, you’ll get cranky, and people will avoid you.

“If people can come and talk about things when it’s a pebble in their shoe, we can help remove the pebble. Sometimes, we won’t be able to, but we’ll be aware of the issue.”

“If you don’t want to talk to someone about the pebble, then don’t let it be a problem,” Ronnie said. “If you don’t want to share it, stew in it. I’d like people to share – bring in a manager, or bring in me. Otherwise, it’s your problem. We’re not an adult day care centre.”

4. Forget performance plans

“We don’t do performance plans. We don’t do formal performance reviews. I believe they’re a waste of time,” declared Ronnie. “Performance reviews talk about what a person did in the past few months. I expect the leadership team is communicating regularly with their team, and the team is communicating regularly with their manager, raising pebbles as they go.”

Ronnie believes that a good CEO should be able to go up to any member of his team and ask how they think they’re performing.

“As a team member, you own your career,” said Ronnie. “It’s up to me to facilitate your career, not to own your career.”

5. 10 out of 10, personally and professionally

At any given point of any given day, Insentra’s employees might announce that they are a two and a two, or a nine and a ten. These scores refer to how they are feeling personally and professionally; it’s a quick way to check in on performance and more importantly, address issues before they escalate.

“I believe how people are personally will affect how they work,” said Ronnie. When a team member announced he was a “2 and a 2” at the start of one meeting, Ronnie’s phone buzzed with messages of support from colleagues. “People asked, ‘what can we do to help this guy out?’ People actually care about the people they’re working with and want to help. I talked to that guy until 11 pm that night.”

At the better end of the spectrum, Ronnie actively encourages tall poppies.

“You need to be the best you can be,” said Ronnie. “I don’t tolerate tall poppy syndrome. I also have a ‘no bitching’ policy. Bitching is the root of all politics. It doesn’t achieve anything.”

6. Lead from your heart

“Greed doesn’t help an organisation grow,” observed Ronnie. “If we have people who love what they do, and their number one focus is the clients, then I’m going to have more cash. I’ll have more cash to invest in people and the organisation.”

“Every business in every industry seeks to differentiate on product, price, or service. Most of the time, the differentiator is service. When you get great service, it’s because you feel people care about you. The reason people love what they do is because they love where they work, so they are authentic in their care for clients.”

“Happy people leads to happy customers, which leads to a happy bottom line,” said Ronnie.

“That’s why it’s so important to have a great place to work.”

Interested in the next Legal HR Meetup? Join here.


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