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Motivationally speaking

By: Jane Pribek//January 31, 2011//

Motivationally speaking

By: Jane Pribek//January 31, 2011//

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Sandy McGee
Sandy McGee

Sandy McGee had the recent pleasure of playing the “$100 bill fairy” on New Year’s Eve Day at work, distributing crisp, new bills to all staff. Sure, everyone would’ve preferred to stay home from The Schroeder Group Attorneys at Law that day.

But it was a workday nonetheless, so the firm leaders decided to make it as enjoyable as possible. A surprise $100 went a long way toward boosting morale.

Just about every law office requires hard work, long hours and stress, said McGee, chief operating officer of the Waukesha firm. So it’s essential to counter that in as many ways as possible, to motivate staff not just to show up and go through the motions, but rather, to challenge themselves to put in 110 percent.

“Don’t forget to make it a great environment,” she said.

A little levity goes a long way. At Kohn Law Firm, which concentrates in debt collection, they’ve been very busy recently. They’ve gone out of their way to balance that extra workload with extra fun.

Each month, they plan an activity, said Kathleen Johnson, the Milwaukee-based firm’s administrator.

Examples include an eating with chopsticks contest, “Funky Shoe Day,” ice cream social day, and State Fair cream puff day. They also created teams from different departments, which challenge each other to a game of Clue or the like.

Also, all major holidays are celebrated with contests for the best outfit and best-decorated workspace.

“Fabulous prizes always await participants in everything we do,” said Johnson.

Here are some other ways to help maintain a happy, productive workforce.

The benefit of benefits

Don’t be stingy with salary and benefits. But if you must cut corners there, compensate with small, but meaningful, gestures.

The Schroeder Group keeps the break room stocked with coffee, tea, soda, soup and cereal.

About that break room: It’s a comfortable space, with couches, a TV and a dimmer on the lights.

The firm also put in an onsite workout area a while ago. Endorphins help keep spirits up, and some even use it on the weekends, McGee said.

Empower to the people

McGee said you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity if you don’t consult staff on decisions like law-office technology.

Along these lines, Anthony L. O’Malley and the other lawyers at his Fond du Lac law firm, Zacherl, O’Malley & Endejan, long ago discovered the power of giving employees an end-of-year bonus, based on profits.

The staff is highly encouraged to help raise that bottom line, be it suggesting ways to improve efficiency and/or save money, or by scouting out vendors offering equivalent products and services at a lower price, etc. There have been times when the partners didn’t get bonuses but staff did, O’Malley said.

Offer generous time off

O’Malley’s staff must wait one year before getting a paid week off. But after two years, they get two weeks; after five years, three weeks; after 10 years, four weeks; and after 20 years, five weeks. That’s on top of getting all the standard holidays off with pay, plus the federal holidays and their birthdays.

It can be a lot of time off for a small firm, but everyone’s used to covering for one another and the benefits of having re-energized employees outweigh the inconvenience of having them gone.

Create an incentive program

At Kohn, in 2009, they asked employees to “Raise the Bar.”

“We completed a study of some of our ‘hot spots’ that we felt everyone needed to work on during the year and chose five areas we felt needed improvement,” Johnson said.

At the end of the year, the firm wanted to reward two employees who’d excelled in the initiative. Each manager recommended someone in their department or another department whom they felt had Raised the Bar, and managers then voted on them. Due to a tie, they ultimately chose three individuals, who were sent on an all-expense-paid vacation.

Then in 2010, they continued with “Continuous Quality Improvement” awards.

New for 2011 is “Stepping it Up–Keep Looking Forward.”

“It’s a great theme, created by our staff,” said Johnson.

With programs like these, there will be no looking back.


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