Before he became a guru on company culture, Eric Farber’s life was very different. As a lawyer and advisor to athletes and entertainers, Farber represented high-profile clients including the Tupac Shakur estate for the better part of two decades, traveling some 200 days a year. Farber made the decision to leave this world behind after rupturing a disc in his back while in Buffalo in the dead of winter. “I was in a rehab facility after surgery and my cell phone didn’t work well. I was there for two weeks and a client fired me because they couldn’t reach me on my cell. Not exactly a great culture I had built for myself.”
Micah Solomon Senior Contributor
Small Business Strategy
I'm a customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, and author.
Eric Farber, Founder and CEO, Pacific Workers', The Lawyers for Injured Workers, and author, The Case for Culture: As with anything else, some are and some aren’t. Many lawyers to play the tough litigator role and unwittingly allow this to extend to how they operate their businesses. However, I think these attitudes are changing, and I hope my book has a part in facilitating that change.
Solomon: In fact, personal change is an important theme in The Case for Culture.
Farber: Absolutely, with myself as an exemplar of the need. For many years I felt like I was a good boss when I was actually far from it. When I started discovering what it took to be a great boss, I had to completely shift my thinking–which is a very difficult thing to pull off. There is, inevitably, much resistance to your old patterns and your old way of thinking, but you need to push through.
Solomon: You already had a busy life without adding “author” to your duties. What prompted you to carve out the time to create The Case for Culture?
Farber: Once we transformed our business culture at Pacific Workers’, I was stunned at how many people I ran into from other firms wanted to hear more about it. Happily, at the time, things at the company were taking shape to the extent that I could step away for a bit, so I used the time to write the book.
Solomon: I like the distinction your book makes between stakeholders and shareholders.
Farber: More than anything, this is the distinction that built our company. In just under six years, we have gone from four people to close to 50, serving thousands of clients over that time. We could only have gotten there through the focus on customer service and employee wellbeing that our stakeholders provide.
Today, many CEOs focus solely on quarterly earnings to (in the case of a public company) bolster share prices. But companies need to shift from short-term thinking about such targets to the value a company can provide to the customer and the wellbeing they provide to the employees. This creates a long-term sustainable model.
Solomon: And you’re opposed to the idea that employees should leave their personal lives at the office door.
Farber: If you ask for 100% effort from people, this also means that you must accept them as multi-dimensional humans and understand that reality, through whatever they are going through. We’re not hiring robots; we’re hiring people. People have emotions, as well as events in their lives, some good and some bad. I’m not saying a company needs to put up with “reality show drama” from employees, but I am saying that life will sometimes be challenging and a company needs to be understanding of this. Consider how most companies have a 3-day bereavement leave policy–sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid. This is patently inadequate in most circumstances, as you can imagine. We [at Pacific Workers’] generally say, "how much time do you need?"
Solomon: Hiring for culture is also an important theme in your book.
Farber: A company’s mission, principles, and values are the core of the organization. To keep them intact, you have to bring in people who believe in all of those things. Our mission at Pacific Workers’ is to fight for justice for injured people. This often requires drawn-out wrangling with defense attorneys and insurance adjusters. We need employees who believe in the cause and are empathetic and care about people; otherwise, the fight will burn them out.
Solomon: I love the idea of your Failure Log.
Farber: A key role of management is to create a safe environment where people don't feel they will lose their job if they make a mistake–or get someone else “in trouble” if they call out a co-worker’s mistake. In this spirit, the Failure Log is a log everyone keeps at their desk and when they see a mistake they write it down, so it can be discussed and addressed, systematically and without blame.
Solomon: Discipline is an important theme in your book.
Farber: Too many people think of culture as something soft and fuzzy, but that could not be further from what it is. Culture is a way to create an environment of people focused on a mission, with shared values, doing things the same way, with a human side. It is the discipline of habits, process, and thought.
Solomon: To what extent do you consider your ideas on culture applicable to all types of business? To what extent are they specific to law firms?
Farber: Any company in any industry can benefit from a better focus on culture. I believe in “writing what you know,” so I focused my book on my niche knowledge, but I offer it as inspiration and a playbook for anyone in any industry who wants to consider following a similar path. I promise them: It will make all the difference.
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