After 13 years with Baker Donelson, Keith Andress has risen through the ranks to recently become managing shareholder of the Birmingham law office—one of 18 offices of the Memphis-based firm with 600 attorneys throughout the Southeast and beyond. “When you enjoy what you do and the people you work with, you tend to stick with it. I have always been impressed with how well Baker Donelson treats its employees, and now it’s my responsibility to continue that tradition, ” Andress says.
In fulfilling his role, Andress believes it’s his job to make sure the right person is in the right position to use his or her talents to the fullest. “It’s like a basketball team. You may have a seven-foot tall person that’s great with rebounds but doesn’t dribble the ball well. You wouldn’t assign that person to dribble the ball for you, ” he says. “A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and often it’s a matter of putting people in a position where they can best use their strengths for the benefit of the team as a whole.”
And Andress believes that it’s individuals at all levels in an organization that make or break it, so it’s crucial that management treats employees well to keep them motivated and happy. No job is unimportant when it comes to the overall success of a company, he says. If a receptionist or administrative assistant isn’t doing his or her best, for example, it will limit the effectiveness of the sharpest attorney.
Because Baker Donelson’s reputation is based on maintaining a high standard of service for each client, the law firm depends upon the best efforts of its staff. “Each employee here is valued because each is making a significant contribution. In your typical workplace, people don’t realize just how important they are. When good employees fully realize how critical their role is and that their efforts are appreciated, they naturally want to do their best, ” Andress says.
The firm shows it values its employees day in and day out in small and large ways. Lunch and learn sessions given by outside speakers help employees continue to improve themselves. Topics include healthy lifestyle issues and professional development.
Another way Baker Donelson appeals to its employees is by keeping the lines of communication open and frequently updating them on the firm’s business. “Employees want to feel included and valued, and when they do that builds loyalty, ” Andress says. “You can read about these ideas in many books on leadership, but it’s how you put them into practice that makes the difference for your employees. It’s not just a matter of doing X, Y and Z, it’s more an organic process, sincerely valuing your staff and caring about their individual needs. ”
For example, if a worker has a family crisis, it’s not time for management to take a hardline about the employee’s responsibilities, but rather to show support and flexibility. Andress says the caring culture of Baker Donelson extends to employees reaching out to one another during hard times. “Our primary goal is to take care of our people because we know that if they are properly cared for, they will take the best care of our clients, Andress says.