A Brief Case: How do I retain our best people?


Paul Eberle

Chief executive officer, Husch Blackwell LLP

“Retention is something we spend a lot of time trying to understand and improve. In our industry, over 50 percent of the attorneys hired out of law school are no longer working at their firms after five years. This is a troubling statistic, and one that hasn’t really changed over the years.

“Focusing solely on this metric, however, doesn’t solve the problem. By this I mean, 100 percent retention at the five-year mark may not be the right goal. It’s okay to acknowledge that this industry – and our firm – is not the right place for everyone who starts here. Law firms are challenging and demanding places to work. For those who like the challenge, it can be a rewarding place to work. For some, after a few years, they conclude they would be a better fit in a different role. Some go in-house to join our clients’ legal departments, others go to work in government or nonprofits. Helping our people find a better fit for their talents, temperament and career goals is a win – even if it hurts our retention metrics.

“That said, we have a lot of work to do to retain our best people, particularly women and diverse attorneys. We pay well; provide good benefits, including a recent improvement of our parental leave policy; we have nice offices; and we offer frequent free lunches. This isn’t enough. People want to feel valued, connected, respected, and work with people who share their goals and values. We retain our best people by building a better culture – something we focus on every day.”


John Kissinger

President and chief executive officer, Graef-USA Inc.

“The No. 1 thing is to create a career path that is exciting. This means the work is professionally challenging, it is not repetitive or monotonous, and it has the potential to grow. Ideally, it will also require a high degree of creativity.

“This requires a conscious decision to pursue certain types of work, avoid other types, and not specialize in one or two areas. This decision has ramifications on how the firm is perceived, and how success is measured internally. I am not saying that a firm cannot provide successful career paths or retain people if it is more specialized, it just won’t generally motivate people who fit our culture.

“Once you provide the types of career paths that attract and motivate the people you want, you must continuously work on making the workplace fun. Not fun like a concert or a vacation, but fun enough that you really want to go there when you get up. Most people spend an incredible amount of time at work. If it is not challenging and fun, why do it? You create a fun environment by encouraging social interaction among employees. By allowing them to be individuals. By listening to them. By doing things in the community that let them know their company is making a difference. By making fun of yourself sometimes. Don’t get me wrong…work is serious business, and we are not at the office to play. That does not mean that we can’t be serious and have fun, too.”


Leslie Montemurro

Owner and co-founder, MojoFuco Inc.

“Creating a consistent culture in our restaurants is essential to success, and the retention of great team members is a key component. While competitive salaries and quality of life is important, fostering a workplace environment where we all want to be is key. We strive to create a respectful, positive and family-like environment. Our management teams desire consistent messaging from us, as well as open and honest communication and transparency about their issues and concerns.

“We give management tons of support and training, but the real name of the game is giving them autonomy and the room to get out there and do their job. They know they can have a positive impact on the business, because they have been taught how. We have absolute transparency with financials, and that drives them to be efficient and hit their targets. They know their ideas will be heard.

“Allowing managers and staff to have a healthy amount of creative freedom and ability to express their individuality is also important. We tend to be pretty innovative and we believe people should ‘be as you are,’ free to express their individualism at work – within reason, of course.

“Getting to know our management staff is really important to us. We want to know what they are passionate about, what drives them. We then inspire our managers to do the same with their people. Get to know everyone, from the dish pit to the office. Caring about staff’s interests and who they are as people goes a long way in creating engagement and driving retention.”

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