Cathy Benton serves as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Alston & Bird. In the wake of the firm’s 15th consecutive year on FORTUNE’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, Cathy sat down to discuss what sets Alston & Bird apart.
Fifteen years is a long time to be on any list, particularly one as well-regarded and competitive as the FORTUNE “Best Companies to Work For” list. What’s our secret?
Consistency. It’s not as if we had some great transformation 15 years ago. We have always believed in the old maxim that if we take care of our people, they will take good care of our clients. Before we make decisions, we always think about the impact it will have on our employees. That’s why Alston & Bird has been considered one of the best employers in Atlanta for generations. I came to Alston & Bird in the mid-’80s for exactly that reason.
There have been many programs put in place throughout your tenure that have helped maintain our status as a great place to work. Which of these are you most proud of?
We are most proud of the benefits we have put in place for working mothers. We introduced child care benefits in the ’80s. And through the years, we have improved these benefits in all of the cities where we have offices. In 2001, we had the opportunity to open our own childcare center in the Atlanta office—we were one of the first law firms in the country to do this. We now find that our work/life programs are not only attracting and retaining women, but actually all employees can find something that helps them integrate their work with their personal life. Another program that we are very proud of is our TOP ECHELON program. This program came from our quest to be the law firm with the best client service. Because of our TOP ECHELON initiatives, our staff is fully engaged and committed to providing service at the highest level.
How has the definition of a “great place” to work evolved over the last 15 years?
When we first received recognition as a “great place to work,” it seemed some people thought that meant we didn’t work as hard at Alston & Bird—that we just had lots of fun and great perks to go along with it—when, in fact, that is not true at all. Being a great place to work is about creating an environment where people can do their best and most productive work; a place where people want to come every day; where they feel they do important work for clients; and where they truly enjoy the people they work with.
How important is employee feedback to maintaining a positive work environment?
Asking employees for their feedback is essential for building a positive work environment. Most of the great benefits we have are a result of employee feedback that we receive in our frequent Town Hall meetings with each office. For the sake of transparency and good employee relations, we strive to communicate how and why decisions are made based on the feedback we are given.
We’ve hit the 15-year milestone. What’s the next goal? How do we get there?
The business of law firms has changed a great deal over the last five years. We are in a very competitive environment and we need to do what we can to attract and retain top talent, both lawyers and staff. To achieve that goal, we will continue with what has made us successful in the past and we will look to improve in other areas whenever necessary. We have every confidence that in doing so, we can remain at the top of our game for many years to come.