Attitudes in the workplace too often require employees to separate their personal and professional “selves” and behave as though the two aren’t indelibly intertwined. This outmoded expectation stifles the need to show up authentically at work and has, in part, led to the Great Resignation.
Shuaib Ahmed’s personal experience is a case in point that successes and failures in one area of our lives feed off each other in profound ways. He has created a revolutionary approach to workplace culture that he details in his new book, Personal Business: Using the ASA Way to Build an Inspired, Purposeful Team. In it, he shares personal experiences that revealed the importance of a new leadership approach in his own law practice that leads to true success and contentment of the whole person.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, tell us a bit of your backstory.
Ahmed: I was raised in India by my grandmother. We came from humble beginnings where resources were scarce. However, happiness was abundant. Then, one day when I was nearly 7, two strangers showed up and said they were my parents and that we were moving to the US. When I came to the US, I was subjected to domestic abuse and had to fight my way out of it. I worked my way through law school and now own ASA firms in Illinois and California.
Grit Daily: What is the ASA Way, and what inspired you to create it?
Ahmed: The ASA Way is high thought leadership. I created the approach to leading my team based upon the lessons I learned in my journey and principles my grandmother instilled in me from a very young age. My grandmother, “Naani,” was perpetually kind and selfless. I wanted to develop a culture that not only encouraged employees to live both their personal and professional lives to the fullest but also find a way to nourish each one. The ASA Way focuses deeply on the individual and fostering personal growth while simultaneously harvesting professional success.
Grit Daily: How have you been able to imbed your own values into the ASA culture?
Ahmed: My values are the principles and beliefs that are important for me to uphold to be the person I wish to be. Culture is putting those values into play through tangible actions that can be seen and felt. Having a relentless commitment to your values makes a difference.
For instance, one of our values at ASA is promoting a mixture of work and life into one’s lifestyle. Even though there’s no way to 100 percent balance both, I knew I could at least leverage that value to alleviate the stress of employees feeling compelled to work the long, hard hours attorneys are notoriously known for. To achieve that, I tackled the main culprit: billable hours.
The industry norm is for attorneys to bill anywhere from 2,100 to 2,800 hours a year. That’s a lot of hours! At ASA, I knew it would be counterintuitive to desire a good work-life mix and still have an absurd requirement like that. Because I held true to that value, I lowered our billing requirements. How? Simple. Reduce overhead, get rid of the fat, get lean.
No one cares about your fancy office overlooking the lake and expensive, robot-looking coffee machines! Clients want exceptional service at a reasonable cost. That’s it. We now have one of the lowest billing requirements in the industry. This means lower caseloads for attorneys and more time for family. Sure, I’m giving up revenue in the short term. But in the long term, I’m gaining a kick-ass, productive team with top-notch talent constantly elbowing to get in through our doors.
Grit Daily: Your philosophy toward workplace culture seems particularly enlightened in a legal practice. How does it manifest within your team?
Ahmed: The employees we currently have are sticking around longer. They’re not burning out or wallowing in misery, and they’re not a pain in the ass to be around. They know they’re valued and appreciated not just as professionals but as human beings. In return, they provide excellent service to our clients as they know I have their back.
Grit Daily: How do you apply the ASA Way in your hiring practices?
Ahmed: While experience and accomplishments are important, I’m more focused on the person. What are their values? What drives them? Where are they on their personal journey, and how can ASA facilitate the same? We only hire individuals who already share our values and approach. We don’t mold them into our values; that doesn’t work.
Grit Daily: What does having an empathetic and caring culture do to the bottom line of your business?
Ahmed: Employees work harder when they know their employer is looking out for them both professionally and personally. Increased production leads to client satisfaction, which leads to increased revenue.
Some of the ways in which we operate according to our values may set us back in the short term a couple of figures — and that’s okay. For example, after the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the firm’s quarter-one financials were severely short revenue-wise. We didn’t fire attorneys or place them on furlough. Instead, I personally sat down with each employee to discuss their thoughts on our team performance and dissect the challenges they were facing at home and work. It was obvious people were experiencing some serious burnout.
We decided to surprise our staff with complimentary massages at the local spa so they could unwind. In doing this, I reinforced the message that our value of promoting holistic health was real. I’d rather have my employees feeling energized and empowered, knowing they’re being taken care of, and subsequently feed that energy back into their families and work.
That one day of revenue lost will return tenfold, because we have more productive, dedicated, happier employees who are loyal. How do I know? Because this approach has helped us triple our revenues in the long term from a boost in employee morale and productivity.
Grit Daily: What investment does it take to implement the ASA Way?
Ahmed: First, it’s a mindset shift. You need to get away from the traditional corporate mentality of seeing employees to increase your bottom line. Instead, focus on the person. Provide resources that are important to the team. Every team is different. Based upon the needs of your team, provide what will empower them personally and professionally.
Grit Daily: How are you getting the word out to other organizations about the benefits of the ASA Way?
Ahmed: I don’t need to go out and tell others how great it is working at ASA. My employees do that for me.
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