All in the family Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Jim Kaufman likes to have fun at work. So he’s established a culture at Kaufman, Rossin Cos. where his 265 employees work hard but also have fun and enjoy what they’re doing. And they know that management enjoys the work, as well.

Establishing a culture like this requires you to set the tone at the top for employees to follow and to be consistent in your values.

“Tone at the top is all about walking the walk,” says the accounting firm’s co-founder and managing principal. “Employees see me and other members of management demonstrating honesty, integrity and social responsibility. That model behavior rubs off.”

Establishing a culture, living it and then reinforcing it for employees has helped Kaufman grow the firm that he co-founded in 1962 with Jay Rossin to 2007 revenue of $49 million.

Smart Business spoke with Kaufman about how to develop and model a culture that promotes fun and recognize and reward employees who live the culture.

Establish a strong culture. It’s leading by example. It’s rewarding those who embrace the culture, provide and perpetuate it, and ultimately, counseling and coaching those who do not. Setting the tone at the top, articulating the culture and then repeating and reinforcing that culture is how we try to ensure that it’s propagated and it prospers.

Accessibility is one of the keys to leading by example. It’s important that employees at all levels have access to management, feel comfortable talking to us and have opportunities to see the values in action. Coming to work is a good way to do that, if you do it long enough.

We have an active social program, and we promote activities that we find are extremely bonding. What we discourage is a mentality of just a job to go through the motions and earn a paycheck.

Leaders need to recognize what ‘joy at work’ means to different people. The diversity in today’s workplace, including generational diversity, means it’s essential to hear input from a variety of employees about the activities, which make the atmosphere fun.

A strong culture evolves as a company grows. Establishing core values and making sure to lead by example is essential. Developing young leaders through training and mentoring is how a culture survives and thrives.

[The benefit is the] stability of employees. It’s the profitability of the business, and it certainly makes it a lot more fun for me to come to work.

Be consistent and treat people fairly. Consistency in your beliefs and actions is an essential element of leadership. We call that integrity. You do what you say you’re going to do.

Our culture starts with integrity, which we define as a consistency in words and action. That’s everything from being consistent with your vision and message, being on time, and when you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Those are small things every day that, which observed, give credibility to leadership or impair its effectiveness.

If you always try to tell the truth and do what you say, it gets to be habit after awhile. I know people have a great deal of trouble in trying to stay consistent in doing what they think and act. One of these management consultants used to say, ‘Habits feel good.’ Getting in good habits is the best way to maintain consistency.

We believe in fairness. Treating people fairly means treating people differently, because fairness is recognizing each individual as an individual and considering their needs and personal issues, and trying to resolve the questions that come up in business.

Reward those who follow the culture. Money helps. It’s recognition. Embracing the culture usually means higher income, more responsibility and more levels of recognition professionally. Plus, the rewards of being effective and making a meaningful contribution it makes for a rewarding experience.

Performance reviews twice a year allow employees to see how well they are performing, not just against the technical competencies needed to succeed as professionals but also in the behavioral areas. Using anonymous upward and peer reviews, we get well-rounded feedback at every level. This helps us see and reward behavior that represents the culture and values.

Keep communication open. It’s so easy to be misunderstood through imperfect communication. It’s a continuing challenge.

Try to establish habits of regular communication, maybe noting and recording efforts, especially until you establish a strong habit and custom. Use a more structured effort, document the effort and schedule the communications.

Set a path for employees to follow. Clarity of thought is the most essential element, the ability to think clearly when the objectives aren’t easily read because of the distractions of life, the marketplace and media. It’s to rise above the noise of contemporary life and see what your objective is and articulate it.

Management makes so many decisions, but they’re not all right. The success of leadership is making more right decisions. It comes back to the integrity and consistency. If you’re going to make a message and indicate its importance and make an intellectual and emotional investment in it, you sure better stay on course.

It gives people a sense of security and focus so they understand they’re part of a greater unit. It reinforces that sense of family, which is important to culture. It’s enriching to know that you’re with an organization that has an understanding of where it’s going to go and what’s expected.

How to reach: Kaufman, Rossin Cos., (305) 858-5600 or