Mark Bailey & Co. is no stranger to the Best Firms roster. The Reno, Nev., practice repeated last year's feat of being ranked No. 1 in the small firm category and attributed that accomplishment to its management team striving to give their employees as much freedom as possible.

"We threw out timesheets," explained Mark Bailey, the firm's managing partner. "But the motivation to throw them out is that they didn't really reflect the value of the service that was being given. What we came to realize very quickly was that a timesheet is a control tool."

The 16-person firm decided that controlling professionals didn't drive productivity; instead, it hampered innovation and creativity.

So changes were made and embraced firmwide.

"The thing we've strived for this year more than anything is to eliminate more of the shackles related to micromanagement, and give our folks more freedom to innovate and do their job at a time that makes the most sense to them," Bailey said.

It's apparently working.

Clear expectations and deadlines are established, but then staff are off and running on their engagements - which they choose. "We said, 'Here's your project, here's your deadline, get it done,'" Bailey explained. "'Tell us what support you need and if you need to do that at 11 p.m. at night, that's fine. If you want to go to the soccer game at 2 p.m., we don't care.' It works amazingly well."

Bailey calls the 8-to-5 workday a "relic" that doesn't work effectively for many.

Firm employees also don't receive traditional annual reviews. The firm instead prefers a year-round mentoring program that encourages staff to deal with issues as they come up, not once a year at a formal meeting. Each staff member has a mentor of their choosing, and performance feedback is daily and immediate.

"We're very open, very direct and timely," he said. "If we have a problem with an engagement or with staff, or if somebody has a personal problem and they want to talk about it, then they don't wait until the end of the engagement."

Employees also get to choose which engagements they want to work on. "You are much more committed to a project that you were queried on, as opposed to saying, 'Here, do this,'" Bailey said. "You don't want to assign. If everybody turned down a [particular] client, well, that's a no-brainer; there's something wrong and it's not with the staff. I can go out and get clients a lot easier than I can get staff."

"To have a great firm and provide great service you have to have great people," Bailey added. "To attract, retain and develop great people you have to provide opportunity for a rewarding career - not a job. To provide a career you must provide an environment that allows for work/life balance for the long term, or people can't or won't stay."

Bailey said that work/life balance is ultimately up to the individual employee, and his firm provides the flexibility to make it happen. If employees want to engage in job-sharing, the firm works with those individuals to create a role and job description that fits the work arrangement. The firm also hosts "First Friday" meetings on the first Friday of each month to discuss anything of interest, including - but not limited to - firm economics, marketing, IT, new programs and clients.

As an added perk, a $5,000 bonus is offered to employees if they bring in a successful hire, and staff participates in about 80 hours of annual training and development.

"We're very concerned about our team members," he said. "Our team members come first, our clients come second, and it's a culture we practice."

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