In my last posting, I presented a two unusual management metrics, specifically challenging readers to look at the amount of management “time spent exploring new opportunities” and to examine how many “new revenue ideas were launched” by the firm in the past year. In this second column, I want to explore with you some of the other metrics that may make sense for you to consider examining:
Metric #3: Defining Distinctive Attributes That Clients Value
One of the most difficult questions that we all face, that is sometimes articulated but always on a prospect’s mind is: “Why should I choose your firm (your practice group / you), what makes you distinctive, and what specific added-value do you bring to my particular business matters . . . that I can not get anywhere else? Do notice those last seven, very discomforting words as they go to the heart of – “so what makes you so special?”
And flowing from all of this, to what extent have you fashioned a credible, dignified and believable answer that demonstrates how you are differentiated in a way that clients may actually find valuable?
A curious irony is that most firms go to great lengths to look like every other firm. In fact a common reaction that I’m likely to elicit from the management of any firm when first presenting a new market opportunity is: “Can you please give us a list of the other firms which are doing this.” Competitive advantage means getting out in front, by focusing on some area in which you can be unbeatable. By definition, if you are doing what everyone else is, you don’t have an advantage.
In answer to the question “Upon what basis is your firm truly differentiated from your competitors?” partners respond, but only after taking some time for reflection. The typical response usually will include some reference to the firm’s full breadth of services and high technical proficiency. This pause for reflection is interesting. It doesn’t suggest that the question came as a total surprise, as one that had never been asked before; or that this is an issue that this partner has not regularly considered. What it does suggest is that despite any previous contemplation, a wholly satisfactory answer has not been found and that a suspicion exists in the mind of this partner that he or she is offering, at best, only a superficial response.
There are relatively few critical questions that successful practitioners and leaders need ask of themselves, and ask of all of their partners:
• What are we best at?
• What are we world-class great at?
• What makes us unique?
• How are we going to serve our clients in a way that nobody else can?
• What “wow” new services can we offer?
• What are we going to do that will truly lead the market?
And . . . successful firms don’t stop asking these questions and they certainly don’t stop even after getting a dignified answer.
Metric #4: Time Invested Growing Know-How
Every progressive law firm today is focusing enormous attention on issues related to handling their client matters more efficiently, learning project management skills and exploring various alternative fee arrangements – all very noble and important undertakings.
But is that all that is required to be competitively successful in the practice of law?
Indeed, one might argue that while these programs should not be abandoned, are these initiatives not simply finding ways to be more efficient at making buggy-whips (translation: improving our ability to deliver commodity services)? My point: rather than focusing exclusively on today, where is the balance in time spent investing in your tomorrow – on building your skills, on making yourself more valuable to clients tomorrow than you were yesterday?
What you now know and are able to now do, what your current practice’s success is built upon, will unavoidably depreciate in value unless you actively work on learning new things and building new skills. Continual “know-how” development is a lifelong requirement, not an option. Unfortunately, the systematic development of skills, if left unattended will not happen by itself.
The truly gifted lawyers continually ask themselves one question – “What is it that I know today, that I didn’t know at this time last year?” Or put slightly differently: “What is it that I can do for clients today, that I could not do for them one year ago?” This question is intended to provoke how we might best make ourselves “indispensable.” An answer of: “nothing much” suggest we are slowly making ourselves . . . obsolete!
The most successful professionals are constantly on the grow. Much like in financial planning where one of the key principles is to “pay yourself first,” highly effective professionals devote a portion of their time to personal growth and developing new skills. Are you paying yourself first? Make your list of the three most important new skills you need to progress over the next twelve months to specifically develop a higher level of competence.
Metric #5: Effectiveness of Meetings
Most meetings suck, and most often they are nothing more than an information dump (“so George, tell us all, what have you been up to lately?”) that could as easily have been communicated by e-mail, or simply an excuse for having the firm pay for lunch. And they’re expensive: a one-hour meeting of six of your partners is likely to cost $3,000 at least, in unbilled time. Meanwhile, no one really tracks whether these meetings are useful, or how they could get better. And all you have to do is ask.
Here’s a challenging thought: In the last minutes of your very next meeting, ask your partners to each (anonymously – on a scrap of paper) rate from 1 to 10 how effective they candidly thought your meeting was. Look at your scores, figure out the average, and then . . . without getting defensive about why you scored whatever you scored, go to a flip-chart, get a marker and brainstorm with your colleagues the answer to this question: “What, specifically, could we all do to make our next meeting even more effective?”
Notice, please, that this question is only concerned with taking action.
Every firm holds numerous meetings, and every meeting (hopefully) has an agenda, whether written or unwritten. The cumulative content of those agendas clearly signals leadership’s priorities and concerns. The conscious management of your input into meeting agendas is a powerful signaling device.
The very best use of the group’s time is to review specific learnings and new developments acquired while serving clients, dealing with client problems, or gleaned by researching new and emerging issues that may impact the group’s practice. There is a vast difference in the value of hearing a partners talk (in general terms) about a matter that they have been working on, versus hearing about what that partner specifically learned, that might be of use to others in the group, from the way in which a particular situation or transaction was handled.
Therefore, rather than: “tell us please, what you are working on?” the question should be phrased: “show us please, what have you learned during this past month that may be highly useful to the other members of our group?”
Most meetings are status reports on the present. So, for example, if you are serious about promoting business development make sure that each meeting devotes 25% of the time to listening to ideas for improving client service, generating new revenues or developing new services. Also, the things that get your swift and detailed follow-up will always be perceived by your people to be of the highest importance.