We have come to the end of our series on how a critical friend can help professionals and organisations maintain a continuous cycle of improvement. In this final post, Martin offers readers advice on how to set up the relationship with your chosen critical friend in just the right way.
Previous posts covered:
What is a critical friend?
Who might use a critical friend?
Can critical friends support teams as well as individuals?
How might I find a critical friend?
How do I get a critical friend arrangement in place?
âIf you'd like to read these posts in order, start here. But if you are ready to get started, read on MacDuff...
We have taken some care in our previous 3 posts to explain what a critical friend is, what their role is, who could benefit and the right time to involve a critical friend in your business. (If you want to read these posts in order start here.)
âWhen my article on this subject was published in April, we know of at least one coach who received a call from a client saying "This. This is how I want us to work together". And no wonder: the benefits of working with a critical friend for a business leader are measurable in terms of the improvement and focus they will bring. Unlike a pure coaching relationship, the critical friend is an independent expert, a source of suggestions, ideas and examples and a means of leveraging external networks.
So where might you find a critical friend?
This is a bit like asking - who needs a friend? Answer: everyone.
As we said in the second part of this series, a critical friend comes closest to what may be termed "true friendship" - a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique. Someone who is on the side of the person they are working with, who encourages and supports them and also provides truthful and constructive feedback. Feedback that might be difficult to hear but is designed to help you maintain continuous improvement towards your goals.
In a business setting this sort of feedback and support can be invaluable, especially for the obvious group of typical law firm managers we talked about in the first part of the series: namely, senior managers such as managing partners, chief operating officers, department or team heads. In truth, anyone in a senior role in a legal business could easily justify the business benefits of having a critical friend.
âThere are some particular areas where having a critical friend can be invaluable:
,Like some of the very best oxymorons - "working holiday", "open secret", or even "living dead", "critical friend" seems at first sight to be a bit, well, confusing. But once we know what it means, no other phrase comes close to explaining in such depth what this relationship involves.
In our first blog on this subject, Martin Griffiths explained why a business, team or individual might have a need for a critical friend. In this one he answers the question "What exactly IS a critical friend?"
The term Critical Friend is not well known in law firm circles. It's something we have been advocating for nearly a year now, as one possible answer to the question: what help is available for teams and leaders in firms who want to make change happen?
So, what is a critical friend? Typically, a critical friend is a person who understands, and is sympathetic to, the aims and objectives of the business they are working with, but who is outside the business. A critical friend is committed to helping their client to improve and succeed, whether that client is an individual or a group, by providing challenge, encouragement and candid feedback.
Yesterday evening I attended The Great Legal Reformation, an event organised by Shaun Jardine of Brethertons. The very fact that the event was organised by a law firm rather than say, Legal Futures or a bank is unusual. Add to this Mitch Kowalski as the main attraction and a venue change due to sheer weight of numbers and you will start to see that this was a special event.
Mitch himself is a great speaker. Relaxed, assured, knowledgeable. He can see into the crystal ball and what he sees there is exciting: a vision of teams of people working together to solve clients' legal problems efficiently and effectively, supported by cool technology. Mitch and the panel of experts (including Stephen Mayson, Amir Ali and David Gilroy) were equally clear on the direction of travel and what was going to be required to get there. During the polling part of the evening and the Q and A, everyone agreed: the Great Legal Reformation is coming, it will be driven by technology, will invite non lawyers into the inner sanctum and will result in prices being driven down to a point where the pent up demand for legal services will be released. The business model is dead! Long live the law firm of the future!
What a busy few months we have had! Martin and I gave a lot of thought earlier in the year as to where and how we can best serve our clients and the plans are starting to bear fruit. We've rebranded, created a post Brexit planning day, opened two new offices and expanded our client base into health and the built environment. Our new website will be launched in the New Year.
Why am I telling you this? Well, mainly because some people have questioned whether now is the right time to be doing it. I'd say, if not now, when? All we know for sure about Brexit is that we don't know. So now is exactly the right time to be putting our business into the best possible shape for the future.
If you need help doing the same, give either Martin or me a call to fix an appointment. If you want to book a meeting click here. Im trialling the Calendly app at the moment - it's pretty amazing.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself consumed by the small stuff, you may need a critical friend.
A Critical Friend may be critical to your business
Someone who has your best interests at heart, who understands what you want to achieve and (unlike your best friend) understands the environment and challenges you face as well as you do. Even better, who will tell you straight.
Here is what Martin told Modern Law Magazine. We hope you enjoy.
Blog for lexisnexis: The importance of decision making and leadership in strategy (or why your away day was a jolly not a strategy day)
I am sensing a new mood. Over the last 10 days I have engaged as many new clients, all with a stated intent to change. All want help to prioritise resources and to make the change count. The question they are asking is: what change can we make that will have the most significant and positive impact on our business?
Traditionally this has been the excuse for a good old-fashioned “away day”: an excuse to generate new ideas, make new plans and above all, create a warm fuzzy feeling that the uncertainty of the future has been wrestled into, if not a paper bag, then a well-crafted paper. Unfortunately, too many strategic planning processes are ill-defined with very little preparation or research and little or no bottom line impact. As a result, very little changes.
I don't know about you but I spend the first week back hungry. By the second week, mince pies are a distant memory and reality sets in. By week three, New Year's Resolutions start to feel like hard work.
Now is the perfect time to review business plans with a cold eye, consider where you are against target and deliberately refocus.
Here's a link to the process we use to do just that. Feel free to download it and share it with your team. As always, I'd like to know how you get on with it and how useful you find it. (We haven't uploaded the notes as we think it's pretty clear, but let us know if you'd like us to talk you through it).
Before you start though, here are two pretty obvious points:
To do a Business Plan Review you need a Business Plan
Preferably one that has numbers in it about how much money you want to make this year. Anything else is at best a vision document, at worst a work of fiction. Feel free to use words like "passion", "solution" and "client facing" but the Business Plan is a tool to help you focus on how many and how much.
Give me a call if you need a pro forma business plan designed especially for professional service firms. The process document I'm giving you here can be used with any Business Plan (not just ours).
Doing a Business Plan Review is only the start
Just as with any New Year’s resolution, setting goals down in writing makes success more likely (I've got proof if you need it). But more than that – it takes real commitment and determination and being clear about what you are not going to do. Give yourself a break and make sure that you have the time and resources necessary to things differently.
Happy New Year! No, I’m not going to talk about new year resolutions or diets or cutting out alcohol. You’ll get enough of that elsewhere during January. Instead I’m going to talk about what it means to be a human being.
Woah! That’s a bit heavy, isn’t it? Bear with me. We’ll soon get back onto the subject of how to better manage a law firm in 2017.
So – being a human. What’s that all about?
“More for less” is the mantra from clients, challenging law firms not just to cut their costs but to deliver more and better services. This productivity challenge, on top of everything else, could leave managing partners wondering where to start.
Set your prices at the right point
This week we talk about pricing and I am going to give you a number of ideas about how to arrive at the best price and avoid leaving money on the table.
Nine times out of ten a dissatisfied client will cite “price” as being the reason for their dissatisfaction but this rarely turns out to be the case. Lack of communication is the number one reason for dissatisfied clients and frequently lack of communication on costs. So the first tip is to keep the client informed about progress and about costs – clients don’t like surprises any more than we do.
So, how do you go about setting a price for a piece of work? Easy, you estimate the hours to do the work the client needs and then apply the charge rate (the one you set at the start of the year) and bingo you have a price. OK but no one ever pays full charge rate so you knock a bit off. Sound familiar?
There are a number of drawbacks to this approach:
Make the changes necessary to deliver what clients want efficiently and profitably
Of course, half the battle is understanding what your clients really really want and Sally covered that last week in Part 2 of the programme. I'm going to take that idea further this week - it's critical to understand that from the client's perspective there are some mission critical parts of your service that absolutely have to be delivered in the same way on time every time. If you mess up on the mission critical parts, there's a real problem. If you like, there's a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that can be applied to what your client wants from you - we've made it easy for you and added a free download to our site for you so you can see what we mean. You can also use this download to map out the mission critical parts of what your clients want from you.
But this programme is called the Profitable Growth Programme: we advocate growing business that is profitable. So you will see that we have marked on the download a reminder to map your own critical business requirements.
Understand what your ideal clients value
This week is all about how to understand what your ideal clients value about your firm: what they really, really want from you. There are two main reasons for wanting to know this: first, to make sure that you continue to deliver exactly what your core clients love about working with you and second, to be able to articulate to potential new ideal clients what it is about your firm that they are going to love!
Surely all clients want the same thing?
Not at all.
Identify the Ideal Client
What does this mean?
Well, as I write this, the sun is streaming through the windows and I am looking out on a garden that is blooming with new growth. The same thing happens every year as if by magic. Except, of course, it isn't magic, but the result of some planning and hard work on my part combined with energy from the sun, nutrients from the soil and a lot of rain. Some plants grow very happily without any input from me at all (especially dandelions!). Some need a lot of extra care (I don't have many of those!). Mainly my garden is full of plants that like this soil and this position and appear regularly every year.
This is also the secret to a profitable client base: get rid of the weeds you don't want, nurture a few special clients that give you something special like kudos in a particular market or help you attract other, less demanding clients. But above all, do whatever you can to cherish the clients who already love what you do. Attract and nurture clients who are most likely to benefit from and value the way that you do business.
Why dropping tools is easier said than done: innovation and why it doesn’t happen
Everybody is looking for the “Dyson moment” – the moment when legal services are changed fundamentally by someone who looks at the problem from a new perspective, applies a different solution and hey presto! Toilets around the globe have been changed by the introduction of the Dyson hand dryer. Legal services, so the argument goes, just need a fresh approach.
Well, yes, I agree. The market is ripe for a ground-breaking change, one that radically and fundamentally changes the way that legal services are delivered. A disruptive innovation.
Process improvements, BLP and TLT’s adoption of business transformation skills, improved project management, vertical integration and multidisciplinary approaches, many of the latter driven by the new accountancy led ABS. There have been many improvements, but not anything that makes us go “wow!”
In truth, these are all refinements: as Henry Ford would have said (with apologies to his memory) these are all ways to build the proverbial faster horse. So..Where is the disruptive innovation?
The answer is: probably not in a law firm. Innovation often comes from outside.
To get under the skin of my ideal client and learn how to do what they want, in the way that they want it for a price they like - more efficiently and profitably than our competitors.
Christmas is coming. Cards are being written, presents bought, children are practising for their end of term extravaganza and everyone seems to be busier than ever. Have you even started thinking about your New Year’s resolution yet?
If not - can I suggest one that’s going to be critical for every law firm in 2015:
To get under the skin of my ideal client and learn how to do what they want, in the way that they want it for a price they like - more efficiently and profitably than our competitors.
How to stop looking at the horse manure: innovation and how to make it happen
In Part 1, I looked at why disruptive innovation often comes outside and suggested that those who resist change do so even at their own peril – literally, sometimes, in life and death situations. So it is hardly a surprise that even whilst espousing business transformation, lawyers resist the very changes they aspire to.
Of course, the legal services industry is not life and death. And no, I’m not going to make the Bill Shanklin jest about it being far more serious than that. Except, sometimes it is. Sometimes human liberty, even life, can be at stake. Sometimes it does not even need to be so dramatic for a matter to have a life changing impact: being removed from accommodation unlawfully or having a judgment entered against you. With the withdrawal of legal aid there is a pressing social need for legal services to be made cheaper and more readily available to the poorest and least able in society.
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At the Legal Futures 2020 conference a couple of weeks ago, I sat muttering like an old lady at a bus stop. Speaker after speaker talked about how ABSs and online solutions would fill the as yet untapped (and unproven) demand for legal services.
I work with SME firms, the so called high street firms who provide the sort of day to day advice and help that makes the world tick in provincial towns: wills and probate, divorces, conveyancing. Business advice for local firms. That sort of thing. The everyday bread and butter stuff that the big brands hope to win.
I hear the stories of a young woman who arrives on the doorstep sobbing, having reached the final straw in her marriage. The bereaved son who has just lost his mother and is completely confused by complicated forms. The solicitor who is at court for one client but sees someone else struggling with court forms and helps. None of these people would find a website helpful – because a website does not offer kindness, help or understanding.
People who would use our services are often scared, stressed, sad or just plain worried about being stupid. They might use the internet to research their problem, they might even do some price checking or see if your firm is recommended. They might even fill in a fact filling form online. But they will want the reassurance of a friendly face, a kind word and someone who can guide them through the process.
The answer is not the big brands – I understand that none of them are making money, at least yet. The network organisations are talking a good story but it is said that Dynamo Law has fewer than 50 members and Quality Solicitors only just over 100. The success stories in this market are the businesses that are not looking to online and ABS structures not to provide the complete answer but to provide part of it: iSolicitor who has unbundled family law services to provide better client service in an area of need, Schillings who have also vertically integrated to provide a one stop shop for people with reputations worth protecting.
The true disruption will come not from the “suck it and see” private equity backed businesses that are yet to really find a foothold, but from those law firms who take a long hard look at their client base and design services around their needs. And then use every tool at their disposal, whether that’s technological, structural or experiential to achieve that.
Now that’s would be something worth cheering.
To buy.......or how to use closing questions effectively.......
You have an opportunity to sell to a client. You have prepared for the occasion, done your homework and understand the client’s fears, needs and desires. Your pitch is word perfect...And yet. You could still walk out of the meeting room (or put down the phone) with no sale.
Unless you understand how to help your client buy. It is as simple as that: stop selling and help your client to make the right decision. Here’s how.
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