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:
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!
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.
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.
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