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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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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