Last week I described four typical leadership scenarios that work against strong marketing ideas: leading blindly, leading cautiously, leading exclusively, and leading self-centrically. This week I’ll talk about how these situations can easily be addressed.
My belief is that over time and through trial and error, firm leadership learns that profitability is best achieved by allowing people to focus on their core competencies. Lawyers should have control over their business, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best people to run it. And I think many lawyers would agree, because over the years we’ve seen the gradual increase of law firm administrators – including marketing directors. The next step is to truly give those positions the authority they need in order to do their job well. And that means that lawyers need to be far more careful in hiring those positions, and far less involved in micro-managing those areas afterwards.
- Hire the right people: Too often, law firms seek to hire lead administrators (and particularly, marketers) who won’t rock the boat, and then hold onto them for far too long when they prove incapable of innovation and creative problem solving. Good hiring is like good marketing: think long and hard about where you want to go, and then hire people with the personalities and skills to get you there. After that, get out of their way (other than holding them accountable for their deliverables).
- Learn to let go: Law firms perform best financially when lawyers focus on billable work and business development. Yet lawyers are highly intelligent and multi-capable so it’s difficult for them to avoid micro-managing administration when the lawyers believe they could do just as good a job – if not better – on running the firm. Ultimately, this behaviour will work against the firm’s best interests. Stop allowing your firm to hire experts only to second guess and over ride them. Approve the big picture, be aware of management issues, but don’t try to be experts in the law and management. If you don’t have confidence in your administrators, then replace them. Otherwise, learn to let go and allow them to do their jobs.
- Allow good ideas to come from anywhere: This is a tough time for a business with a challenging business model. Law firms need to capitalize on every advantage, and sometimes that advantage will come from someone lower on the food chain, including from non-lawyers. Enforce the kind of environment that supports and ideally, encourages that kind of contribution and insight throughout the organization. Keep them involved throughout the analysis and where appropriate, the implementation process. Help everyone in the firm to find the pride in the business that your top partners do.
- When you ask for it, really listen: if you have carefully hired a CFO, a marketing director or even a consultant, listen to what they have to say and resist the urge to filter or water down their work. If you’re paying them, you can logically trust that they honestly want what’s best for you. They aren’t going to lie, and their research will prove they aren’t exaggerating, either. Put any ego in check and open the door for the possibility that you might learn something about your firm that you didn’t already know. Even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, your time will be better spent potentially uncovering an opportunity for improvement rather than focussing on defensiveness.
The situations listed above are very human, and it’s normal to care deeply about your business. But when that care turns into a belief that you need to second-guess, withhold support from or micro-manage your business experts, something is terribly wrong.
In summary, there’s so much that we can’t control in business. But defining areas of expertise, hiring those individuals and letting them do what they do best is one of the best ways to control our firms. The four points listed above might represent a culture shift within your firm, but they can be implemented slowly and I have no doubt that as evidence of their power is revealed, firms will gain comfort level with their continued implementation.