Law firms are businesses! OK, but are you the business or are you building a business? This is a question that will set the focus of your business strategy. We suspect that many professionals start out believing that the business is themselves, and any staff they hire are support, or a replaceable resource, with their focus on management of resources. At some point the case load or the case complexity grows, and the focus changes to a more team oriented approach. Tasks are delegated, and staff becomes more than just a resource. Once the staff becomes part of the team and receives training, it is much more costly to replace them. Firm associates begin to understand that their leadership involves creating a pro-active team that drives the delivery of legal services with a strong return on investment for the firm. The lawyer alone is not the business. Focus shifts from management of resources to leadership of people.
This is the beginnings of a high-performance organization. There are many elements of this type of organization, including a move from management to leadership principles. One of those principles is an idea we first saw expressed in Tom Peters’ first book. He introduced us to the new concept of Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), which we have referred to as Management By Walking Around. I think that MBWA was developed by executives at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s and popularized by Tom Peters in the early 1980s. The concept involves getting out from behind your desk and interacting with your staff; find out what they are frustrated about and celebrate their successes.
MBWA works best when you are genuinely interested in your staff and their work and when they see you as being ready to listen. There is nothing more insightful than seeing what is going on in the real world; client’s concerns, the interaction of your employees with your clients, and the functioning of your law firm. You will have a much better idea of your staff’s problems and perceptions, as well a better view of the skill of individual employees. The benefit of MBWA is you can communicate your expectations in daily informal meetings with your staff. This idea works if your focus is on building trust, delegating responsibility, and developing staff. This does not work if your goal is to find someone making a mistake.
More is gained by watching, observing, talking, and listening than will ever be by placing this duty on others. However, what if the Firm owner or senior partners do not want a management or leadership role? We find this a lot. If this is the way it is, hire a Firm Administrator to take on that role. Our approach for law firms is to implement high-performance teams.
We propose a challenge. Take the next thirty days and make it a practice to walk through the firm and talk to people within the firm. Listen to what they say, find out how things are going, and ask questions. At the end of the thirty days, do you see a difference in attitude? More importantly, did you learn anything that makes you change your mind about the people on your team? We suspect you will.
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