Although it is never easy to challenge the status quo or achieve fundamental change within an organization - especially at a law firm. Yet change is a fundamental component to success. How does a firm steeped in culture and tradition address these questions? Very carefully. Especially if it is driven by a law firm marketing partner.
Driving change can bring about profound personal and professional rewards. It requires developing a strong vision of the firms identity. I call the process firm sculpting - creating your firms ideal image.
The goal of course is to find that new image and make it powerful - one that will greatly increase client satisfaction and propel the firm's success. This of course takes true leadership - and that's the rub.
True leaders have the capacity to articulate a vision and inspire others to pursue it with them. True leaders come from a place of honesty--with willingness to see what actually is and discover what could be through community effort. They bring with them a confidence that gives others the courage to strive for even the loftiest goals.
Your firm's potential for change lies in the hands of such a true leader. Without a strong individual with the skill to push for change by enlisting rather than alienating others, your firm may make important improvements, but it is unlikely to reach its full potential.
The all-important first step in initiating change is to find such a leader within your ranks. Once you are committed to seeing things change, look around and ask yourself who will lead. (The answer may be as close as your own reflection in a mirror.)
Once the leader is chosen, whether he's the partner with the most power and seniority in the firm or a more junior partner who is eager and willing to support the process, his or her first step is to identify and enlist the other key players in your firm.
Forming Your Inner Team (the Key Partners)
The next step is to identify the principal members of the team--the inner circle. Most of the time, the inner circle will be composed of key partners and, in some firms, top-level administrators. Without them on board, the probability of creating profound change at the root level is seriously diminished. Bring them on board as soon as possible.
But before the firm does this, it must address a very serious issue. It must know whether the core power base--the inner circle--includes what is referred to as a "Toxic Partner." Like a drop of poison in a carafe, a single "Toxic" can be fatal to even the most brilliant and ambitious of plans.
Finding Your Firm's Vision - The Heart of Legal Marketing
Once the leader and the inner circle have been identified and any Toxics have been dealt with, the next step is for your leader to set up a series of meetings to determine what the firm's values and challenges are and then begin to articulate a vision for the firm's future. Ideally, a facilitator will be brought in at this point to help keep things on track.
Uncovering your firm's values is no easier than confronting its challenges. Your firm's values must inspire the partners if there is any hope of inspiring the firm itself and its clients. When the members of the inner circle envision the firm, they should identify which values move and inspire them. These inspired values must appeal to them at a visceral level, not just sound good. Left to their own devices, many partners (and professional marketers) come up with meaningless phrases like "We live to serve." Your firm's inspired values must be held to a higher standard than this.
The values must be concrete and measurable; the first measure is whether they elicit a positive emotional reaction that motivates action. You'll know when the values defined by the inner circle are powerful enough--endorphins will kick in, enthusiasm will rise and it will inspire people to take action.
Drafting Your Firm's Master Charter (and Creating Derivative Charters)
The inspiration and commitment achieved during the first seminal meetings will soon be evidenced in the creation of your firm's master charter. As will be discussed in much more detail in later chapters, it is the inspired values and principles found in the master charter that will guide what we call -derivative charters--charters that belong to your key departments, practice groups and committees.
The master charter must be anchored in the leadership's inspired values. It is the first evidence of what has been a dynamic, proactive process. The master charter must be real, not contrived. It must be rooted in the leadership's intentions for the firm and the principles on which the firm will be governed from now on.
The master charter will become the focal point of the firm's identity. It is the document that articulates the inspired values and priorities of the firm. It will not be drafted in a day--creating it takes introspection, analysis, debate and thoughtful examination. But when it is finished, it is the equivalent of a constitution for your firm. If it is done with excellence, it will both guide and inspire every member of your firm to actions that are congruent with the firm's identity.
Once a powerful firm culture is in place, the master charter's norms and values will keep the firm on the path to following its inspired values and will discourage individual or group conduct that is inconsistent with those values.
Once the master charter is completed, many law firms falter. The leadership becomes excited about the new charter and circulates it among the other members of the firm. A few memos go out touting the power of vision and describing the bright future that lies ahead. A few of the more ambitious partners try to rally the troops around the cause, but soon the inspiration begins to pale and the charter fades into the background, with no more appeal than the firm's letterhead and logo.
Resculpting is for naught unless the people below the leadership level believe that the vision is relevant to their lives. I can't emphasize this enough: The relevance cannot be illusory; it must be as real to them as their weekly paycheck. So your next step must be to give them both the responsibility and the authority to put changes into action.
In order to do this, I recommend that the firm's charter be a jumping-off point from which each major department creates its own charter and plan of action within the vision that the leadership has delineated. These derivative charters and the strategic action plans will give the members of the firm a personal stake in their future.
The facilitator, with the support of top leadership, must ensure that each of the firm's major departments, practice groups and committees is given time and support in crafting these all-important documents. Otherwise the subordinates will perpetually feel that this is the leadership's vision, not theirs. Giving them the opportunity to participate is the only way to make the vision relevant, and it will also make them accountable for the results.
The challenge lies in getting the inspiration and enthusiasm evoked by the creation of the new vision to truly motivate everyone--all the way down to the people on the lowest rungs of the firm's ladder. The solution is to empower everyone. Skipping this step will undermine all of the firm's efforts.
In the end, every member of the firm should be enrolled in the change process. Every member of the firm who comes into contact with clients, vendors, other firms' attorneys, or anyone else should reflect the firm's inspired values and identity. Every form of marketing, advertising and promotion should be inseparably integrated with the people who make up the firm.
Bringing the Rest on Board (and Creating Strategic Action Plans)
This last step in reinventing the firm happens once the master charter and derivative chapters are written. To allow everyone in the firm to take part--to take ownership--in the changes the firm is making, the leaders of each of the firm's major departments, committees and practice groups, in conjunction with each of their respective team members, will construct detailed action plans that identify specific goals, specify time lines and names of people accountable for bringing the goals to fruition. These strategic action plans should be developed for each of the major departments in the firm.
Strategic action plans are developed only after the firm's charter and the derivative charters have been carved out by the leadership. These charters are the basis for the strategic action plans, which are tangible instructions for making decisions and taking action.
Strategic action plans can be thought of as logical extensions of the firm's values and beliefs. They are, by nature, imbued with the firm's culture. They can take on enormous momentum, capable of pushing the firm forward to new heights and performance levels.
Strategic action plans bridge the gap between the firm's words and its deeds. They provide specific task-driven objectives against which the firm's leadership, including the managers, can test assumptions and gauge the firm's departmental performance.
The single most important characteristic of strategic action plans is that they are task-specific--they describe purposes, time lines and responsibilities for the tasks the firm performs. These plans, as well as the specific goals they are intended to achieve, must in the end be measured against both the derivative and master charters.
Although it is never easy to challenge the status quo or achieve fundamental change within an organization, the personal and professional rewards are boundless. Moving away from a firm's preconceived notions frees it from existing limitations. The vision that emerges from the process of sculpting your firm allows your firm to create a new identity that will greatly increase client satisfaction and propel the firm's success.