Three tips for keeping in touch

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Thanks to social media, everybody is “in touch” these days….aren’t they? Well, sort of.

Certainly there is now a burgeoning mass of communication – but it is conducted largely in one-way, remote broadcast mode. It is no substitute for meaningful dialogue and actual contact: this remains the best way to keep front-of-mind with clients and prospects so that business has a real chance to flow. So what to do – once you’ve “done” lunch or entertainment? Here are three ideas to help you keep properly engaged.

Get out there!  It is difficult enough to uproot many professionals from their offices to visit clients. But, if this can be done, why not go a step further and get them to spend this time on the shop floor, experiencing what it is really like to be at the sharp end of the business?  It is a point of policy for many service-orientated businesses that senior managers do this on a regular basis.  Asking to go along for the day with them could prove an especially powerful relationship and knowledge-building pursuit.

Come and tell us like it is  “We’re all so focused on assignments and delivering to deadlines that we rarely give ourselves the chance to look wider”.  For professionals this can mean understanding what it is like to be in the client’s shoes.  One walk for this particular talk is to get good clients to come and speak with the team about what it is like to be on the receiving end of your things.  The results can be very productive: like the startling revelation that a one page board report is all that is required, rather than the 100 page ‘whopper’ which regularly hits their desk!

Matchmaking for bench marking  This is about applying a bit of lateral thinking: looking beyond the narrowness of transactions at the key professional/technical or business processes that underpin the operations of client organisations.  Clever professionals are always on the look-out for clients in these important areas who display excellence and those who are experiencing issues or problems.  Why?  Because if they are non-competing, one party can learn from the other – and as the matchmaker for this bench marking exercise you are positioned strongly as a trusted professional for both parties.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three tips to improve feedback

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“I don’t think partners are as good as they should be in giving praise and recognition”*

There seems to be more trending than ever for the giving of proper feedback and recognition to staff: as an important plank in the edifice of employee engagement and a strategy to retain and grow better the Y Generation that is reaching maturity in the workforce.  Sadly, the picture is far from rosy when it comes to best practice.

Talking to an experienced colleague recently, she concluded that “probably no more than 20% of senior management professionals I have come across seem to really get and do it well” – despite feedback’s increasing visibility on the organisational agenda of many firms.  Part of this can be attributed to the “clinical, detached, analytical attitude”* that some of these people managers bring to it: small wonder perhaps then that 40% of UK senior associate lawyers in a recent survey regretted their choice of profession.  It isn’t all just down to the long hours.

Things need to change: here is a modest start, with three tips that can oil the wheels of better feedback.

It’s meant to be nourishment not target practice  Traditionally, the annual appraisal is the preferred and sometimes only forum for feedback.  In many cases, our detached brethren simply pull out the ‘rap sheet’ and apply forensic analysis to what the accused has done wrong.   This concept and its philosophy needs to move on and the clue is in the name.  Feeding is a process of nourishment, precious little of which occurs in many appraisal conversations.  It is time to really feed back to our employees rather than just point the critical gun at them.

Immediate, regular, committed  Contextually, once or even twice a year appraisals are not the ideal feedback medium, which is why more and more firms are abandoning such infrequent formality.  One of the reasons for this is that recognition has most impact on the receiver when it occurs as close to the event as possible.  If you manage people, when did you last tell a member of your team what specifically they had done well at or near the time it occurred? The best deliverers also build into their schedule regular ‘sit downs’ with staff to talk, two way, about work and performance – and they stick to them despite the heavy pressures applied by clients, work, and other organisational commitments.

Be clear and supportive  If you are serious about providing good feedback, then communicate to your team that you are and what your expectations are when it comes to their performance and the process of development. From experience, too many senior professionals never have such meta-conversations, often because they are not committed to performance management and development in the first place.  Staff are left in the dark and have to learn (sometimes painfully) on the job what the minimal contact rules of the game are.

And of course not all feedback is about a job well done.  But having the ‘difficult’ conversation about something that could have gone better – assuming it happens at all – should be about supporting the individual’s development rather than just telling them what to do next time: make it a chance for them to reflect on what they could have done differently.  This is about both mind-set and learnable skill/ability.

* Legal Week “Best Legal Employers” 2015

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three things to help you delegate and be more productive

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Delegation increases average professionals’ earnings by 20% 

Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy.  Those who can’t or won’t because they believe “it’s quicker to do it myself”, are overly insecure, or who enjoy ‘doing’ too much and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

Which is a shame because delegating well can make a big difference – up to 50% in improved earnings for the most highly-skilled senior individuals willing to take the plunge*.  Not to mention a beneficial reduction in the number of stressed-out task junkies, frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop (and so leave), and in the worst cases, clients who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.  The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable.  But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, business or staff health.

Here are three tips that can help your delegation work properly – and more profitably.

It’s not an egg…..one of the biggest sins is to sit on a piece of work, perhaps for days or weeks, only delegating at the last moment.  This presents the recipient with a double challenge: coping with the work delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.  Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action as “it’s an emergency!”.  It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be SMART  Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough.  Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure first that you are Specific – it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted. The task must also be Measurable, so define clearly what successful performance will look like and result in; then Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is agreed rather than being just told); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success: it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally Time-bound, with clear, specific deadlines and milestones.

Take the buck  You can delegate authority but not responsibility.  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge.  Doing it is the second.  Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether the job is successful or not.  If it’s a success, take and hand out the plaudits; if not, be brave enough to take the rap (rather than pass it).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* Harvard Business Review, “Research: Delegating More Can Increase Your Earnings”, Thomas N. Hubbard, August 2016

 

Three ways to use the proper power of persuasion

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“I don’t need to persuade anyone.  The quality of what I do is self-evident”

So runs the mantra for a number of professional specialists we have met. Somehow, the world (which includes clients and prospects who may not be able to experience the intangibility of what they offer) will see the light. Of course, most often they don’t.

Either this, or they associate persuasion with a stereotypical vision of the “pushy” sales man or woman – and may then try to “sell” by talking endlessly about themselves or their firm. Neither attitude works or is representative of the proper power of persuasion. This is an art that can be learnt, and which has some underlying basic principles: here are three of them.

Give before you get  A tough one this, in that it involves unravelling years of conditioning for those who have had it drummed into them that hours and minutes are ALWAYS TO BE CHARGED FOR. Most people want to return a favour, so if you give them something they will usually want to give something back. We have heard many variations on this theme when trying to attract new clients. “For the trial piece of work, deliberately, we gave them more than we were paid for; they recognised it, liked our attitude, and they are now a significant and very profitable client 10 years on!”.

Three more Ps  This is about Positive Peer Pressure. Those who do business with the public sector see the power of this one. Some people (in fact, many professionals) are better convinced to do something if others are seen doing it. The more local authorities that you work or have worked for, the more powerful appears your case. And in the private sector, if the firm’s name is associated with successful industry authorities (e.g. market leaders), then you can get a double whammy.

Seek out common ground  People do more business with those they feel they like. A large part of such liking is about the amount of common ground that is established between them. Successful professionals know this: which is why golf, cricket, rugby, football etc. are such common pursuits. Sadly, many do not venture outside of these, their own obvious likes. Successful networkers know that it is possible to establish common ground with just about anyone. But it needs this realisation and then practice to achieve.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three tips to keep your pipeline flowing

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 How many initial contacts do you need to gain one new client?

When asked, the answers of many professionals are often hopelessly optimistic. And they wonder why their Business Development efforts aren’t amounting to much. The fact is that moving prospects in our target markets from initial contact to converted client is usually a lengthy process with several stages, where at any point, we can be screened out: hence, the analogy for the process as a pipeline. In most professional environments, this attrition means that initial contact numbers usually have to be significantly higher than a few (dozen).

Here are three things to address the “pipeline peril” and make it a safer, more productive bet.

Keep your tap on  It isn’t just the length of the pipeline that is important; it is the speed of migration down it. It can take YEARS for some business contacts to result in a trading relationship. The long game approach required to be successful at this sits ill with the short-term, ‘fees, fees, and fees’ focus of many professional lives.

“We are very busy so no-one’s doing any selling at the moment”

Turn off the tap that keeps your contacts flowing and you risk future famine. This requires a contact strategy to maintain profile with potential clients. Do you or your professionals have one?

Count, plan and monitor  How many business development professionals know the number of contacts they have in their pipeline and at which stage they are at with any conviction? In our experience, these experts are few and far between. Because they don’t recognise the dynamics of the pipeline or perhaps take it seriously, they cannot begin to control its flows. Assessing where you are is the first step to deciding what should be done (plan) and doing it (see below), plus then monitoring to ensure that sufficient new client work is being delivered at the other end.

You cannot be serious! …and sure enough, too many of us are not when it comes to planning and doing it. Do we schedule time for business development activity as carefully and in as much detail as the professional work that is done? Most professionals’ Outlook diaries are full of transactional actions and deadlines. But BD ones??!

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three tips to make your sector plans work better

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Most professional firms have a marketing and BD approach focused on business sectors – but are they getting the best out of them? Here are three things that could help.

Business sectors are ‘de rigueur’ with firms proclaiming their expertise in and focus on clients or prospects who inhabit them. Plans are written, budgets committed, time allocated and money expended in furthering the collective ambition to serve and grow. If this is not done well, much can be (and is) wasted. From experience of being asked to take a long hard look at whether value is being delivered, these are the ‘basics’ to get right.

Define properly  If your firm has a proliferation of sector groups to serve, this is probably not happening. With a dozen or more such groups it is extremely unlikely that real benefit will be delivered. For example, having ‘groups’ that comprise only a few organisations is daft from so many viewpoints – not least the time wasted in bringing so many (expensive) people together to meet regularly. Control sector proliferation so that effort and budgets focus and concentrate for maximum impact.

Analyse rigorously: inside and out  The right sector strategy stands or falls on the quality of data and interpretation of what is happening in each market vs. the firm’s true competitive position. Both insights are achieved via thorough research and intelligent analysis. In truth, most professionals (and some marketeers) are not highly experienced in doing this. So you can end up with sector plans that are either free of any real examination (resulting in a schedule of unjustified and wasteful activity). Or they are so stuffed with reams of unfiltered, uncritiqued data that they provide an equal lack of perception and direction……but do make good door-stops.

Organise sensibly  Choose sound, properly representative sector teams and leaders so that the right people make their contributions. If you don’t, the groups end up being inefficiently run, sometimes as mouthpieces for a few “influential” individuals or stuffed with representatives of one department or practice area.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Ditch those delegation dilemmas

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Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy for many of us. Those who can’t or won’t delegate because “it’s quicker to do it myself”; or who enjoy doing the work so much, and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

If allowed to flourish, the results of these behaviours tend not to be impressive. Overburdened, stressed-out task ‘junkies’. Wrongly leveraged and unprofitable work flows. Frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop and who leave. And in the worst cases, clients or customers who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.

The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable. But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, staff, or business ‘health’. Here are three principles that can help delegation work properly.

You can delegate authority but not responsibility*  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge. Doing it is the second. Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether it was a success or not. If it’s a success, we hand out the plaudits; if not, we take the rap.  But whisper this quietly – there are many who have made careers out of passing or avoiding the buck.   They are usually the ones that none of the rest of us like to work with or for.

Don’t sit on it!   One of the biggest sins in the people management canon is to incubate a piece of work, chicken-style (perhaps for days or weeks), only delegating at the last moment. This presents the poor recipient with a double challenge – coping with the work being delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.

Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action if “it’s an emergency!”. It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be specific..and the rest   Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough. Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure that you are Specific (it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted); that the task is Measurable (defining clearly what successful performance will look like and result in); Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is ‘agreed’ rather than being just ‘told’); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success – and it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally, Time-bound (with clear, specific deadlines and milestones).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* From ‘A Good Lawyer: Secrets Good Lawyers (And Their Best Clients) Already Know’ (2010) by Stephen W. Comiskey

 

 

Three tips to get your PARs up (it’s not golf!)

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Talking to professionals about their PARs (Post Assignment Reviews) used to be a quite fleeting experience….usually because few actually did them.  That’s still largely the case today.  Back in the day, some “just didn’t have the time” or – if we are to be fully truthful – the prospect of analysing what happened during a transaction and talking to the client about it was considered well beyond the pale.  After all, who on earth would be daft enough deliberately to open themselves up to such criticism?!

Funnily enough this is not the perception of most clients – they often rate highly those firms (and individuals) who quickly and efficiently rectify mistakes.  However, they also want the confidence to know that it won’t happen again for the next piece of work – PARs provide a great opportunity to ensure that.

To conduct a PAR properly – and really deliver on the benefits of greater client satisfaction, the development of more opportunities to do business, and better efficiency via service improvements – requires more than just a conversation with the client.  For any significant transaction, an effective PAR process starts with internal review of what happened, so that the subsequent client conversation is properly informed and delivers real value for both parties.   That done, here are three tips on how to help this stage work well…and enhance the usefulness of your firm’s PARs.

Team not type (people not paper) Time being of the essence for many of us, there can be a tendency to run the internal PAR as a tick-box exercise.  This is to be avoided.  Getting team members together for a short meeting – supported by a written pre-briefing – delivers real value in terms of the quality and quantity of data gathered.  The lead partner or manager can really drill down into the issues; and the experience itself promotes better team working, communication and co-operation, particularly across different departments and offices to help overcome the ‘silo’ effect.

Be in the know (how)  All of the logical issues should be encompassed in a PAR – measuring performance against specification, how well the assignment was managed, profitability etc. One of the less obvious issues must also be included, because of its wider impact.  Good PARs include the capturing of improvements in know-how and ways of working – for the firm and client. This know-how might be external opinions or documents that have implications beyond the individual client; changes in methodology may also extend to new working practices. For these innovations the focus is as much on communicating relevant improvement recommendations to the firm and sometimes clients at large, as it is to dealing with the one team/client in question.

Ensure follow-up  Capturing knowledge and expertise enhancement is one thing: the successful implementation of actions is the significant other. Each PAR must have a short written report of its outputs, including a summary of recommended action points for individuals. It is the job of the client management team to ensure then that these recommendations are agreed and that they are actioned (this means follow-up – as persistently as necessary!). We have seen too many excellent improvements disappear into the ether for lack of such follow-up.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Business tales from the festive fireside

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Instead of sending Christmas cards (or offering  a sanctimonious declaration of charity to which card money has been despatched), here are some  business anecdotes culled from the canon of ‘happenings’  experienced or heard about that may bring a Yuletide smile.  No names, no pack drill so the guilty or unfortunate remain warmly protected under the trench coat of anonymity.

I am a TIGER (grrr)!  Fans of comedian Steve Coogan – and, in particular, his 90s “Dearth of a Salesman” persona Gareth Cheeseman – will especially appreciate this one.  As preparation for a beauty parade, a group of ‘pitchers’ were asked to think of a personal mantra to say to themselves before they went in, to help them focus and calm their nerves.  Allegedly, for the next few days, staff at the firm could hear “I am the dog’s bollocks!” booming from the bowels of one participant’s office.  Another decided to try out different mantras on the cows at a farm and let them decide the best one (a moo-ving experience for the livestock, no doubt, ho ho ).

Professional sensitivity rules (not)!  In a negotiation training scenario, participants were presented with a disgruntled client who had been badly treated by the firm.  Time for a bit of judicious bowing and scraping and then sorting out the problem to save our bacon, you might think?  Not a bit of it.  One sensitive soul decided to give the client the full-on arrogant treatment – time to “play hardball”, as he put it.  “It’s not our fault…of course these things do happen from time to time…it would appear that you are largely to blame Mr Client” etc. etc. then followed, and not even the whiff of an apology.   Just the sound of a fictional client walking out the door.  Let’s hope as a result that he won’t try this on his real clients.

Conflict …what conflict?  Back in the really good old days of prosperity and deal mania, client conflicts of interest were quite a big thing.  And now they might almost be back in fashion.

Faced with one, good professionals communicate clearly and honestly with the client.  Bad ones don’t.  Like the firm promising absolutely that there was “no question” of a conflict if they acted for the potential client.   Sad for them then that the client got to know about a direct and clearly conflictual relationship the firm already had – by reading about it in the professional trade press!  Telling porkies just doesn’t work.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.  http://www.peoplescope.com.

Don’t be a Christmas party pooper

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Yes, it’s that time of year again, folks.  Mistletoe, silly outfits, enthusiastic eating and imbibing in carefully selected venues amongst colleagues, friends….or clients.  Having seen a few unfortunate slip-ups for professional people attending their own or someone else’s party, it’s perhaps opportune to offer a few rules of etiquette to ease everyone into the festive season with the minimum of fuss.  In fact, if followed, a few positives could even flow….

It’s all just you, you, you…People love to talk about themselves (and what they do)…but if you’re on the look-out to impress, it’s an activity to be kept in check.  In front of the mirror at home is good.  Having secured the usual permissions, with your nearest and dearest is often acceptable.  During an appraisal it is, self-evidently, necessary.

But at a Christmas event….we have observed some people (young and old) take the activity to negatively unprecedented levels: especially after a few drinks (see below).  Pinning colleagues or clients to a wall with little prospect of escape is not a vote-winner.  Instead, go out of your way to make your schmoozing focused on them.  They’ll enjoy it and, if you do it well, you might even learn a few useful things that you didn’t know about them.

Always ‘on’  This is one especially for when you are away from home at someone else’s ‘do’.  The saying, and quite possibly a legal precedent, goes that a police officer is always on duty: even when she or he is not (officially).  If you are at someone else’s Christmas event  be like a police officer.. in this respect.

Festive social situations have a habit of lowering the usual discretions, but it will pay to heed what our good angel always tells us – but which we can become deaf to via the “magic” of Yuletide.  Always ‘on’ means moderate drinking/other self-indulgence and knowing when to stop.  That way you will impress clients and colleagues…and you won’t be the one that we (and many others) spotted at a client party several years ago collapsed in a dishevelled heap – with a plastic flower protruding in an anatomically “interesting” manner.

Personality not push   This is hardly going out on a limb, but in the context of the season, there is a particular need to break one of the usual rules.  Normally, I encourage professionals engaging in social contexts with colleagues, clients or prospects to find common ground, talk about them/their business or issues and not be afraid to prompt the next step to a dialogue – if it proves appropriate.  Reticence to undertake the latter can be a big barrier.

However, the Christmas party is a bit different.  It should be almost entirely free from ‘shop’ talk and be about engaging with as many people as possible to allow the force and beauty of your personality to stand out, because that is a key part of what people say they buy (however cf. the caveats to this above!).  So no, it is not the venue at which you launch out on the world’s most inappropriately timed ‘pitch’.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.  http://www.peoplescope.com.