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.

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Negotiating to the power of AND

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True negotiations are an awful lot about managing the balance of power between you and the other party to positive effect.  But how often do professionals take full stock of the resources at their disposal?  In our experience, this can be rare.  At best, this means they don’t get as much from their bargaining activities as they should.  At worst, they can lose out big time – to the firm’s business detriment if we are talking about discounts or write-offs.

Here are three of the most relevant sources of influence to assess for use in any negotiation situation: Affinity, Nominal and Deferral: a power of three.

Only connect….you have a really good relationship with a client….(s)he gives you the inside track on what’s happening in their organisation…you may even socialise in and outside of work.

With clients like this, some professionals seriously underestimate the power of Affinity when it comes to negotiation.  Why?  Sometimes because they don’t realise how much affinity they actually have.  Often, it’s also that they don’t know how to, or feel they can’t or shouldn’t use this influence in a bargaining situation.  They most definitely should: here, “I need a favour from you” isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s the sound of affinity being used smartly and profitably.

Become an acknowledged expert  Being an authority on something does confer status when negotiating: but gaining wider acknowledgement as one is most definitely a few notches up.  We have observed situations where the nominal status afforded to being so widely known is sufficient, in itself, to gain respect and greater sway – without actually having to prove it!

This is why some professionals focus on directory entries or other forms of professional recognition as a route to such influence.  That’s OK but can be limited because it is ALL they concentrate on.  So they miss out on so many other, more high profile ways to garner Nominal power.  A few get it by putting consistent time and effort into authoring books, articles, blogs, doing TED talks, conference presentations, seminars and all that jazz.  And making sure everyone knows, sees them, or has a copy!

Try tactical deferral  This is the power…..of not being empowered!  It is very handy to use if you are in a fix, or need time to think or consider, because deferral means both “yielding to another’s opinion” and “holding back to a later time”.  We have seen smart, mid-ranking professionals use Deferral – “of course, I can’t make any promises because I’ll need to talk to my partner” – not just to get them out of a tricky situation but also to help broaden out the discussion and potential options to reach agreement in a more risk-free way.

It is a tactic open to all.

Business Development Resolutions Part 2

Last time it was about getting the picture, a mentor or a buddy. There are three more resolutions that will build on this good work to help create a tide of success for you or your professionals’ business development efforts over the coming months. These are not complicated things but, if they are missing, the firm’s individual/collective success and achievement can be oh-too-easily compromised.

Get proactive
“I have a good reputation with the clients/partners who have the gift of work. They know where I am”
This is the better mousetrap fallacy as applied by some practitioners. In this mind-set, believing that they have a better professional gizmo than their neighbours is sufficient for the world to beat a path to their door. Except it won’t be and it doesn’t – as some have found to their cost particularly in the leaner times of the past five years.

Part of this problem is about conditioning. Lawyers, accountants, and other experts can grow up in their firms only ever being fed work and then measured on how well they complete it. By the time they are deemed to be mature, it’s a big ask to then overlay the bit that says “I must now go and win my own”. (NB This is often the point at which the mentors or coaches mentioned in Part 1 can become useful). So early exposure to the skills, practice of, and responsibility for work-winning is vital.

But ultimately, it comes down to a simple realisation for everyone. Assume nothing about what your clients are thinking or about the self-perceived excellence of your mousetrap. Proactivity in finding and delivering ongoing ways to engage with them is the key, particularly with the proliferation of communication media now available to all of us. Plan it and then do it.

Build momentum
So for a number of professionals, BD is not perceptibly a primary business function. If it is treated as a ‘nice to do’, the consequences for achievement and results are usually serious. Witness the plans and activity being happily implemented from Tip 1 by Practitioner A that are dropped the moment a new significant piece of work comes in, only to be taken up again perhaps months later, if at all.

Disappearing off the grid thus, it becomes extremely difficult to build any sort of momentum with clients and contacts that will deliver a stream of new future work opportunities. The solution is partly a management one: that means supervising partners or department heads delivering on their leadership remit by setting specific agendas for Practitioner A and other individuals for whom they are responsible, reviewing progress regularly against what was agreed, and providing guidance, encouragement, or sanctions as appropriate. But it is also about individuals themselves recognising their overweening deal focus (often not easy so more guidance required here) and then applying coping strategies to deal with it…

Take it bite-size
The boom/bust nature of business development implementation described in Tip 2 requires an adjustment. Instead of working flat out just on fee earning punctuated by infrequently large and indigestible ‘chunks’ of business development, allocate a small amount of time each day to BD/marketing (say 15 or 30 minutes) and stick to it. If, as often, this is about communicating with people, the beginning and the end of the day are timely periods that minimally impact on work flow and that offer the best chances of success.

Of course, there will also be BD tasks that require more time to complete but this is a good baseline to establish.