Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ann Francke

Chartered Management Institute CEO Ann Francke talked to me this week about the concept of the "Accidental Manager". Ann is a new friend thanks to a thoughtful introduction by Beverly Landais (who's newly a trustee of the CMI board). I was curious to meet Ann to find out what the CMI thought of, or could do for, the management skill-set in professional firms. In my 20+ years working with the profession, particularly the 12 spent in-house in law firms, I have seen a slow evolution as firms have become more adept at management and have gradually invested more time, energy and money in this discipline. This upward trend runs hand-in-hand with firms' gradual transformation from dusty professional practices to commercially-oriented legal businesses.  But progress has often been tortuous and only certain parts of the market "get it" even today.

I have repeatedly seen lawyers promoted to management roles because of their magical rain-making ability, bringing work in to the firm and earning a phenomenal level of fees. History shows that these people are often the very least skilled at managing others: they are focussed on their own super-performance, often to the exclusion of everything else and certainly only rarely interested in that key characteristic of effective management: seeing "success" as enabling OTHER people's performance. So why are they so often promoted to these management roles? Because it's seen as a badge of honour, a status point. It's because the management skill-set is often not valued in firms, sometimes not even recognised at all as something distinct in its own right.

I was keen to know what Ann thought of the profession's experience of management.

"Lack of recognition for the management skill-set is not just confined to professional firms, although I have to say that this part of the business world particularly struggles to value it. You may be surprised to learn that across all industries, only one in five people in management roles are actually trained in management at all." This is how we got on to the topic of the "Accidental Manager", which is her name for this syndrome. "The answer is very simple: if you put someone in a management role, train them for it!  It's in everyone's interest for businesses to be better managed. Statistics show quite clearly that well managed companies perform better. We look at the metrics regularly in our Wellbeing, Motivation and Productivity Reports. Last year's for example shows unequivocally that the UK's "growing" organisations are generally all in the bracket we describe as "High Trust" companies, ie using a management style focussed on employee engagement, openness, collaborative working, consensus, etc. In contrast "declining" organisations tend to fall in the "Low Trust" category, ie relying on more bureaucratic and/or authoritarian management styles. So the difference that good management makes is very real. It's tangible. And it translates directly into financial performance."

So does she think that professional firms are no worse than other parts of the business world?

"Not quite. There are exceptions but generally speaking professional firms are quite a few years behind. Let's take gender diversity as just one management issue for comparison purposes. It's a high-impact one, because if you can't resolve this issue in your organisation, you stand to lose out on unlocking talent from 50% of the pool. And we know that improving diversity is a key differentiator between "growing" and "declining" companies.  Did you know that a man is three times more likely to be promoted to partnership in an accounting firm, and TEN times more likely in a law firm? The professions are clearly significantly behind other sectors and we can see that law firms in particular have a problem."

Doesn't she find this depressing? Frustrating?

"Quite the opposite because there's so much we can offer to help firms. There's so much we could do!" She takes me through the services and resources available (from an online library to qualifications and even Chartered Management status). "And firms are embracing the management skill-set more and more, with the success stories spurring others on. For example at the National Management and Leadership Awards I was delighted to see a law firm (HardingEvans) on the shortlist."

So it's a journey. I look forward to the next 20 years along the route.  Thank goodness we have people like Ann and organisations like the CMI to help us find the right direction.
I've been enjoying the new Crackanory TV series that started on Dave last week. "Imagine if Jackanory was set free from its childish shackles. Beautifully funny tales about life in the 21st century." reads the marketing blurb on the BBC website. If you're my generation you'll understand my excitement. If not, like everyone else in the Kysen team apart from Clare Turnbull, you'll be reading this with a completely non-plussed expression on your face. Clearly designed for a generation that grew up with the children's version Jackanory in the 1970s I'm most definitely in the target demographic for this new series! We have a TV celeb in an armchair, just as before - but a contemporary set now with a leather armchair, rather than the very 1970s wicker chair and plants I remember...

My favourite story so far has been about the man who finds an unpublished Shakespeare in his attic, read by Rebecca Front. Other readers for the series rank amongst our most favourite TV comics: Jack Dee, Jessica Hynes, Sally Phillips, Harry Enfield, Charlie Higson, Stephen Mangan... the list goes on. If you haven't caught the series yet, watch out for it this Sunday at 11pm. 
A curious art installation in the foyer of The Hospital Club at the moment. I arrived for a lunchtime meeting today and was confronted by these three brightly coloured beehives immediately inside the front door, with Ashurst's logo on the side. Apparently part of the club's Sustainability Week

I asked at reception for information about the hives and Ashurts' thinking behind them, but none was forthcoming. I even posted a Vine on Twitter asking if anybody knew more. Would anyone like to enlighten me? Ashursts, you have my full attention... 

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