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... 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Helen Obi

Helen Obi is undoubtedly the client who has surprised me the most in my 25 years... inviting us to appraise her and her comms team at Mayer Brown. Before we met up for lunch, she sent me a list of criteria to assess them by, eg skill-level, relationship with us, plus some questions about what we would like them to do more/less of, asking me to promise to be frank. Helen and her team are our clients. And she was asking us to appraise them. I was impressed... and intrigued. I’ve known Helen for many years, first working with her at DLA Piper where she was Head of Communications for 10 years, then last year we worked on a project together for BLP, and now happily for us at the start of this year she took up a permanent role heading the comms team at our very good friends at Mayer Brown. Over lunch I took the opportunity to quiz her about the supplier-feedback idea and what was behind it.

“There’s lots of good reasons for taking this 360-degree approach to keep improving the team. But perhaps the main one is to be seen to be practising what we preach! Together with the Business Development team we are constantly telling partners and fee-earners they need to listen to their clients and other stakeholders more. In such a competitive environment it’s essential to know exactly where your clients see the real value in what you do for them. Lawyers need to understand that often clients take their legal expertise as a given (this often comes as a shock to them), and find the value-add in other things. Perhaps the way that the service is delivered. It might be the relationship that is valued more than the tasks.  In part linked to this, it may be the lawyers' strategic view that they value, that comes from so-many-years experience advising in a particular sector. The point is, if you don’t know what it is that the client values, how can you hone your services (and price them) to encourage more flow from the profitable areas of work?”

I took the opportunity over our lunch to find out more about what Helen has been doing to elicit feedback from the firm’s clients.

“It’s really exciting: we’ve just completed a series of client videos, capturing on film what clients have to say about the firm and the teams that look after them. The idea is to play them back to partners through a series of presentations Sean [Connolly, senior partner] is giving internally. It's so much more powerful delivering this feedback by video, rather than circulating a written chart feedback report. People really feel they are hearing it from the horse's mouth. The reaction to the first one we did was very telling: word spread like wildfire as those who'd attended and seen the videos chatted about it in the corridors to co-workers enthusiastically. It has gone down incredibly well."

And has the firm learned anything new? "What the lawyers have taken away is how detailed and real the feedback is. It underscores the point that you can't assume you know what clients value. The answer is always quite nuanced. One client for example, talked about how he appreciated the team's understanding of how his needs has changed as the market switched. In his experience he said, the legal profession can be quite slow to adapt when client needs change in this way. But our team got it right, talking openly about how to reconfigure the service we provide, so the expensive private practice resource is focussed on the bits of the work that really need that level and sophistication of input."

Reading the latest about Mayer Brown in the legal press this autumn and listening to the word on the street, the phrase on everyone's lips is that Mayer Brown is a firm on the move. Sean is driving change and people internally and externally are sitting up and taking notice.  With such creative techniques as these client feedback videos in play, I'm not surprised.

Isn't it nice when someone you've known for so long can still take you by surprise.
Great minds think alike. The Cabinet Office has brought out a board game "Legislate?!": a fun way to learn about the passge of laws from Bill to Act. Clearly we have set the trend with our own PR training game SuPR Powers

I love how the worlds of business and politics are both embracing these more visual, creative approaches to putting information across.  You can register for Legislate?! here.
Feeling festive yet? I most certainly am :)   Christmas decorations are up in Covent Garden already - and yes I will gloat that these are by far the best in town. Eat your heart out Oxford Street!

But what's really put me in the mood is working on some fun Christmas themes. My favourite so far is placing commercial insurance lawyer and amateur thesp Peter Forshaw of Weightmans in the Evening Standard on the topic of the health & safety hazards waiting in the wings of every Christmas pantomime. And of course the Standard's sub-editing team had just as much fun with the headline as you'd expect: "Pantos aren't really a danger? Oh yes they are, say law experts." Love it!

You can read the full article here.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Maurice MacSweeney

The dilemma facing 2 Hare Court's Maurice MacSweeney is what you call a nice problem to have. With not just one, not two, but three QCs on the phone hacking trial at the moment, I was keen to know what this means for Chambers, both good and bad. 

"Clearly the profile is great for showcasing the set's expertise, but having 3 out of 16 QCs taken out of action for a whole six months, including our head of chambers [Jonathan Laidlaw QC], brings its own challenges for the business," he tells me. Jonathan Laidlaw QC is defending former CEO of News International Rebekah Brooks; Andrew Edis QC is prosecuting; and Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC is defending Ian Edmondson, former news editor of the News of the World. "And Jonny will hardly be pausing for breath after finishing the phone hacking trial next Easter, before starting immediately on another corporate manslaughter trial, and then acting for the FA in the Hillsborough Inquiry

"To have three of our QCs on such an important and high profile criminal case is a great testament to the esteem in which our silks are now held. Andrew Edis was named Silk of the Year at the recent Chambers Bar Awards and we were shortlisted as Criminal Set of the Year as well. But we had others nominated for work on non-crime areas also, in particular health & safety and professional discipline, reflecting the breadth of expertise at 2 Hare Court today. 

"What we are finding as we grow as a set is the importance of this strength in depth and our interdependence as a team." Barristers talking about "interdependence"?? This got my attention! I wanted to know more...

"To be fair, all the top sets will say the same: the more a chambers develops a reputation as a collective," [for which, guys, you can read "brand" by the way...] "the more each member will benefit individually at the end of the day. A solicitor client may come to us asking for one of our high-profile silks. This is of course where these headline-grabbing cases help to attract the best work. Ultimately clients want the best person for the job, but this is a matter of perception. On closer analysis of a client's need, we may actually advise them that another individual at the set is more suitable, has more directly relevant expertise, etc. Where our brand is strong, clients are happy to take this small step of faith and trust us to go with another barrister." Well, any barristers still in doubt as to the value of the collective's brand, here's your answer.  

Trust of course plays a huge part. Maurice tells me in certain instances he will recommend silks in other sets if he truly believes they are more suitable for a particular mandate. "Building trust and long term relationships is key. We are not about quick wins, but building long-lasting relationships. We may be in the headlines today but at 2 Hare Court we play a very long game."

A man after my own heart.
Is the long-awaited litigation tsunami finally hitting our shores? Katy Dowell thinks it might be. Chatting to her on the phone just before she published her Lawyer Litigation Weekly, she told me "it's just gone bonkers". Finally so many cases that have been talked about pretty much ever since the credit crunch hit, have made their way to the courtroom

Maurice concurs. His office is next to the clerks room at 2 Hare Court, where he hears the level of enquiries rising audibly. "I think what we're experiencing is a good number of investigations that have been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time, slowed in the past because budget cuts have meant they are under-resourced, finally seeing the light of day as they turn into prosecutions." Good news for the legal community.

To read Katy's litigation update, click here. If you don't subscribe already to the weekly emails, I'd highly recommend you do.
Seeing Lloyd Cole at the Komedia in Bath this Monday brought back very fond memories of my college youth. Remember Perfect Skin? Rattlesnakes? Some artists you see this long after their heyday disappoint. But Lloyd was class. If you are a fan, do make the effort to see him on this tour, and check out his new album, if you haven't already. He's as fresh as ever.

The demographic of his fanbase is clearly very narrow, as he was 'big' on the circuit for about... gosh! ...must be all of two years. Loved his dry comment to Monday night's audience that a few years ago he would quip about fans' needing his gigs to end in time for them to relieve the babysitter, whereas now the chances are their eldest child is probably old enough to look after the siblings... if they haven't left home for university already. That's so us!!