I’ve recently been approached by a big law firm asking me to deliver a speech to get the partners ‘out there doing more business development’. I told them that this approach was unlikely to work without understanding what the ‘blockers’ were – what was getting in the way of the partners doing more BD.
Here’s a potential list of reasons (some of which have been previously recognised by David Maister):
- The partner doesn’t understand the importance of BD.
- The partners see the action’s importance to the firm, but don’t see what’s in it for them personally.
- The partner doesn’t know how to do BD.
- The partner knows what to do but is just not very skilled at it and senses the risks of looking foolish.
- The partner doesn’t want to do it. They’d rather stick to their technical discipline.
- The partner doesn’t want to introduce other partners to their clients – they might make a mess of the relationship.
- The partner doesn’t want to introduce other partners to their clients – the clients might prefer them!
- The partner has lost his or her enthusiasm for BD (perhaps a recent initiative hasn’t worked.
- The partner hasn’t been given the support or tools to do BD.
- The partner thinks the firm (in spite of its exhortations) really wants them to focus on billable work only and not to engage in non reimbursable activities.
- The partner thinks that participation is optional.
- The partner views the activity as a long-term investment, and they’d rather work on things that provide more immediate gratification.
- The partner feels more accountability and pressure for other things; they intend to do or would like to do the action, but they feel that they don’t have the time to do it.
- The partners feel that the action is not “valued” by their peers: the corporate culture doesn’t reinforce the action.
- The partner views the action as a personal choice and is not thinking of team-level approaches.
- The partner perceives that reward for the activity will only be given for high levels of performance — so why should they even try?
- Perhaps most important of all: When the partner doesn’t do it, no one reacts (except perhaps once a year at performance evaluation time). Since there are no short-term consequences for non compliance, why bother when there is so much else to do?
The list is incomplete, but the key point is clear: there are lots of reasons why partners don’t engage in various initiatives like BD and other aspects of client relations, knowledge management, associate training, teamwork, and a host of other supposedly positive behaviours for the good of the firm.
An approach that looks at the drivers for change and the blockers for change is a good start. Those of us looking to make the changes need somehow not to get frustrated by these blockers. Venting our frustrations are likely to make matters worse. It can help to recognise that all of us can find such change difficult – particularly when it’s being imposed on us.
I recommend a consultative approach, involving the partners in a dialogue and allowing partners to choose what they feel comfortable with. Then the blockers, whatever they are, need to be addressed. Fears need to be allayed. Skills provided. Support given.
And, ultimately, non compliance needs to be dealt with. Management needs to demonstrate that this stuff is not discretionary.
Source: see davidmaister.com for more of his thoughts on this important subject.