Business Development Training in Law Firms Isn’t Working!

This stark headline is based on an online survey with 29 partners and 17 BD directors in different firms.

Rather disturbingly, 50% of the partners said they either received no training in business development or said the training wasn’t effective. A further 39% said the training was OK, but that there wasn’t enough follow up after the training. Only 11% said the BD training was excellent.

As one of the consulting firms delivering such training, I’m obviously disheartened to receive this feedback. Though I think I know what the problem is (see below).

The survey also looked into experiences with mentoring or external coaches for BD-related issues. The results here are more positive with 40% of respondents saying they had benefited from an external coach or internal mentor. 21% said they would appreciate receiving more coaching/mentoring support and 39% replied saying that their firm either didn’t offer coaching/mentoring or they weren’t sure how to get such support.

A quote from one partner suggests where the problem with BD training may lie:

Trainers can contribute in good faith, but people are not good implementers, or at least not enough of them.

So the training itself may be doing its job and contributing some value. Typical objectives from Sherwood BD workshops are to:

  • communicate the knowledge required by partners
  • raise the skill levels (through demonstrations, exercises etc)
  • shift the mindset so partners realise it’s an important part of their role.

The problem lies after the training – with putting it all into practice.

I’m reminded of the wise words from the David Maister in his book The Fat Smoker. In it he says:

The primary reason we do not work at areas in which we know we need to improve [eg business development] is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.

To reach our goals, we must first change our lifestyle, our daily habits, now. Then we have to have the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, we get the benefits later.

As human beings, we are not good at such decisions. We start self-improvement programs with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the program arises, we abandon our efforts completely—until the next time we pretend to be on the program.

That’s our pattern. Try a little, succumb to temptation, give up. Repeat until totally frustrated. Unfortunately, there is rarely, if ever, a benefit from dabbling or trying a little on a new strategy.

So what needs to happen? Here are some suggestions for better follow up after BD training and getting partners into the new and better BD habits now:

  1. Lawyers returning back from BD training workshops could set some goals – some achievable goals – climbing some foothills which can be achieved and be confidence-inducing, rather than attempting Everest and potentially failing!
  2. These goals could be communicated and agreed with the practice group leader to ensure they fit with the team’s objectives.
  3. The goals could be added to the personal objectives for the year so they are part of the annual review and therefore measured and taken seriously.
  4. Somebody else in the firm could support the partner, either by helping generate ideas of helping with implementation if they get busy. It’s much more effective working on BD in pairs or even larger groups.
  5. The line manager could be there checking on progress – cajoling and supporting as necessary
  6. The BD function should also be there checking on progress – cajoling and supporting as necessary

I’m sure that with appropriate follow up measures in place, BD training will have a greater impact and help firms get more BD bangs for their BD-investment  buck.

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