Is it me? Or will there come a time in everyone’s life when ranting at the television becomes normal behaviour?
Almost every day now I find myself becoming agitated at any number of things I see and hear on television and instead of chuntering quietly to myself (or ignoring them completely) I now engage in an animated tirade at the old goggle box.
How can it be, for example, that we have to see television news reporters and presenters standing in the pitch dark in some windswept field in Norfolk, telling us that there is no need to panic because some poor bedraggled chicken has coughed? Two points:
1. Why are they there? What does it add to anything for them to say ?and over my shoulder you might just be able to make out the outline of the chicken shed where the chicken with the cough used to live??
2. And why are they telling me not to panic? I was not going to panic and I resent the suggestion that I’might panic when a chicken I have never met before, and three hundred miles away, falls over.
It just makes me so very cross?And here is another thing.
What is it with all this management hokum that means everyone has to be ?performance managed?, have ?KPI?s?, ?envision success? and measure everything that moves?
Perhaps I should calm down a little. I don’t mean to label all such things as bad ? indeed I am often asked to help devise measures for success ? but there is a worry.
It is not that in the rush for metrics in legal services we should claim lawyers are above such irritating things. I believe we have to be seen to do much of the management activity that is a legitimate requirement of good business; no, the issue for me goes a lot deeper.
? The metrics we use should allow us to improve what we do and our people, but all too often they become a bureaucratic and administrative exercise to periodically keep the bean counters happy. In other words it adds nothing to understanding and improvement and is therefore a waste of time.
? Secondly, a lawyer?s judgment is his or her greatest asset. We all say we want lawyers to be commercial business people and to become trusted advisors. How do you measure ?trust?? And if we say it cannot be measured are we not simply dumbing down on integrity and judgement and becoming more concerned with whether we have answered the phone promptly?
I am not advocating that we abandon all measures but I am pleading for more imagination and a greater effort to capture the essence of what makes a great lawyer.
I am also convinced that the answer does not lie in the latest faddish management theory or in the overblown (almost quasi religious) pursuit of whatever the current preferred guru propounds.
Some organisations seem to slavishly follow the management consultant?s bag of tricks and seek to become an orange shoelace in sick stigma (or whatever it is they do) but what I want is a move back to a more principled approach.
Being a great lawyer is about great technical skills but also about empathy, passion, integrity, hard work, fabulous communication, great presentation, timeliness and a deep, deep understanding of priorities, issues and how to deliver useable solutions.
If we take a coaching analogy, whether in a team sport or in an individual pursuit, the coach is there to encourage, teach and motivate. Some of this will be about the technical and specific regarding the mechanics of the sport; some of it will be about well-being, lifestyle and nutrition; some of it will be about the psychology of winning and understanding one?s competition and some of it will be about finding what inspires the athlete to want to reach for their true potential.
I am not aware of a single Key Performance Indicator that looks at the lawyer?s role in such a rounded way.
Instead KPI? focus on administrative, file management tasks that indicate efficient process but do not illuminate questions of quality or satisfaction. I am therefore encouraged to see more and more efforts made to capture some qualitative data through client feedback. In-house teams and law firms are doing more to check routinely and regularly whether what they are doing is meeting need and meeting expectation.
As a one-off the results can be interesting but if the exercise is repeated over time the results can then become truly valuable.
Even then, however, value will be lost if the focus is on measures and results which look just at administrative efficiency. My hope is that what teams will do is to link their feedback exercises to behavioural development and soft skills training through more formalised coaching and mentoring as well as workshops and reading.
Lawyers, like sports people, cannot usually succeed based on raw talent alone; the emphasis has to be on developing the rounded skill set to achieve the consistently high level of performance that marks out the technically competent from those you become truly trusted advisors.
KPI?s which attempt to move lawyers in paying grudging lip service to a bureaucratic and simplistic set of efficiency measures, to exploring what is the essence of being a great lawyer will gain much more traction. Such KPI?s will also help to accelerate personal and career development while improving the quality (and the efficiency) of the lawyer?s work.
These KPI?s however are not as accessible and have to be carefully developed to be relevant and credible in their context. The challenge for most lawyers is whether they can be bothered to invest the time and energy needed to do this work or whether, in the end, KPI?s become simply a low priority bullet point on an overloaded to-do list. If that is the case brace yourself for more simplistic and dull measures that add nothing and achieve even less.
We can all rant at the television and it probably does no harm ? it may even be cathartic, but if we are ranting at the paucity of depth and meaning in management measures, we should recognise that the solution has to be ours to find.
It is not a holy grail; it just needs us all to be as creative in our own name as we are to finding the solutions we seek for our clients? problems.