In business we are constantly told that change is inevitable, ?adapt or die? slogans are bandied around and there is a whole industry of publishers, presenters and consultants with clever words to make those who have proper jobs feel inadequate.
There are sticks to beat us with everywhere: Clementi, Performance Management, Commoditisation, Procurement Departments?and every day we could be mistaken for believing that our current success is a mere fluke of nature and that we are so under-prepared for the future mayhem about to be wrought on our businesses that we might as well give up now.
Then the day ends, we battle the commuter traffic, get home to our real world and realise that our business will probably not implode anytime soon and certainly not in time for us to forget about going back to work in the morning.
And the point of this rant is what?
The point is that there will not ever be a single catastrophic moment when we either adapt or die; the sloganists are wrong; change is not like that. Change however is a reality, it is hugely important and it is a constant; it is as the Chinese say ?a moving river? and a moving river is never still even if day-to-day it looks the same.
The reason we do not like change (and like even less those who tell us that we have to change) is that it is uncomfortable, unusual and difficult. But precisely because change is a constant we have to make it more acceptable; this will never be easy but it can be done and requires two things:
? Communication around change must provide a credible context for change and, most importantly of all,
? We must believe in our leadership.
In my opinion we will never make change more comfortable ? it is inherently uncomfortable ? but we can do something about communication and leadership.
The world we live in today demands that we constantly move forward and competition is undoubtedly driving significant improvements in the quality of work and the value given to clients. It is however relentless and if all we have to look forward to are yet more demands on our time and energy to deliver even more value then we will inevitably become dissatisfied and we will ultimately fail.
If change management is merely the exhortation to work smarter (how patronising is that?), to invent, to be lean, to scrap and fight for everything then it will be empty; it just feels soulless.
Of course our environment is changing and we always have to find new ways to make legal services accessible and valuable and yes, we do have to invent; but the successful businesses of the future will be the businesses that also create a sense of common purpose, of shared values, of excellence beyond just making more money more quickly.
In my judgement it is the quality of leadership therefore that will determine who succeeds and who fails, not the quality of the programme, process or policy ? like the captain of a great ship ? having the best bit of kit will not enable you to succeed unless the course you set is a good one and the crew are with you.
Too often I see law firms, nearly always well intentioned and thoughtful, unable to understand why the latest (and often significant) investment in a CRM system, key account initiative or appraisal process has failed to ignite their drive for change. The answer is nearly always because at a fundamental level the firm remains a bunch of sole practitioners who are just about prepared to share the same letterhead.
Leadership is the key?not necessarily tub-thumping oratory, not eccentric PR stunts, not film star-esque celebrity, but clear, trustworthy, determined, consistent and measured leadership.
The essence of this is not rocket science; in a sentence:-
?Walk the floors, ask questions, be supportive, demonstrate ease with one?s brief, facilitate good ideas, make decisions consistent with communications and establish the values of the firm as clearly and determinedly as possible.
Management theory, process reengineering and IT are crucial, but these things make our world more efficient not more inspiring; they capture the good not the excellent and they define what should be done but never the discretionary behaviour that can truly connect people and issues.
It is a truism that people buy from people, but no apologies for that; the profession we work in is a people business, a business built almost entirely on the quality of relationships internally and externally?Excellence in this environment is not a process or a system or about interior design, it is thoughtfulness, engagement, passion and interest. When these qualities are combined with your undoubted expertise the result is nearly always positive and worthwhile.
Next time you are tempted to invest significantly in the latest management theory, systems or colour scheme, make sure that you have also understood what makes the people in your firm most effective and how through your leadership you are reinforcing those values and aspirations.
If you can capture the essence of excellence and lead well then positive and sustaining change will surely follow.