Forget Systems and Structures – “Getting the Job Done” Is the Key

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By Sean Larkan

Successful businesses and law firms succeed because they get the right things done.

They determine a vision, identify strategic key objectives, strategies to achieve those, make decisions around these and then make sure they are implemented. This gets results – the real test of everything.

Too often I think firms and even my consulting colleagues around the world don’t put enough emphasis on this simple but challenging concept and need. This is possibly because “getting the job done” is so hard. How often have you heard of firms, possibly even your own, making important decisions or bringing in advisers to develop new systems and processes, only to find they get patchy or no real buy-in or results? This costs time; it costs money. It can also give some really important initiatives a bad name, from which they might never recover.

Somehow it is assumed that putting in a new system or structure will, in itself, provide results. What we forget is that it is people within firms who implement stuff, do things and ultimately ensure the firm gets results and achieves success. We need those same people to naturally coalesce around and support things we are trying to do, rather than micro-management to get them across the line.

Sure, some firms do just this via draconian checks, balances, disciplinary systems and ‘punishments,’ but fortunately these are in the minority. Such approaches also usually only get short-term results.

Far more attention and thought needs to be given to making sure there is an approach or philosophy and culture in place in a firm which will more or less guarantee that decisions taken by firm leadership, or strategies determined by a firm, will have a good chance of getting implemented and supported by people throughout the firm.

To me this is the real, non-sexy, X-factor around achieving success. It is also the most difficult aspect of law firm management and leadership, mainly because it usually involves people changing their thinking, behaviours and styles of interaction. There is always a need for some supporting systems and structures, but these must always be the supportive means rather than the end.

Most of my work involves helping firms solve major problems or build strength and success when they have hit a brick wall, or can’t work out why they aren’t getting there. Invariably in such cases I find there are some acceptable systems and processes in place, and some good people, but the real problem is the missing link, the X-factor – getting folk in the firm, as a natural part of their everyday work, to help achieve implementation, results and success.

Most of these people are what I call ‘bums up, heads down, working on files’ people, only interested in their immediate work challenges. You have to break them out of that mode and their cocoons and get their buy-in to come along for the ride.

In some thirty years working in or helping law firms try to achieve success I have found that only when we ensured we built these types of philosophies and culture into firms did we achieve lasting foundational strength, well-being and success.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ for such approaches; they need to fit the firm and its circumstances. This can be quite challenging, as it is not as simple as talking about, say, a new ‘Succession Planning System’ or ‘Strategy’. It is far subtler than that. It also takes winning trust and support from oft-skeptical colleagues, but earn that you must.