“Under New Management”

This sign used to be common place, particularly in the pub sector.

But, in most instances, all it meant was that the business was acquired by different people.

The business remained the same.

Same name.

Same products or services.

A possible tweak or nuance but nothing substantial.

Looking back, I don’t recall a single instance where I thought:

“New management, I’d better try them”.

The reason: There was a legacy issue: I had tried them before and they were rubbish/mediocre then and the change of “management” didn’t tip the scales.

This is where legal practice sits. And they cannot elide their history. They are stuck with it.

Firms are no more than a composition of their people. And no doubt there will many firms who will be asking themselves if they have the right people on the right seats on the bus (see Good to Great by Jim Collins).

For those looking far enough into the future what they should be doing is looking at the current organizational make up and considering if their people, in whatever position they sit, have the skills, energy and passion to tackle the issues going forward and, more than that, can they really make a difference?

Frankly, if you haven’t already done this exercise you are deluding yourself.

I would be surprised if many firms, even at partner level, will have come away from the analysis and not identified people who are simply not right. And the next step is to consider the people that should replace them. Of course this is a very sensitive exercise and you certainly don’t want to be losing staff who have the potential but neither do you want to carry people.

Radical isn’t a word you hear in legal practice. It means upending the status quo and taking away a livelihood that a lot of people have got way too comfortable with. But you have to exercise less restraint and understand that even in these straightened times, you cannot afford to do nothing.

Changing the management will make a major difference but even then if you don’t have the right business model you may not survive long.

Start looking under every stone, inside every crevasse and asking yourself what thing could you do 100% better than before.

Don’t just look at the big picture and ask yourself how you can distinguish yourself. Everybody is doing that.

Focus on the little things but those things have the greatest potential to change the make up and culture of the firm.

The next time somebody talks about the firm, you don’t want them to simply talk about the management. You want them to talk about the firm as if the business were entirely different. But with one major caveat. Don’t turn the business from one unremarkable business to another mediocre one. You should be moving from average to stellar awesome. If you think this sounds like a step too far then ask yourself this question: If you were setting up your firm now, what would it look like? I bet it wouldn’t look like the present starship firm. No it would be memorable, filled with passionate, inspired people and you would be looking to make a commotion in the market so that word of mouth was all you need rely on for marketing.

Perhaps “Under Management” should be changed to “Broken, fixed, best ever. Try us if you dare”.

~ JS ~

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