Are you investing in the right things?

The business planning process is frustrating at the best of times. But so much of what happens is predicated on what has gone before.

You know, that O-l-d, O-l-d Chestnut of trying to drive the car by (always) looking in the rear view mirror: “We spent £5,000 on Yellow Pages (“YP”) last year, and therefore we can’t possibly afford to drop our spend”. This of course ignores the real issue: Will YP ever likely pay its way again?

Any financial planning always runs the gauntlet of trying to please all people whilst ultimately pleasing no one.

Compromises are inevitable.

There is also the power struggle that goes on where those Rain Makers in the firm will demand a bigger slice of the pie: the premise being that if they made £1M last year on a budget of £25,000 that by increasing the spend by 10% their department’s turnover will go up by a similar amount. Sometimes there a correlation but, very often, it is a case of putting a finger in the air and hoping for the best.

The real issue though is that investment at any level is looked at in pure monetary terms – the ROI takes precedence – whereas a much wider, and, dare I say, more thoughtful approach needs to be taken.

As a for instance, where in all this star gazing does the question of proper training, mentoring, people development, delivering value and exceptional service rest? I bet you don’t have a column in your last Excel spreadsheet for a few of these.

In short, focusing always on the Soft *Stuff* rather than the hard metrics.

Most people will equate Soft with ‘non business sense’ or not our core business i.e. the provision of legal services but this misses a significant point.

Consumers of legal services, of whatever hue, will expect more for less and if firms are ever likely to address this slipping tide of financial spend they have to look to something other than just the legal advice. That means looking at the human touch across the firm.

Excellence is my raison d’être. And that doesn’t just mean aiming to be the best (who the hell judges that anyway?). No it means focusing on the striving – the daily striving – to deliver the very best service (yes with a smile) you can. Service is very often represented by the smallest of things – “thank You [for your custom]”. It is not just about using long-winded, ‘nice’ looking letters or saying to everyone they they have to answer the phone in 3 rings if when they do they tersely say: “Hello!”

Most clients think that your service is average. Some might even think they are paying through the nose. One thing is for sure, without a tangible investment things won’t get better. Asking people to go get new sexier clients, wowing them with your fantastic offices, of your super impressive list of other client wins might work in the short term but, over the long haul, they will soon start to question all that glitz if the service leaves them feeling you behave just like your predecessor i.e. average or worse still just Ho Hum.

This is not a plea for more training. Far from it. If anything it is an invitation to reflect on what you value. Yes you value the *numbers*. Who wouldn’t. But you look askance at your people. They are in tough position right now. Not many are going to rock the boat but you need to be investing in them like never before. Engaged (and contented) staff abet a happy ship abet service excellence abet financial performance.

[On a slightly separate note, can you please stop sending round billing emails at the end of the month. Everyone knows the drill by now. Instead why don’t you ask people to tell you have many clients they have pleased this month who have gone on to recommend them to others or how many clients have instructed the firm again or how many thank you notes have you sent to clients in the last week?]

Some firms will highlight the fact that they already go beyond the call of duty and they have the results by dint of their client questionnaire results to prove it. But that is just a snap shot. It doesn’t demonstrate continual improvement or attention on all the aspects of your service.

What you need to do is focus on your values and see how they are being played out across the firm. If you wax lyrical about your service how are you going to make sure that you going beyond an aspiration and you deliver on your promise.


Your business planning is probably finished but that doesn’t mean you should abandon all notion of what is really important. Start paying more attention to the soft skills, excellence in service delivery and genuinely delivering on your service promises.

Yes, you know your people are your greatest asset but don’t treat them like the rest of your infrastructure and only do something when things begin to fall apart.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~



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