"We're really going to change"
"We're making huge investments in technology"
"We've set up an Innovation Hub"
"We're actively looking at a merger"
And so on. We've heard them all, and many more, but don't believe a word.
McKinsey still estimate that 70% of change programmes fail. We'd put that figure higher in professional services firms, for one reason. Complacency. And that not only comes from, but also leads to, continuing to look for the wrong measures of success. To quote George Bernard Shaw, "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
We've talked before about the tone-deaf trumpeting of PEP as some kind of signal. But there are many other indicators that the legal sector ought to be contemplating fundamental change. If only more firms knew where to look.
And they might start by looking outside the narrow confines of their sector. One Managing Partner recently told us "We have much to learn from the corporate model," and he was right. Other businesses can show how to build log-term success around an idea, beyond a specific product or service. They can teach law firms how to understand, anticipate and meet customer needs.
"What gets measured gets done" is a fact in any industry. It shows what companies really value, and what their priorities are. And while law firms continue to measure and rate themselves on old scales, they slip further behind modern behaviours and standards.
In a conference in the summer of last year, culture was identified as the real differentiator between firms, but still firms don't do enough to invest in, and then exploit this unique asset. They don't value it, so they don't measure it, so it doesn't get 'done' properly, so it never realises its value. And so on.
Nobody is ever going to embrace change until and unless their boss does. So culture change is a vital challenge for leadership. And while firms continue to select theirs on traditional criteria, it's difficult to see the mould being broken..
Especially when it comes to the great persuader: money. In a sector that prides itself on how much of it Partners make, and has done much to preserve the supporting silo structures and attitudes, anything that is seen to be a threat to the pocket is bound to fail.
We've seen signs recently that some firms recognise this weakness. Our conversations with leaders in and around the sector have focused on the need for tangible progress - and what is needed to accelerate and codify those changes. Some firms are starting to understand concepts like 'purpose', and speaking of how to meet 'the Millennial challenge' through better insights and a genuine commitment to being a better, 'modern' business.
We're talking with those firms about the four stages of this process:
1. Define: how you want to be positioned on modern definitions of 'good business', what you will stand for, and against
2. Evaluate: how your key stakeholders see you on those criteria, using references from beyond the professional services sector
3. Build: apply that learning to improve the key areas of the firm's performance - clients, markets and people development
4. Manage: constantly measure your performance, and build recognition and reward systems around those results
To be different, you have to do different...