The legal services industry is awash in advice about leadership. How can Deming's Seventh Point build better leadership in law firms?
This is the eighth in a series of sixteen articles that will explore the relevance and, for some law firms the existential importance, of W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points, especially for small and midsize law firms.
W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer in modern quality management, advanced a compelling proposition with his Seventh Point: "Institute Leadership."
Deming emphasized that effective leadership isn’t about micromanaging but about guiding and nurturing teams towards a common vision. In the legal services industry, where a blend of expertise, trust, and strategy is paramount, embracing this principle can be transformative.
Law firms, often steeped in tradition and often rightly cautious about risk, can sometimes lag in adaptive leadership practices. However, the volatile nature of today’s legal services environment, marked by rapid technological advances and changing client expectations, demands a proactive approach to leadership.
Here are five practical actions that Walker Clark clients are taking that are consistent with Deming’s Seventh Point and the outcomes that they are experiening from each one:
1. Empower, Don’t Micromanage
Action: Senior partners and practice heads demonstrate that they trust their teams. Instead of micromanaging tasks, they focus on mentoring and guiding, leaving tactical decisions to those handling cases.
Results: Empowered teams display higher motivation, taking ownership of their roles and fostering a sense of accountability. This leads to increased efficiency and innovation. The people who actually do the work usually know best how to improve it.
2. Foster Continuous Learning
Action: Leadership isn’t just about directing; it’s about educating. Regular workshops, professional education, and training sessions for everyone in the firm are a deeply engrained part of the firm's culture.
Results: A continuously learning firm stays updated with the latest legal expertise, technologies, and innovative practices, ensuring that clients receive top-tier, informed services.
3. Prioritize Communication
Action: Leaders establish and support open communication channels, where feedback flows both ways. Regular group meetings, open-door policies, or even digital feedback platforms can be be an important part to an efficient, free flow of ideas.
Results: Open communication of facts, ideas, and feeling fosters trust in the firm's leaders and in each other, which in turn strengthens commitment to the firm and to the goal of meeting or exceeding client needs and expectations "the first time and every time." Moreover, leaders and managers gain insights into operational bottlenecks, employee concerns, and new opportunities for improvement. All of this leads to better-informed decision making and better goal achievement.
4. Embrace Technological Evolution
Action: Leaders champion the adoption of the latest legal technological tools, ensuring that the firm remains at the forefront of innovation.
Results: A technologically advanced firm can serve its clients faster, more efficiently, and with consistently high quality. This produces a competitive advantage over law firms that talk about quality, but cannot demonstrate how they manage it. It also can have an almost exponential effect on the sustainable profitability in the firm's preparation and delivery of legal services.
5. Cultivate a Vision-Centric Approach
Action: The firm's leaders look beyond short-term results as they communicate a broader vision of what the firm can become. That vision is not handed down by senior management, nor is it the product of a committee. Instead, it is developed from within the firm, with everyone participating in its articulation.
Result: A clearly articulated, specifically defined vision provides direction and energy. When the entire firm aligns with a shared purpose, it drives cohesion, focus, and a collective drive towards larger objectives beyond just profit (which usually also result in greater profit).
In essence, instituting leadership, as Deming emphasized, is not about friendlier appearing ways of wielding authority but about shaping a professional ecosystem where growth, innovation, and shared purpose thrive.
Our next post: Drive Out Fear.
W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points provide a framework for sustained growth, improved quality, and better client service. Their successful implementation will require commitment, leadership, and an ongoing dedication to improvement. The law firms that integrate these principles into their daily operations will be well-positioned for future success in the ever-evolving legal landscape.
To learn more about the Fourteen Points, consult W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, (Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1982). Future posts in the Walker Clark World View blog, will examine the strategic relevance and practical application of each of the Fourteen Points to law firm operations and management.