Soundbites

How much are internal meeting costing you? – Set a zero-based time budget

If you’re anything like me, then you’re expected to attend way too many internal meetings each day/week. I don’t say this to brag, most of the time I’m not needed and I offer no value being at the meeting. In these situations my presence at the meeting is actually an “opportunity cost”;- I could be far more productive being somewhere else.

If this resonates with you, then you may like a concept I read in a blog by Michael Mankins (‘Collaboration Overload Is a Symptom of a Deeper Organizational Problem’) on Harvard Business Review  yesterday called ‘setting a zero-based time budget‘.

In Mankins’ own words, this involves:

Set a zero-based time budget. One discipline that we have seen work to reduce the number of unnecessary meetings is to create a fixed meeting time bank in which all new meetings are funded out of the current bank. To start, determine the total amount of time currently dedicated to meetings by level in your organization. Then place a ceiling on that total. Now, for every new meeting an executive requests to schedule, ask (or require) him or her to remove some other meeting of equivalent (or greater) time. At the very least, this approach will highlight the total time devoted to meetings in your company. Over time, it may enable your organization to lower the ceiling and liberate countless hours of unproductive time.

Administrative nightmare and probably unworkable in a partnership structure – but I LOVE the idea!

I can but dream…

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Is your team Gold-plating its services?

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Earlier today Kiron D. Bondale posted ‘Avoid Gold-plating Through Agile Delivery‘ on the PM Hut site.

There’s a lot to like about Kiron’s post, and many things in it really resonated with me from a business development perspective, but what I really want to share with you though is this brilliant piece of commentary by Kiron:

“As it is with jewelry, on projects gold-plating is all form with no substance. The increase in costs is rarely justified by the value provided by superficial “bling”.

It could be an analyst adding in requirements which they came up with on their own without ensuring that those are actually required, a developer who introduces a code change or feature they believe is useful without checking with others or a quality control specialist who decides to test above and beyond approved test plans.

Don’t get me wrong – the intentions are usually good and I’ve yet to encounter an instance of gold-plating which was done maliciously. But it doesn’t matter – gold-plating is work creep.”

and ask: “Does any of this sound familiar to you?”

Because I’m guessing that if you are being honest with yourself, it does. And trust me, there’s no quicker death nail in a client relationship than scope creep.

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$180K for a First-Year Associate – so what!

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One of the big news items this week has been the decision by Cravath, Swaine & Moore to raise its starting salaries for first year associates to $180,000. Cries of “Not worth it!” and “What value do first year associates provide clients?” (answer: probably none) can be heard from all four corners of the planet.

My view on this though is so what? I don’t really care what you pay your first year associates. In the same way I don’t really care what you pay your other associates or partners. Nor do I really care what your rent is costing you.

Unless, that is, I get to thinking that: I am the one paying for all this. In which case, I suddenly become very interested.

But here’s the thing: I’d only really start to think that I’m the one paying for all your luxuries – the boat you have moored at the marina, the sports car you drive, the house you live in, the first year associate you can call on day and night – if I didn’t value the service you provide me. In other words: If I didn’t think I was getting value for money.

So if you’re one of the many private practitioners questioning the move by Cravath, Swaine & Moore, my only comment/question is this:

If you are providing your clients with a value for money service offering – and you are able to communicate this, why should it bother you?

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Medibank Idea Exchange

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For my sins I am a member of Medibank Private Health Insurance. I understand it has something to do with having a young family and the Medicare rebate. Anyhow, regardless the reason I get a lot of emails from Medibank that have always gone to straight to my trash folder. That is, until this morning.

What makes this morning any different? Well, I received an email inviting me to join the Medibank Idea Exchange community. In part wondering why they were suggesting the singular rather than the plural, I thought I would take a look.

What did I find?

Well, while I have no intention of joining, what I found was an offer to join an ‘invite only’ community where I will be able to share my thoughts and ideas on a variety of different topics and issues and:

  • Contribute to discussions and surveys – so you can tell Medibank what you think and help shape future business decisions,
  • Talk with other members – so you can share experiences and handy tips,
  • Earn rewards for participating – that you can redeem on a great range of products and services.

and I thought to myself: “there might be something in this for law firms to learn from“.

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‘Best’ or ‘Preferred’?

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Trish Carroll, of GALT Advisory, had an article of hers published recently (February 26, but I didn’t get the email notification till today) in the Australasian Law Management Journal‘s Law Management Hub titled: ‘Get up close and personal to improve your business development‘.

While Trish’s article contains a number of really useful tips, I found it notable because of the following very thought provoking line:

“It is not about being the best; it is about being the preferred.”

99 times out of 100, I totally agree with Trish. And it is a really important lesson for high achieving lawyers to learn: being the best at what you do is no longer a guaranteed successful business model. In today’s legal market there are a lot of average lawyers making very serious amounts of money because they are the preferred ‘go to’ lawyer.

The one exception I would make would be for top-end, bet the bank, niche advisory work where being the best still trumps.

So the question you need to be asking yourself everyday is:

“What will I do today that will make me my clients preferred lawyer?”

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Some thoughts on ‘value’

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One of the biggest challenges we face in any professional services organisation is both an understanding of, and an ability to communicate, the value of the service we provide.

To some, “value”…

“…is the difference between a prospective customer’s evaluation of the benefits and costs of one product when compared with others. Value may also be expressed as a straightforward relationship between perceived benefits and perceived costs: Value = Benefits / Cost.”

To others, “value”…

“…is like beauty; it’s in the eye of the beholder (the payer)…it’s not measured by internal costs or profit levels.”

To my mind though, one of the nicest pieces written about the challenges humans face in understanding the value they provide comes from the Japanese artist Mariya Suzuki, who wrote recently:

“I wasn’t very aware of the value of my work until a short while ago. If you asked me about it I would just have said “it’s just a drawing” but now I realise that to get to make that drawing I have invested many years and practice. It wasn’t until people told me not to give everything away for free.

Today, in my starting career as an illustrator, I try to value my work much more.”

Trying to “value my work much more” – getting a better understanding of the overall value my product or service brings to the equation – seems like a good starting point to me.