Permit, Recognize, And Reward Change

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Torn & Cut One Dollar Note Floating Away in Small $ PiecesThe Japanese have a concept called Kaizen – or “continuous improvement.” The idea is that you continually make little changes which improve your overall product. Over time these changes add up and add to the quality of your product. My personal take on Kaizen is the string of pearls metaphor: keep adding features to your practice and improving on the ones you have.

These can be big or small changes:

  • Update your logo.
  • Add color printing.
  • Add SMS reminders for your clients’ appointments.
  • Revise the copy in your brochures and website.
  • Revise your letters.
  • Update your letter format: freshen the style, change the font, increase the white space.
  • Call up 5 contacts you have not spoken to in half a year.

Why polish when it is not rewarded?

The problem in many law offices is that the firm culture actively fights change. Even if it is the stated goal at the office to “empower” workers, completing assigned tasks or maintaining billable hours rules the day.

From the receptionist flow-charting the intake procedure, to the clerk optimizing the work area and organizing supplies in the copy room, to the brash attorney re-working the firm brochure, workers are often forced into guerilla tactics to improv their offices between their official duties.

Ultimately, these workers either stop trying to improve their firm, or they move on to positions in other offices which allow them to develop autonomy, mastery and purpose.

I hate seeing law offices push down and push out the people who actively want to make their offices work better. I honestly do not believe the offices intend this. They simply don’t know how to implement their aspirational goals of empowerment – even if they see value of the changes their staff can implement.

Give time and support to let people help your office run smoother

What do I mean by this?

Google lets their workers spend 20% of their time on their own projects. That’s right, that’s 1 day a week. Imagine if you gave all of your workers 1 day a week on any project to improve the office.

Do you think they would goof off? If so, maybe you have the wrong people working for you? Now wouldn’t you rather find that out sooner rather than later?

Online shoe seller Zappos.com offers new hires $2,000 to quit after they complete the training program. 97% stick with Zappos. Do you think Zappos is at a loss for not keeping the 3% who take the money and run?

So far, I have talked about permitting and enabling change. However, law firms have to go beyond this. And this is as important for the solo attorney as it is for the large firm: you have to recognize the changes made.

For solos, this can be as simple as keeping a list of each improvement. Jot it down on a note card along with the date and put it into a box. Twice a year, go through the box and review the changes.

For larger firms, have everyone submit brief descriptions of their 20% projects. Keep in mind that not everything will work. You are not expecting a total reinvention of your law office. The goal is continuous improvement. Even dead ends and failed experiments are a valuable part of this.

Here is my final suggestion: celebrate the changes: hold a dinner, bar-b-que, or picnic and individually acknowledge the changes made. If you have a large organization and don’t want to bore everyone, give everyone a personal note acknowledging their specific work and thanking them. Let people help you make your office better.

If you like this post, feel free to print this out and post it in your break room.

Creative Commons License photo credit: photosteve101