The value of discipline (sort of)

28 12 2010

With the New Year approaching, given the title of this post, you may be expecting a post on all he productivity benefits that can flow from self-discipline coupled with some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions. But no. I’m combining the D-word with one of my favourite words, “value”, to bring you a little morsel that I hope you can chew over until 2011.

Bertie was not impressed with his owner, the managing partner's, approach to discipline and didn't think the partners in the law firm would respond well to offers of dog treats

Value Disciplines is a model created by Treacy and Wiersema, and as well as being one of my favourites that I studied at B-school, it is one which I have found really resonates with lawyers and law firm management (their book is called “the discipline of market leaders” and is well worth a read).

In very simplistic terms, the theory asserts that an organisation can succeed in its market place by excelling in one of three “value disciplines” (ideally coupled with also practising the other two value disciplines to the market standard).

The first value discipline is operational excellence.  In their original Harvard Business Review article (available here), they define this as “reliable services at competitive prices delivered with minimal difficulty”. This is an interesting model for law firms, as in my experience few law firms really look to compete on this basis (operational excellence is not simply about having low prices) and indeed as I’ve discussed previously, hourly rate billing has often encouraged inefficiency – arguably the polar opposite of operational excellence.

However, with the emergence of LPOs and the increasing number of law firms hiring Lean Six Sigma specialists, plus of course the imminent entrance in the UK market of alternate business structures, I think operational excellence is a strategy that is going to have increasing relevance to the legal profession, and the bar that represents the market level of operational excellence, is definitely going to rise.

The second value discipline is “product leadership” which is all about getting the leading edge services in the market. Here speed to market is critical, and as we saw with a plethora of Bribery Act offerings in the UK market, both from law firms but also the larger consultancies, some firms do this better than others.

As with operational excellence, I believe the discipline of product leadership is of growing importance to law firms as the market increases in competitive intensity. The struggle to differentiate is recognised and discussed by many management teams in law firms, and having a kit bag full of unique products and services, each with a strong value proposition, is a real asset in this battle.

The third value discipline is “customer intimacy”. Organisations that excel here have strong client relationships and are able to customise products and services to meet their precise needs. Now while this blog has *occasionally* suggested law firms could do more to listen to their clients (hey, I’m only trying to help!), I actually think this is the value discipline that many law firms practice well.

What this means in practice however, is that the benchmark for the industry in this value discipline becomes higher, and the challenge for firms who want to dominate their industry, is how to raise the bar and really become the market leader in client intimacy. One way to think about this is to investigate how far the client intimacy ethos permeates the firm’s entire operating model – in my experience often there are pockets of excellence in a firm, but often other areas where the standards are not so high.

However, one thing to ponder, is that one of the firms that I think does this best of all (a smaller City firm) is also the firm that put together the highly tailored tender response I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago on excellent responses to RFPs (requests for proposal)  for legal services. This suggests to me that the firm starts REALLY thinking about the client’s needs before they are even a client of the firm, which I think is a pretty good demonstration of really living that value discipline and the benefit it can bring the firm and its clients.

 

Related posts:

Are you high quality?

The size 0 law firm








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