Leading Right Now – Part 1 Organisation

September 15, 2020

Covid-19 has forced abrupt changes in everything we do. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the pandemic has necessitated some fundamental shifts in how leaders must now lead. 

In this 3 part series of Leading Right Now Insights, we look at the unique opportunity that now exists to re-imagine firms and how value is delivered, how deeper connections are made and relationships are built with clients, and how firm leaders now lead their dislocated teams.

Our starting point is not with the immediate challenges that firms have been dealing with – such as the rapid implementation of new technologies to facilitate WFH, the daily and now familiar challenges presented by constant online communication, health, safety and well-being of people, renegotiating leases and reviewing financial hygiene, including taking measures to preserve cash – as we assume that firms are well down the path of dealing these more tactical and immediate issues. Rather, we outline some strategic considerations that forward-thinking firm leaders should be reflecting upon now, and we do this in three parts – from the perspectives of organisation, people and clients.

In this first Insight, we look at some of the organisational impacts and aspects.

  • Big picture, long haul – deciding what must change and by how much will require leaders to think more widely, broadly and deeply. The pandemic will present new and unique opportunities, and many firms will aspire to emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position than when it started. Some may pivot and change dramatically while others may decide on more incremental change. Whichever approach is taken, it will require careful and constant scanning of multiple horizons, synthesising volumes of rapidly changing data, and engaging with others to craft perhaps a different vision. 

    Identifying those opportunities is one thing – capturing and realising them, when everyone is still working from home – will be quite another. Some of these opportunities will offer the potential to be impactful, others may even offer a platform to be transformational. Covid-19 has created the case for change.

  • Strategic review – a good starting point is to conduct a strategic review which should dig deep into a firm’s data across all business units to firstly, help leaders understand their true “As Is” state, and secondly, to then use that data as a realistic basis for the identification of key areas of opportunity, or silos that may still need to be dismantled, and hurdles that need to be overcome.

  • Re-shape the business – as leaders consider the data thrown up by a strategic review, it will almost certainly become obvious that firms can and will be re-shaped in some way, whether through a major re-structuring of practices, a merger or acquisition, consolidation or splits of offices or practices, hiring of laterals to attack emerging opportunities, applying sharper focus to specific sectors and industries or other aspects of diversification, re-considering the structure of the partnership and what drives partners to deliver value, executing or accelerating succession plans, re-evaluating profit drivers, examining how to become more sustainable and resilient, evaluating new opportunities, enhancing different ways of doing business, re-setting how work gets done and delivered, reviewing work-flows for operational efficiencies, or re-calibrating investment levels on infrastructure (technology, premises, people). 

    The list of possibilities is long. The considerations are complex and multiple. On-going organic growth will be less likely. Embracing change in some form or other will be mandatory – but transitions aren’t easy.

    If firms are to emerge from the crisis in a stronger position, they will need a new strategic plan, crafted with an abundance of buy-in and communicated with great clarity if they are to execute to the benefit the firm, its people and its clients. 

  • Be inquisitive and challenge the old ways – if the pandemic has shown one thing, it’s that mindsets and attitudes about what can change and what can be achieved, can indeed change. Perceived technical, resource, policy or bureaucratic limitations have been overcome rapidly.  In many instances, people have shown excellent adaptive behaviours, a willingness to change, at speed, and have re-imagined the possible. The challenge for leaders now is how to capture that momentum to keep moving forward. There is a danger in letting those forces fall away and slipping back to the old ways of doing things.

  • Seize the moment – thinking further, if change at that level could take place so rapidly, then what else could be done? We assume that most firms do not want to slip back to the old ways so how this moment in time is seized and used to reimagine future work is of fundamental importance. What was done differently that made those changes happen; for instance, around decision making, systems, policies, processes, resource allocation and communications. What did your firm learn that we can retain and build on for the future, and how should our firm leaders change and grow?

  • Test some bold moves – if you’re not ready to change everything, then a safer approach is to test one or two bold moves. Think like a competitor or an outsider, and discard often self-imposed constraints by asking what would they do? Learn from what happens. The research shows that organisations that shake things up and make some strategic, decisive moves during a time of crisis are more likely to achieve longer-term success. 

  • Increase authentic and high-quality communication – the message here is communicate well and communicate often. Communicating up, down and out – one-size-will-not-fit-all as different audiences – boards, peers, people and clients – have different needs and different requirements. Informal comms can work well – “sending you a quick update about what’s going on / big decisions that have been taken / what’s on the horizon for next week / what I’d like your thoughts on”. In the now, “regular and straight” may well be of greater importance than the more time-consuming formal as this helps people stay engaged and up to date.

    Internal communications to people need to take into account that many are suffering from fear and anxiety, induced by uncertainty. What you say (content), how you say it (tone) and how often you say it (regularity) are of utmost importance as people take their lead from their leaders. Frequent communication can help people adjust and help them manage strong emotions. It can promote engagement which is now at greater risk in the new (remote) pandemic world. Frequent communication also helps prevent the vacuum that is caused by infrequent communication from being filled with rumour and misinformation. 

    Communicating regularly can feel tedious and repetitive for leaders but clear, transparent core messages need to be heard multiple times and in different ways to really sink in, especially when so much of the current news is negative. Highlight the bright spots, celebrate achievements, demonstrate empathy for hardships, remind people that the pandemic won’t last forever, and that the firm has faced crisis situations before. Wherever possible, communicate concrete plans for the future as this will help build trust, reassurance and at least offer a small degree of certainty that people can hold onto. 

  • Deal with the job (in)security elephant – If concerns about job-security can be addressed, at least for those whose job is indeed still secure, then all the better, as this is an issue that is top of mind for most. For those whose jobs are not safe, then letting people know sooner rather than later is better. Timely and candid conversations show respect and allow people the maximum amount of time to come to terms with the shock, as well as navigate their immediate future.

  • Encourage feedback – allowing people to express their concerns to leaders is important and should be encouraged but they must feel assured that there will be no reprisals. Having multiple feedback mechanisms – both formal and informal – is preferable but if leaks, gossip or confidentiality are issues, then setting up an anonymous suggestion channel is one solution. And of course, feedback must at least be acknowledged. If it is ignored, then the value is lost.

  • Build organisational resilience – if the pandemic has spotlighted gaps in your firm’s infrastructure, business systems, policies, cyber-security or decision-making, then now is the time to re-think future resilience, as it is unlikely that Covid-19 will be a one-off (think SARS and MERS etc.). Organisational resilience can be difficult to achievewhen the focus is on maximizing short-term profit, and where practices have become silos, as resilience requires some level of redundancy to be built in. 
    To design, embed and manage for resilience also requires diverse and forward thinking, a deep understanding of systems interconnectedness, a willingness to embrace adaptability and agility, an openness to adopting different measurement systems that align behaviours with strategies and objectives, and collaboration across all business ecosystems. 

  • Digital acceleration – the recent acceleration of tech uptake has been centred around moving rapidly to remote working. However, there are opportunities that should not be lost such as the re-design of how work is delivered and how to improve overall client experience. A good place to start is to re-assess your firm’s levels of digital literacy and then to map a plan for your integrated digital evolution, based largely on what clients will expect to see in the future ie improvements in service delivery and operational efficiencies that benefit them. Digital acceleration requires more than just the business case – it also requires a concerted effort to build new digital skills at all levels – so taking a wide view (ie the organisational, client, and people journeys) is essential if new systems are to be adopted and the corresponding benefits realised. Creating a digital mindset that permeates every aspect of a firm – to re-imagine, to set the pace, and to create and align your digital culture – is now the job for firm leaders. 

  • Boost your environmental efforts – many law firms have been transitioning away from paper in recent years, but the pandemic has accelerated that trend, and some firms have already announced that they are now going paperless. This is a difficult transition for some who still love the physical page, but for many, the challenge of going electronic for the majority of their documents has now been overcome and the benefits of switching are apparent. There are some instances where paper will still be required but accelerating a move to paperless (with all the appropriate technologies and systems in place) seems to be the sensible and timely approach to adopt.

Only a firm’s leaders can decide whether to seize this moment in time and use it evolve the fundamentals of what defines their firm, it’s people, and their role. Our next Leading Right Now Insight looks more closely at some of the impacts and aspects for people.

We would be delighted to hear your thoughts and continue the dialogue with you. We hope you’ve found this Insight to be constructive and thought-provoking. We share comments and ideas of a general nature, with the aim of helping firms contend with current challenges. As such, the content above is unlikely to be complete and comprehensive enough for a firm to re-imagine the future. Rather, it may be a beginning or a conversation starter, as each firm is different and the challenges each face are unique. If you would like to continue the conversation, then please connect with us for a confidential conversation at click here.

Post Author

Jennifer Milford