How does your firm gain competitive advantage?

 In Comment, Practice Management

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Gaining competitive advantageCan your firm find a competitive advantage through investing in staff development?

Lexis Nexis published its Bellwether 2015 report entitled “The Age of the Client” in April 2015. The Report is based on interviews with 118 independent lawyers (ranging from sole practitioners to midsize firms) and more than 500 private clients. It concluded that smart firms employ smart staff. Within the report 72% of the respondents advised that keeping up to date with the law was a challenge. 93% indicated that staff training was important to the smart firm.

Recent government information suggests that whilst the services sector did help the economy in the recovery from recession there has been a drop in productivity in legal and other service sectors this year. Thus we need to be working more effectively with the staff we have rather than engaging more staff now there is more work in order to maintain our profitability. Investing in appropriate learning and development opportunities for your personnel is clearly both essential and cost-effective. Are you investing in the right approach?

Forget CPD: think competitive advantage

The changes heralded on 1 April 2015 to solicitors’ CPD actually provide smart firms with a useful opportunity to be both compliant but also to align their training and development plans with their business plans.

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No matter what size your firm you need a business plan that is clear to all and kept alive and realistic. Having decided upon the goals for maintaining and hopefully expanding your business you will have identified the gaps in performance between where you are now and what is needed to fulfil your plan. Some of these gaps might be due to a lack of know-how.

What gaps need plugging?

Failure to perform could look like a skills gap that needs plugging with training an individual but a performance deficiency does not always mean a training need exists. It could be caused by many other factors such as:

  • Poor quality materials – such as an inadequate library or no appropriate software
  • Unsuitable working conditions – such as insufficient space; too noisy; too cold; too hot etc.
  • Inefficient equipment – such as no up to date IT
  • Lack of motivation – such as poor salary; inadequate leadership
  • Badly designed working methods – such as inefficient systems which are not up to date
  • Insufficient staff – such as too much work for the wrong type of staff
  • Insufficient resources – such as lack of investment

Training may be one of the solutions to these problems, but it is unlikely to be the only solution. A Learning Needs Analysis should identify not just skills gaps but also the other factors affecting performance. For example:

  • Is performance of that skill really essential?
  • Is the solicitor rewarded for using that skill?
  • Do the partners discourage that behaviour?
  • What other obstacles to performance exist?

If training will help, what do you need to fulfil those business goals?

You may find it helpful to think about 3 different types of training/development/learning:

should’ – that which must be done – a basic knowledge or skill which is central to your business such as typing skills for a keyboard user.

ought’ – there is a recognition that these skills are likely to benefit the organisation, such as management skills for partners and department heads.

want’ – activities where the benefits are less obvious or apparent only in the longer term.

Once you have identified that training could provide some or all of the solution to a problem you need to:

  • Agree training objectives that reflect business priorities – these should be agreed with line managers and not only with the person responsible for organising the training.
  • Decide which skills or competences the training is intended to improve. Look at your business plan and decide what your people will need to be able to do to fulfil your plan. Do they have competences to deliver? If not, then identify competences required. In this respect the new SRA Competence Statement will help.
  • You need to have a clear link between your proposed training activity and your training objectives, the business problem and business objectives and the overall business strategy. Making this link will help focus on the associated skills people needs to deliver the longer term business objectives.

Conclusion

Smart staff are your greatest asset in achieving competitive advantage in a crowded market. Support them with the right training and development and you will be amazed how much confidence and motivation this will generate.

In thinking about what types of training/development or learning you provide in your firm and whether it is aligned to your business plan do seek my help. I have over 20 years’ experience of designing training interventions and I am always delighted to witness the chrysalis morph into the butterfly and fly onwards and upwards.

 

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