The “what”, the “so what” and the “now what”

One of my colleagues uses a line regularly when we are assessing how to turn a nice warm, fluffy idea into something that has some colder edges and a little more recognisable reality about it…


Paul Gilbert
Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert is chief executive of LBS Wise Counsel

He will say: “We know what the ‘what’ is…But does it pass the ‘so what’ test and, if it does, ‘now what’?

It goes to the heart something we feel quite strongly about:

·   …We don’t like initiative fatigue, where the focus on strategising defeats delivery

·   We don’t like it at all when we are asked if we can knock-up some KPI’s, as if performance is less important and can be separated from the ideas that are meant to drive excellence

·   We are not terribly enamoured of the scrabble for objectives (SMART, LEAN, Six Sigma’d or otherwise) which are not co-ordinated nor present continuity of performance in the annual round of how to justify a bonus.

In my view it isn’t being “strategic” if all you end up doing is shoe-horning a half-baked idea into some HR inspired balanced scorecard template thingy.

And neither is it being “strategic” if you use valuable time and energy concocting self-serving, woolly and clichéd-riddled platitudes and then pass them off as cutting edge thinking.

So, let’s cut to the point…ideas are easy, cheap and cheerful…There can be real energy in a room when ideas are bouncing around and it can be a lot of fun too…rethinking anything is usually worthwhile.

The challenge however is usually not “can you think of an idea?” The challenge is properly a) can you evaluate the worth of the idea and b) do you know how to implement it if it is worth doing?

This brings me to something that is troubling me a lot about the profession’s response to the Legal Services Act…

I am not one of those people who thinks that this is the death knell for all that was once successful, noble and ethical about lawyers; nor do I think that everything newly announced or just launched will be wonderful or even a suitable response to some intractable problems.

All that glisters is not necessarily Quality.

What frustrates is that for the most part I am just bored by the sterility of the debate which hasn’t even begun to analyse whether the new services and propositions that are out there are worth anything (to their owners, employees and customers) and whether they have a chance of succeeding.

It’s like we are fixated with whether the brand name works or not; or whether sticking a logo on a poster at a railway station is classy or not.

It is possibly entertaining to write/present a polemic about the end of something on the one hand, or a new dawn on the other; but frankly this is just so much blah, blah…

It might be interesting, but it ain’t useful…and we need to move on from being the legal equivalent of Nostradamuses (Nostradamii?)  

The people I am interested in (and admire) are those who are getting on and implementing their plans…Of course some will undoubtedly fail, but many won’t…and some will be genuine game changers.

These are people (only some of them lawyers note) who are addressing the ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’ questions…They are really clever.

They have not just had an “away day” to discuss the “value” they might bring and rehashed a mission statement; instead they have modelled the service, understood their costs, developed their materials, assessed the opportunity for scaling their concepts and calculated its return on investment etc, etc.

They have build process, created infrastructure, persuaded investors to join them and convinced themselves that it is a challenge and a risk worth pursuing. This is to be admired.

It might also be why the legal profession (which is seemingly still debating whether to even look into what ABS might mean) is heading for some darker days if it doesn’t wake up.

We need to care a lot less about whether to be up-in-arms about how jolly slip-shod it has all become (not like it was in my day, etc) and a darn sight more engaged with how markets are being assessed (even created), what the margins might be, how scalable it all is and whether we have the skills to exploit the opportunities.

So whether you are the managing partner in a law firm contemplating merger, investment, joint venture etc…

Or a General Counsel looking at resource deployment, what value means to your colleagues and how risk management can deliver competitive advantage…

Make sure you move quickly from the ‘what’ to the ‘so what’ to the ‘then what’.

Paul Gilbert is Chief Executive of LBC Wise Counsel the UK based specialist management and skills training consultancy for lawyers.

www.lbcwisecounsel.com
@LBCWiseCounsel