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Thursday, April 13th, 2017 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice

Can all grinders become finders?

The need for heads-up entrepreneurial lawyers grows as heads-down commodity “grinder” work diminishes. How can we develop more “finders” who see fresh opportunities to attract clients on a daily basis? How can we accelerate this shift in mindset? How can we use every interaction to enhance the firm’s reputation for making clients feel they are in good hands? And how can traditional rainmakers become better finders in an evolving marketplace?

While formal strategy sessions are vital to set the firm’s overall marketing and services direction, the day-to-day work of cultivating differentiated, high value consultation and collaboration with clients is becoming everyone’s job. In addition to acquiring technical expertise, we need a process to continuously improve the quality of human-to-human interactions.

Seeing around corners

The range of skills needed in an entrepreneurial, finder firm include understanding client priorities, seeing around corners (foresight and problem prevention), in-depth collaboration, empathy and identifying opportunities for new business. We also must learn on our feet to effectively integrate technological advances in our quest to better serve clients.

As I described in my previous SlawTip titled “Learn to leverage your 80%”, approximately 80% of the knowledge we need to do our jobs is gained informally, during daily work activities and interactions. Knowing how to learn from both positive and negative situations is a core skill today. Capabilities acquired through active (vs. passive) learning are valuable because they’re difficult to teach effectively to humans—and not easy for robots to learn.

Happens over time, with no extra time

The good news is that the quality of our human interactions can be greatly improved by learning in the moment, rather than as a separate activity. This process happens over time, rather than over night, but does not require extra time.

What prevents us from learning from our own experience? In order to learn faster, we must first become aware of the factors that make us open or closed to life’s lessons. Using a conscious approach, we can cultivate a prepared mind for learning in action.

Steps to building firm of finders

  1. Define a business purpose. Love of learning is admirable, but success for this initiative begins with a concise statement of the anticipated outcome. What do you expect a commitment to active learning will achieve that advances your overall business strategy?
  2. Recognize common barriers to learning. Blame and defensiveness prevent us from seeking alternative approaches in how we deal with recurring situations. In order to see positive and negative patterns, it’s vital to accept the reality that things typically don’t just happen to us; we have an active role to play in what goes right or wrong.
  3. Question your assumptions. It takes some practice to ask thought-provoking (in contrast to “gotcha”) questions. But a healthy spirit of inquiry can become a lifelong habit. In any given situation you might ask: Why does this client feel they’re in good hands?
  4. Accept the “givens” of learning. Rather than become discouraged by the inevitable anxiety that arises when we wrestle with challenging situations, we can reframe them as “normal human messiness.” Will we choose to avoid difficult conversations or leverage the learning potential?
  5. Understand the active learner’s tradeoffs. If we ignore lessons to be learned we risk paying the lifelong price of wasted time and energy, damage to relationships and diminished reputation. By contrast, conscious learning provides us with strategies for dealing with recurring challenges.
  6.  Involve others. Group coaching accelerates the natural development of these capabilities. Active learning in groups can make great leaps forward by making the most of our collective wisdom. Learning to think through real-life predicaments together promotes a culture of inquiry, empathy and respect for diverse perspectives.

Active learning prepares us for a workplace where routine tasks are increasingly being automated. Developing the confidence and know-how to cope with the unpredictable nature of work is a major benefit of learning how to learn faster from our own experience.

Sharon VanderKaay, Twitter: @svkaay

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