This content has been archived. It may no longer be relevant
Fifteen years ago, celebrated business guru Jim Collins published Good to Great with the help of a team of researchers. The book is widely regarded as a modern classic of management theory. The author tracked 28 successful companies in an attempt to uncover those characteristics that separate great companies from good companies.
What makes a great company? Interestingly, in 2004 Collins found that factors such as CEO compensation, technology, mergers and acquisitions and change management initiatives played relatively minor roles as success factors. Great companies were the beneficiaries of what Collins called “Level 5 leaders” who possessed an unusual mix of determination and humility. Great companies, according to Collins, reflected a culture of discipline in all things and in particular a disciplined, clear focus on what the company does best. Greatness in simplicity.
Today, I would posit that great companies are also defined—perhaps more importantly, given the competitive nature of just about any industry—by what they offer individual clients and customers. Each time I work with my colleagues at Wicker Park Group, I am reminded of the WPG mantra: “One size fits one.” For companies, that means that what I want from their product or service may be different from what others want or expect.
Over the past couple of months, I have been working with a new client developing a program to improve group leadership skills. In one of the group exercises, members are asked to identify companies that provide exceptional (dare we say “great”?) service, agree on characteristics of exceptional service and explore how to adopt those characteristics to the law firm. After a number of sessions, some well-known names emerged along with a few that were new to me. Amazon, Nordstrom, Stitch Fix, Chick-Fil-A, DoorDash, Southwest Airlines and Chewy all were cited as good examples. Common characteristics of these companies are:
- Ease of use and a personal connection (Many of the companies identified in the exercise are ecommerce companies, offering services that require little or no personal connection. Yet if problems arise, the companies make it easy to connect with a real person.)
- Service that exceeds expectations to the delight of the customer
What companies might your lawyers and staff place on their list of great companies? More importantly, which of the “great” behaviors could your firm adopt as a result?
From my experience, this simple exercise generates lively discussion, healthy debate and often a surprising list of ideas and suggestions to make the practice and delivery of legal services distinctive from the competition. Try it at practice and industry group meetings, client team meetings and firm retreats. The results will surprise—and even delight—your firm.