business consultancy uk

 The BD series

Running a first meeting – part one – six steps to high impact preparation for selling

In the last article we looked at the power of networking and the importance of follow-up. It would be very unlikely for your first follow-up to result in a meeting – BD is a slow-burn – but persistence and staying in the client’s mind as they move through the buying cycle will mean that you are front of brain when an issue arises. Suddenly, you find yourself heading for a first sales meeting.

No doubt you will feel that kick of satisfaction. You know there is an opportunity. The client wants to meet you and hear about you. So what could go wrong? Unfortunately, this is where many lawyers start to lose ground through the following:

  • Lack of preparation – googling the client on your phone as you go to their office in a taxi is too little too late
  • Creating a bank of assumptions about what the client wants and needs – you are guaranteed to miss something
  • Focusing on what you are going to say – this leads you into talking and not consulting

So what would a great rainmaker do when preparing to meet a potential client?

Step one – Prepare thoroughly

When you walk into a meeting you should know as much as possible about:

  • The client’s business or situation
  • The client as a person – look at LinkedIn and google
  • The client’s role – their likely objectives, challenges and opportunities. You should also go back into networking mode and think about who in your network might be a good contact for them.
  • If a business – their products, services, structure, key executives, latest news
  • If a business – the sector, the competition, any relevant regulation, economic impacts, share value and share history for the past 12 months

If you are short of time – delegate some of this to a junior. It is great learning. From this research create a list of intelligent questions. You may not use them all – but you have a bank of conversation starters which will make you look both intelligent and knowledgeable.

Step two – create your objectives and agenda

You need to be focused and in control – but not controlling. Start by making a simple list in three parts.

  1. The information you want to gain in the meeting. This covers all you want to know about the client and their business
  2. The information and points you want to get across about your business and service. This should cover not just the features of your proposition but also the value it brings to your clients.
  3. Thirdly write down what you want them to think and know about you. Write the three key attributes you want them saying about you. This should come from your personal brand.

With lists created, shape your agenda. Make it a logical flow and designed to ensure you impart all the client needs to hear in order to want to engage.

Step three – gather your stories

The quickest way to lose a sales opportunity is to start listing the features of your proposition. So if you walk in and start reciting the features of your firm or service you will soon be shown the door. However, if you have stories which illustrate value of your business and working with you then you will remain interesting and relevant. But thinking these up on the hoof is tough. So spend time gathering good stories of how you have helped, made a difference, driven success. Keep these stories short and pithy. You may be interested in the documents you produced, but the listener is only interested in the situation, the action you took and the result. Aim at each story being told in no more than five, short sentences.

Step four – Shift your mind set

It is all too easy to get a little apprehensive before a first meeting. This is usually because you start to put huge pressure on yourself to get an instruction. Also, a sales meeting feels like an interview in which you will be judged. It is important to change your thinking here. If you walk in like a desperate salesperson you will be exiting very quickly. Instead, tell yourself:

  • You are going to help. Remember the advice of Zig Ziglar – ‘Stop selling, start helping’
  • You are going to have an interesting conversation
  • Your mission is to walk away with them wanting more information. If you achieve an instant instruction, you are on a bonus

Step five – Impress from the get-go

Racing into a client’s premises in a hot sweat and with your trainers still on is not a good start. Never underestimate the power of the PA who greets you. Arrive on time, arrive with good shoes, arrive with a case with papers in order. In addition have with you:

  • Relevant marketing collateral
  • Business cards
  • The CVs of colleagues who have relevant experience for the business

Think this is obvious? Our research with clients tell us that over 60% of lawyers arrive at client premises ‘looking unprepared’. Remember you have 40 seconds to make a good impression – walking in like a shambles steals this opportunity.

Step six – Get into rapport before you get into business

Step Six relates to all before you get into business.

Please do not fall into the classic mistake of deep diving into ‘selling.’ Be yourself and be friendly. Most cultures appreciate a little small talk. Use open questions to get the client talking about themselves. Research shows us that if you show interest in them, they will think you are more interesting.  

Use your LinkedIn and Google research to create questions and have no fear of telling someone you have looked at their profile. The vast majority of people are flattered. They are not going to think you are strange for reading profile information which they loaded up for people to read! The best conversations come from common ground – so if you can connect to something in their profile e.g. maybe a former employee of theirs was a client of yours or you share an interest – start there.

Achieve this and you are ready to move to the second part of the meeting – engaging and hooking the client through consultative discussion. Not hard selling. We will look at this in the next article. Running a first meeting – Consultative Selling.

 Success Hs of Leadership

After my last leadership blog – The Four H’s of Leadership - I had a number of comments. Two stood out. Both telling me I had left out two essential H’s. One was Hunger, the other Humour. So thank you Richard and Miriam – you are spot on.

I thought I would take a look at both:


Hunger was described at the ‘undying passion to ensure these qualities are constantly applied’. But this is no small ask. We are all human and likes, dislikes, moods, stress, indecision is part of our make-up. So a consistency of motivation and application of leadership can be tough. That said, we all know an undyingly passionate and consistent leader when you meet them. They are described as ethical, honest, fair, driven, determined, focused, calm. Their team works for them because they like and respect them; people know where they stand; team performance is continually high; everyone goes the extra mile.

It would be too easy to simply say that such leaders simply apply the four, now six, H’s consistently. It might be more useful to look at what they avoid. My experience tells me the following (but please come back with comments and add more):

  • Favouritism. An inconsistent leader has the in-crowd who know more, get more and go further. They are treated as special while the others get a very different, more distant, style of management. The result? Differential productivity, low morale in the ‘out crowd’ and lack of respect for the leader. A hungry leader believes every member of team or staff has potential (if they do not, why are they there?) and deserves equal respect to their colleagues. This does not mean everyone is managed in the same way, but it does mean they are managed with the same six H’s.
  • Stress peaks. Mood swings and stress is contagious. If a leader is calm one minute and reacting with high drama and anxiety the next, their team will feel rattled. It goes back to our childhood – if the adults were scared then so were we and the same goes for our leadership as adults. But as adults, we have the added anxiety that the stress can be directed at us and so we hunker down and stay under the radar. The result? Lowered productivity and morale. So a hungry leader will calmly explain why the pressure is on and pull in people to help, giving a message of action over panic and control over chaos.
  • Hoarding.  A leader with everything on her of his desk is filling up their time with work and putting management to the bottom of the in-box. They are also in danger of limiting utilisation and productivity of their team and minimising development and experience. In the longer-term, they are increasing flight risk as people feel they cannot progress. A hungry leader focuses on mobilising the whole team, driving energy and making success collective rather than controlled.


When did you last have a good laugh at work? When did you put down the pen and just shoot the breeze with your team and simply enjoy a joke or something ridiculous which has happened in your world? Let’s face it, most businesses have a rich seam of mad happenings to mine.

If you are reading this and rolling your eyes while thinking that work is for profit and fun is a frivolous luxury, then consider the 2015 research by the Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy.   []. They took 700 people in business and randomly allocated them to either a control or a happiness group. The happiness group were simply shown regular ten minute comedy clips. The result? Productivity in the happiness group rose to 20% over the control group. The conclusion of Dr Daniel Sgroi was: “Having scientific support for generating happiness-productivity cycles within the workforce should … help managers to justify work-practices aimed at boosting happiness on productivity grounds.”

I have seen the effect myself. If in a training session the delegates have some fun and laugh at challenges, they rate the session as more relevant and useful than if the trainer is very serious and downbeat.

This is not to say you should be a stand-up comedian or comedienne for your team – that might put some leaders into a stress peak, but do you have to make everything so serious? Think about the following:

  • Laugh at yourself once in a while.  It makes your team both like you and also increases your Humility and Humanity ratings. It also makes you more approachable and you are more likely to hear about issues early because people will not be frightened to report.
  • Find the funny side of little problems.  Few issues in a business have the potential to pull that business down, in which case you would not be laughing. Generally, we face many small annoyances. Make light and find a solution. Then have a talk about how to avoid it in future.
  • Help your team to find the humour in themselves.  Encourage banter which is non-hurtful and includes all. Be careful of teasing – it can hurt – and banter should never embarrass a team member.
  • Increase social relationships.  People who play together are more likely to work well together. I recall working with a team in silent conflict after a merger. They simply did not work together despite there being no competition. My strategic away-day solution was to finish early and set up an evening of cocktail making. On Monday morning all talk was about who had made the worst cocktail and conflict was significantly and permanently addressed. They had fun and saw the human being behind the stranger. Simple. 

And so to conclude, the additional H’s – Hunger and Humour, could appear to be in conflict. I think not. You can work hard and laugh hard too. 

Business Development Networking

The deWinton-Williams BD series

2 – Making a networking event a success

Some people seem to have the gift of working the room. They move from group to group, effortlessly engaging and then moving on. Believe me – they are rare. Most people need advice and nearly everyone needs training. However, if you are to avoid being the person in the corner studiously working through a brochure, hoping no-one will talk to them, then you need to force yourself into networker behaviour. The following actions will help you.

The action
What to do


Walking in

You always know the reluctant networker. They shuffle around at the door, stop like a deer in the headlights, look around frantically in desperate hope of finding a friendly face, make a bee-line for the bar and sigh in relief when they see something to look at. Not a good entrance. 

Walking in is your opportunity to impress. If you walk in with confidence then people will want to talk to you. So:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Smile
  • Walk in with purpose (no shuffling!)
  • Keep your head high and shoulders down
  • Say hello to the first person you see (they always say ‘hello’ back!)
  • Get a drink so you have something in your hands
Getting in

Look for loosely formed groups. People in pairs or tight groups are usually deep in conversation and you will feel like an intruder. Look for a gap and walk up. Smile. Then simply ask if you can join them as you have just arrived. Introduce yourself. Join in the conversation. Nobody will think you are strange or sad. It’s a networking event – so it’s normal behaviour.


It is an odd fact that human beings who speak little but ask questions to get other people talking are seen as interesting and sociable. The added value is that you take the pressure off yourself. So use your toolkit of questions created from your research (See the first article in the series – Preparing for networking). Make sure when you ask a question you also listen and follow what they say with a relevant question. If you don’t it becomes an interview and not a conversation.

Be generous

Like karma – what comes around goes around. If you see someone looking like the deer in the headlights and galloping to the brochure stand, ask them to join your group. Not only will you impress people with your kindness but you will swell the group and make it easier for you to move when you want to.

Avoid selling

I have talked to clients who tell me terrible tales of lawyers like a circle of sharks all trying to get to the prey. Networking is about engaging, profile raising and impressing – not selling. If you go into hard sell mode you will find yourself alone by the brochures. However, be ready to talk about what you do. If someone says ‘can we talk’ then use this as an opportunity to call them the next day. 

Take notes

Always look for opportunities to follow up. This might be with an article or connecting people. If you are lucky it is with a meeting. Whatever it is – write it down in your notebook to ensure you do not forget.

Card strategy

Rather than thrusting your business cards into people’s hands, just ask for theirs. They feel flattered and will then ask for yours.


People love stories. Have stories ready about your work; the kind of successes you have had for clients; yourself. Keep them short, sharp and interesting.

Getting out

It is not good to get stuck with a group for the whole evening. That is chatting not networking. If you have arrived with a target list of people to speak to you need to move around and speak to several people. Many people worry about leaving the group, thinking they will be seen as rude.  This is highly unlikely as long as you are transparent. Simply say you have enjoyed talking but…

§  ‘I have just seen a colleague and want to greet them’

§  ‘There is someone I really need to find and say hello’

§  ‘There are a few people to whom I have not said hello’

Whatever the reason, make sure you live it. Also avoid saying you are going to the toilet or the bar – neither is positive.

Connect people

The very best networkers are those who give more than they take. If you are talking to someone who might be of interest to someone else, walk them over and introduce them. You have made two friends.

Find your targets

A good networker has people they want to meet. You should have prepared for this (see Preparing for networking). This is not a time to be shy – work the room, ask people if they know your target, ask to be introduced. Make sure you do not leave disappointed with an opportunity lost. 

Dealing with tricky situations

It often happens – people drink too much, people get into a debate which becomes an argument, people say something inappropriate. Rule number one is to make an excuse and move away.  If it is a colleague, then move them away too. Act as the diplomat.  

Inappropriate behaviour

Yes – it still happens despite all the years of diversity training. If someone makes you uncomfortable just say so and walk away. You are there to politely network not as a plaything. Also, if you see a colleague looking uncomfortable – swoop in and support.


This is the critical part of a networking evening. If you do not follow-up with people the next day you will remain another face in the room. Use your notes and cards to send out mails; connect through LinkedIn; send out information, connect people to other contacts in your network. You need to be the person who gives more than you take. In time, the favour will be repaid.


The 4 Big Hs in a Great Leader

We tend to think of leadership as driving strategy, setting goals, checking KPIs, dealing with issues, giving feedback, reporting on team performance, recruiting, developing, keeping the show on the road. We call leaders managers, bosses, supervisors, directors, partners…and a few less complimentary names. But do we think of leaders as just human beings with responsibilities? And do leaders think of themselves in such terms?

Most advisors and coaches always advise ‘leaders’ to keep a healthy distance between themselves and their team. Good advice – for it is almost impossible to shift out of ‘friend mode’ into ‘management mode’ when things get difficult. It feels uncomfortable to withhold information which is only for the few in control. It feels like betrayal when you have to tell a friend their performance is slipping. However, keeping a professional distance is, all too often, translated into a belief that leaders should never stray into the personal; that pastoral care is the responsibility of HR; that just sitting down and giving informal interest is not acceptable.

deWinton-Williams begs to differ.


Leadership does not have to mean removing your human side. In fact, in the years we have developed leaders and managers, we have found the following four big H’s to be the path to success:

  1. Leaders who show interest in the whole person, their likes and dislikes, hopes and concerns tend to be more effective in managing those people. If you know what makes someone tick then it is simply easier to motivate and encourage them. How often do you sit down with members of your team and just ask them how things are going? What ideas they have? What aspirations they have? What help they need to develop? And how is life?  Would it really hurt your schedule to give ten minutes or even the length of a cup of coffee to make someone feel they are valued? Could you spare some time a few times a year to show you are a leader of people and not just a manager of processes? 
  2. Honesty. The best leaders have the courage to say the truth. None of us like giving negative feedback or seeing the disappointment in another person’s eyes when they are told their performance is below par. But if you shy away from truth you are abandoning your people to sit in under-performance. In the worst cases, poor managers simply write people off and label them as incompetent. They blame instead of investigating. In reality, very few people walk into a role with the intention of failing – more-often they are failed by leaders who do not set clear goals, give helpful feedback and deliver honest appraisal. A good leader never turns a blind eye – they step in and open the eyes of their team.
  3. Humility. If you have the strength of character to acknowledge your own areas of need, then you will get the respect of others. No-one is perfect (if they were they would likely be insufferable) but those who mask their challenges are frequently seen as dishonest or arrogant. As Shakespeare told us ‘To thine own self be true, for it must follow as dost the night the day, that canst not then be false to any man.’  The concept of authentic leadership – the idea that great leaders are self-aware and have the integrity to know their own  weaknesses goes back to the admonition of ‘Know thyself’ from Socrates quoting the Oracle of Delphi, but it has been well researched and put forward as a leadership fundamental by Bill George of Harvard. The added advantage is that proving yourself perfect is hard work – honesty is easier.
  4. Humanity. If you accept your own areas of need then, by reason, you need to accept the same in others. Every person in every business will go through a period of pressure, lower performance, difficulty, loss of confidence. As leader you have a choice – point the finger and label them as failing, or hold out your hand and help. If it were your son, your daughter, or even you in difficulty – what would you hope for? Yes, addressing and dealing with a person who is slipping takes time – but it takes far longer if you ignore it and allow that person to fall further. Most of our HR colleagues tell us that their time is swallowed up in dealing with issues which could have been addressed in hours but end up taking days and weeks – usually with a poor result. A little bit of humanity can save you time and money.

Last words. All of the above takes time – time which you cannot bill or put down on your appraisal as a success over the year. But the dividends are still there in terms of retention, morale, performance and, very importantly, your reputation as a leader.


 Time to Sell


1 – Preparing for a networking event

If you dread networking events, you are not alone. Even the most self-assured of rainmakers can feel a pang of shyness as they walk into a crowded room wondering if there will be a friendly face.

However, an hour of preparation will have you walking in with confidence. Use this checklist to make sure you are ready to impress.

What to know

Impact and use


The venue

If you know where you are going you will arrive on time and not in a flurry of angst because you have been walking the streets looking for the meeting place. If it is an historic or significant location, research it as that makes a potential conversation point.


The guests

If you can get a guest list then look through it to see who you know and who you would like to know. The latter become your targets (see below). Use LinkedIn and Google to research any people you want to meet. Also make sure you know their businesses and their position in that business.


The sector

If the attendees are from a specific sector or business, make sure you have done some research and know:

§  Key players

§  Recent news in the sector

§  Any upcoming key events such as a merger

§  How the economy is impacting

§  How technology is impacting


Your questions

From your guest and sector research create a list of intelligent questions. If you show interest and intelligence then you get other people talking and you just have to listen. It will give you confidence and is guaranteed to make a positive impression.


The news

Make sure you know what is happening in current events. Cover business, the economy, politics, sport and recent news. If there is something in the news which is likely to be relevant to the guests, you should be able to speak about it and ask questions.

One caveat – know what is happening in politics and stay guarded about your own unless you are absolutely sure of the company in which you speak.


Your elevator pitch

If someone asks you what you do, they will soon glaze over if you speak for more than two sentences. This is not time to recite a CV. It is an opportunity to give a pithy response which leads them to ask another question.

Example 1: The Corporate Lawyer

Avoid: I am a corporate lawyer and I work on large transactions creating huge amounts of documentation to assist in the restructuring and merging of companies and how they manage their assets.

Instead: I put big companies together to make even bigger, more profitable companies.

Example 2: The accountant

Avoid: I work on company accounts creating huge excel spreadsheets of audited accounts in order to see what a business is making and how much corporate tax and VAT they needs to pay.

Instead: I help companies grow their profit.

Keep it short. Keep it pithy. Keep it interesting.


Your cards

Have a good number of cards to hand over. However, these are not to be handed out like sweets. (See our next BD hints and tips sheet).


Your notebook

As we will cover in subsequent BD articles, follow-up is the most critical part of networking. In an hour you can meet at least 15 people and you will not remember them all. Even worse, if you promise to get in touch, you will not remember why. So keep a note book of who you have met, a memory jogger of the conversation and anything you have promised. Nobody will be offended if you just write yourself a reminder in front of them. In fact, they are more likely to be impressed that you will make the effort and follow-through.


Your targets

Networking events should rarely be used as a sales meeting. However, if there is somebody there who you want in your network then it is a good opportunity to connect with them. A good target list is about 3 to 4 people. Make sure you have checked their LinkedIn profile and know what they look like. You can also check to see if there is anyone attending who might introduce you.

For every target, make sure you have a good, one-line reason for wanting to meet them. Make sure the reason flatters them and gets them talking.

Example: The CEO

Avoid: I wanted to meet you because I hear you have a huge budget for professional services.

Instead: I wanted to meet you because I was reading about your work on shifting your corporate culture. How is it going?


Your image

Remember you have 40 seconds to create an impact when you walk through the door and speak to your first person. Hot, sweaty, crumpled and bits of your lunch on your jacket is not going to do the trick. If necessary take a change of clothing to work. Walk in looking the person you want to be seen as.


Getting lawyers to sell

You might be thinking it would be easier to make the elephant dance. In many cases you would be right. But every elephant can dance in their own way.

Before we look at how to get lawyers to go out and sell, it is worth looking at why they should and why they do not.

The growing imperative

To be brutal – there are a growing number of lawyers looking for an ever decreasing pool of work. As technology comes into the sector more and more transactional work will move into the realm of AI and off the lawyer’s desk. This means that lawyers are squeezed into the space of high-end strategic work, ‘product design’ and working the edge in which they marry two areas of law to achieve creative solutions. There is not a huge amount of room in that space and, all too soon, there will simply be a surplus of lawyers. Clients will have the power of choice.

The corollary is that lawyers will have to compete on two levels – their expertise and their ease of use. Expertise is increasingly seen by clients as more than just knowing the law. Today, it is about knowing business, the sector, the economy. It is about thinking globally and commercially. Even family lawyers need to understand the machinations of a family business.

Ease of use is about being easy to work with. Clients may approach on the basis of expertise, but they choose on the basis of comfort. Research has shown that 60% of a buying decision is emotional. Clients will select or reject on the basis of how comfortable they feel with you.

The trouble with these two buying factors is that neither can be demonstrated by sitting behind a desk waiting for the work to come in; neither is apparent through a website (especially ease of use) nor can they be compared from a distance. They can only be imparted through interaction. That means that lawyers simply have to get out there and talk to people, demonstrate their expertise and prove their ease of use.

Why BD is so painful?

There are many reasons. Some structural, the others emotional.

  • The God of billable hours. Firms, or maybe the CFO’s of firms persist in driving and measuring profit through the hours spent at a desk. The result? A perpetual and reasonable excuse not to leave the office for at least 6.5 hours when the target is met.
  • The partnership hive. Too many firms persist in presenting themselves as ‘partner led’. This sounds impressive, but it also drives a culture in which partners are expected to bring in the work while solicitors scurry around like worker bees doing their 6.5 hours and a few more resentful hours in training. The result? Too many lawyers think they do not have to get from behind the desk. BD is somebody else’s responsibility. That becomes a comfortable habit.
  • The perfectionist personality. Having worked with lawyers for well over 20 years, I can safely assert that they are, by nature, high achievers – but they are a special sort of high achiever. They are ambitious perfectionists. This subject requires a whole article (which is promised) but in relation to BD this personality has a deep fear of not having an answer or ‘failing’. Selling involves both. The reality is that if you go out and meet potential clients they will ask questions you cannot answer. Likewise, it is very unusual to meet someone and sell your expertise immediately. It is normal to have to say ‘I cannot answer that right now’ and to walk away without an instruction. But that, to an ambitious perfectionist is a double failure.

So how do you get your legal elephants to do the BD dance?

  1. Start early. Lawyers should be told from the day they start their traineeship that selling is part of their role. It is what will keep their business alive and the only way to assure their billable hours. BD should be a professional habit, well ingrained and well supported by partners.
  1. Shift the mind-set. Lawyers need to accept that selling is a long haul flight. Networking is simply an opportunity to connect with people and show your social skills; a first meeting is a first step on building a relationship – it might take four or five meetings before the client is ready to buy; a presentation is an opportunity to present your expertise and personality; a pitch is, yes, a competition which you might not win – but do it well and you will be asked back. You can leave every one of these situations without an instruction. But if you have demonstrated expertise and ease of use, you are doing BD.
  1. Invest time. BD is not a last minute task for a Friday afternoon. It needs to happen every day. Even if you only have a ‘one connection a day’ rule, keep to it. Make a call, send a mail, write an article, go for a coffee – whatever it takes, just do it.
  1. Work to your strengths. Every lawyer can learn to sell in their own way within their own style. For some the networking, mingling and connecting will be comfortable, to others it is a source of stress. If you are terrified by the thought of presenting, then do case study sessions with smaller groups; if your clients look for expertise, write articles and attend conferences; if you get work through referrers then make connections and start referring to them. There are many routes to a sale – you just have to choose your path.
  1. Get profiled. We live in a business age where there is no excuse to remain a hidden expert behind a desk. Social media makes profiling easy and there is an easy route to getting your name in front of a huge audience. Looking at the stats of my last post, if every view had been shared, my name would have landed in hundreds of in-boxes. Take that as a request!
  1. Get skilled. Selling is not a natural skill to most lawyers. But every lawyer has the intellect to learn a new skill. Every lawyer can learn to impress at networking by questioning rather than talking; everyone can learn to give a decent presentation; every lawyer can get active on LinkedIn; we have taken the most shocking of pitch teams and developed them to the point of being described as ‘the best pitch team we have ever seen’ by the world’s biggest professional service firm. If it does not feel comfortable, get help.
  1. The last wordkeep going. BD is your business life blood. The more you try the easier it gets; the more you do, the greater the success. You might even become an elephant who loves to dance.

Note: We are starting the deWinton-Williams BD series through LinkedIn – hints and tips sheets for all kinds of BD situations.



Are you making a meal out of management?

Five steps to increase retention in professional services

Retaining good people in a partnership is a growing issue. Partners who have given life and soul to the firm look on in dismay as talent walks out of the door believing that the grass is greener in another office. But turnover figures are rising and as the next generation – Generation Z – come out of their training contracts it will only get worse. This is a generation who expect attention, expect to be trained, to learn, to do work which is meaningful and makes their life better. Life is a balance and if work is making the balance bleak, they will walk away.

The commercial downside is that every exits costs the firm dearly. It is not just the lost investment, it is the cost of replacement, the cost of getting a replacement up to date and ultimately, if it happens too often the cost of your reputation. Agencies are full of tales of the ‘untouchables’ – those firms who good candidates turn down before they have even looked at the role specification.

But before we look for a remedy, it is worth looking at the cause. Why do partnerships fail to engage their people into long-term commitment?

Perception of time

Many of us go pale when the ‘management experts’ tell us that 30% of a manager’s time should be spent managing people. For lawyers and other professionals who continue to live by the billable hour, that translates into well over a day of unbilled time. Consequently, management time is continually pushed aside, left until the end of the day, postponed until there is a good time to talk. The result? It does not happen and issues build up. Suddenly partners find they are facing a performance issue which really will take hours, even days, of their time. The consequence? Management gets a reputation for being time-onerous. Talk to any HR professional and they will tell you that quick, timely, early interventions would have saved both time and tension.


In a large corporate, training is the norm. In a partnership it is the irritating interruption to doing the work. As a trainer, I am frequently asked if the course can be delivered in half the time. Attendance is woeful and juniors are inevitably pulled back to the office. Senior lawyers arrive with a meeting in their diary before the end of the workshop. E-learning is seen as the great revolution - because lawyers can sit in front of their screens with a module running and continue to mark-up documents.  The result? There is very little skill development. Instead, lawyers learn from lawyers and accountants from accountants. If you have an inspirational partner who has, by whatever means – learning or just DNA – acted as an exemplary role-model then all is well. If you have learned from a poor partner who never attended a single hour of management training, then you are likely to follow a bad example.



Not often a word used about professionals. However, there is a common aversion to conflict – and feedback often raises the spectre of conflict. Even the most aggressive of litigators with a reputation for ripping the throat out of the ‘other side’ looks into the eyes of a colleague and simply cannot say ‘you did not do that very well.’  Instead there is an avoidance which is often covered (or excused) by a claimed lack of time. As such there is a culture of redoing work rather than reviewing work; writing people off rather than writing a note on performance or an honest appraisal; ignoring the behaviour and putting it down to personality. Eventually the fear factor creates a path to HR and some luckless manager has to step into the breach. By then it is too late. Your talent is looking at the door.

So, if time, skill and fear are working against you, then management is simply not happening – or not happening at the right time and for enough time. As a consequence, a generation of younger lawyers, accountants and business service professionals are voting with their feet. They are a generation who expects to have a ‘portfolio career’ so loyalty is low on their agenda; they see no value in staying where they do not feel they can advance; they look at partnership and think ‘no thanks – I do not want your life’; and there are plenty of other firms, making the same mistake as yours with gaps to fill. It is likely to be costing you millions.

So what can you do – quickly?

The retention remedy

I have worked with lawyers and accountants long enough to know that if I suggest a five day leadership and management course, they will stop reading this article right here. But what if you could get results in fifteen minutes a day? Think about the following:

  1. Two second uplifts.

The words ‘well done’, ‘good job’, thanks for your help’, ‘much better’, ‘good idea’ all take less than two seconds to say. But how often do you consciously lift someone’s confidence or feeling of attainment? If you are saying ‘Well, nobody did that for me’ – well maybe not, but you might have respected your managers more if they had.

  1. Ten minute briefings

Instead of handing over a file with a request to ‘sort this out’, have a five/ten minute briefing to ensure the associate knows:

Who the client is and what they do

Why the work is required and how it fits into the wider file

What is required in detail. Describe what you want to see

When it is required – both interim and final deadlines

If it works for the army it can work in an office. Yes it takes longer – but it saves you hours of heartache, irritation and long hours at your desk rewriting work which cannot be billed.

  1. Feedback in fifteen

Instead of spending quarter of an hour amending someone’s writing, tell them what needs to change. Follow the positive route:

  • This is good because…
  • This needs to change to… (give examples)…because

Then hand it back. Not only are you saving your time but you are giving a clear message that the document is the responsibility of the associate. You are too expensive to proof read.

  1. Coffee and a chat

A good manager knows their team. They know their aspirations, challenges, hopes and concerns. A good manager listens and acts as a mentor – putting in wisdom and advice for the other person to take and work through. This is not about therapy or fluffy stuff. It is about being a decent human being and asking someone how they are getting on and how it can be better. It does not have to be a drawn out coaching session - just the time involved in drinking a hot coffee. If there is something to be followed up – put it in the diary.

  1. Be honest

If someone is getting something wrong then they need to know. We can reasonably assume that no developing lawyer or accountant marches into the office with the full intent of failing and wasting your time and money. But they are frequently failed by people who could simply have advised them on how to get it right. Professional knowledge is not acquired by osmosis. It is imparted by the wise to those who need wisdom. Tough feedback or a frank conversation is never going to be easy. But lack of courage in facing up to performance issues is a risk – to retention, reputation and respect for partners.

One last thought for those of you who think management is a waste of time. Look back at the person who had the most positive impact on your career and wisdom. If you spent 15 minutes a day being more like them, then in the future, someone will be looking back at you with respect.


The situation

One of our insurance clients wanted to change their corporate image. It was essential that they moved away from being seen as the ‘just say no’ people to a reputation for working with brokers to build business. But how was a whole claims team going to change their approach without brokers suddenly seeing them as a ‘soft touch’ and pushing for unfair pay-outs on claims? The Business Leadership team was clear about the answer – the future was collaborative negotiation and not claims rejection.

deWinton-Williams was given the challenge of shifting culture while keeping a commercial edge to the negotiation of claims.

Our approach

Our first step was to define the negotiation model we would use. We identified the Fry and Ury model which focuses on building long-term relationships through focus on interests rather than positions. Giving claims professionals a good theory, however, was not enough. We had to make training relevant, realistic and based on the reality of their world.

Our approach was to create a training programme using real-play techniques in which delegates built up layers of skills through practice with trained actors. To ensure relevance we created scenarios based on real claims in marine, property, health, catastrophe and more. We even sent our actors to Lloyds of London so that they could observe the interactions between Underwriters and Placing Brokers and so better understand how the insurance contract comes into being. Too often Claims were seen as the back-office service in darkened rooms. We deliberately linked their decisions and behaviours to both renewals and new business.

The training was no walk in the park. One very experienced delegate stated ‘I have never been so far out of my comfort zone – but I have never learned so much in two days. I have changed.’ Another declared ‘I can’t wait to get back to the desk and use these skills!’

The result

The result was that the claims professionals were able to make significant shifts in their relationship with brokers and clients. Conflict reduced and co-operation increased. Over a short time, brokers started to change their attitude and their feedback.

The claims team went to the top of the market rankings by brokers and stayed there for five years. More than that, motivation increased in the claims teams as stresses reduced in their relationship with brokers and clients. 


Sample hints and tips sheet

Making development part of your day

First set your goals. Define the skills which will make the most difference.

Set SMART goals – they need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Break goals down into small steps.

Set aside a little time every day – 30 minutes every morning will get you further than trying to do a block of work at the end of the week.

Diarise your development time or it will get eaten by other things.

Get advice from someone who is already good at the skill. Ask what they do to make it look so easy.

If developing an active skill such as presenting – watch an excellent presenter and note down all the highly effective behaviours. Then make this your checklist for assessing yourself.

Get a mentor – someone who will guide, advise and enthuse you.

Read smartly – many business books give you the ideas in the first chapter and then spend the rest of the book giving you proof they are right!

Use TED talks for a quick run-down on a particular skill.

Get feedback and get it regularly. It is the best way to gauge progress.

Reward success

Turning talent programmes into profit

The situation

One of our professional service clients faced the challenge of taking the risk out of partner selection. As with many firms, their decisions had been based on weak business cases, partner politics and applying hope over evidence. deWinton-Williams was asked to create a solution which strengthened the selection process by increasing the calibre of candidates going forward.

We did better than that.

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