February 2, 2023

MANAGEMENT FROM BELOW

A client recently asked me how we drive our team to produce a consistent “can do” and positive approach. The answer was simple. We don’t drive our team at all – they drive themselves.

Our philosophy is simple. We avoid prescriptive rules as to how a task is to be fulfilled. We recognise that every member of our team has a different set of skills. We allow each member of the team to develop those skills without diktat or rigid rules as to process. Technical competency is a given, but beneath that the personal and social skills needed in delivery of legal advice are innate to the individual.

That philosophy allows our team to develop their own style. It also acknowledges that the same piece of advice cannot be delivered to every client in the same way.

Of course we have processes and procedures. Our Lexel accreditation (achieved again for the eighth year in a row this year) requires that we have a procedures handbook for the services we provide and compliance. We intentionally wrote those procedures however to identify what we do rather than how we do it.

That of course begs the question as to what the role of our managers is? If they are not supervising the way we deliver our services what are they there to do?

Again the answer to those questions is simple. I describe our philosophy as “management from below”. The role of our manager and partners is to ask each member of the team “How can I help you in doing what you do, in the way that you have decided to do it? What support can I provide to you with that approach?”

How does that work in operation? Support can come in so many ways. I am a huge fan of mentoring where senior players share learning and experience with more junior members of the team (as a consequence I am less enamoured with work from home, but that is a story for another day!). Listening is often a skill lost in management. We encourage listening throughout our firm so that individuals dealing with a particular procedure or client contact can give feedback across the board. If there is a way to improve client experience or our efficiencies then everybody can contribute to that. An open door policy is vital in any successful business. Above all a freedom of decision making for team members. If you want to paint the walls of your office bright blue, if you want to cover it in pictures of your family or the Spurs football team, then if that is what inspires you and makes you work better, then go for it!

As a result we have created a team who are genuinely enthused and want to deliver excellent service to our clients. It also results in an excellent relationship between all member of the team no matter what level they are involved in the business.

I am a lawyer – so I can’t say something without adding caveats! Within a “management from below” philosophy there has to be some basic components. Firstly there has to be an overall riding philosophy. Whilst I dislike the management speak title of “mission statement” we have a guiding principle for the firm. We aim to be regarded as the outstanding legal practice in Jersey, respected for the excellence and energy we put into everything we do for our clients, our community and our team. That sets out our purpose but does not dictate to individuals how they go about the task. Individuals simply have to understand the firm’s purpose and look back to that “mission statement” regularly.

Indeed in recent weeks we got the whole team together to brainstorm a review of our mission statement, a process which is ongoing. In that way we ensure that everybody from senior partner to receptionist, from litigator to secretarial support all had a say in what they want the firm to achieve.

The second key caveat is that you need the right people. Every member of our team is chosen with the utmost care, on many occasions from the people that we have worked with in other firms for many years. There is no space in a management from below philosophy for a “Mr. Grumpy” or a “Little Miss Complaint” – instead we need “Mr. Happy” and “Little Miss Smiley”! You’ll have met those different sets of people in every walk of life but in a small team delivering personal advice, that underlying approach to life is vital.

The philosophy of supporting from below is one that we have applied for years. It is only when the client made the enquiry of me the other day of how we achieve what we do, that I came to give it a title of management from below. Changes in recent years, both in technology and society, as well as the impact of the pandemic, have altered the way businesses operate permanently. If your business has a clear purpose and you select the right people, then I can certainly recommend the management from below philosophy. Your business, your customers and your team will thrive!

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