8/31/15

Structured Dialogue about Diversity

This article I wrote on Bank of America’s diversity program brings together so many themes discussed in previous posts.

Target: The Bank has a commitment to diversity. I share this commitment. But for purposes of this post, it could be any general, abstract goal.

Measure: The Bank actually measures diversity internally and externally. The Bank is not alone in this. But I have been shocked at how many law departments that make public commitments to diversity take the next logical step of measuring it. Instead, they setup committees, join task forces, sponsor events, etc. These are all commendable except they have proven insufficient by themselves to actually move the diversity statistics. 

[Can you imagine the sea change if every large, corporate client meaningfully measured dollars out the door to diverse timekeepers in terms of billed services and originations? Add to that some differentiation by level (e.g., paralegal, partner) and spend with MWBE firms. Wow]

Baseline/Benchmark: Meaningful measurement normally needs baselines and target values. This is where we are at. This is where we want to be. The target values may, in many instances, need to be arbitrary. But that does not mean they have to be random. It helps to have a reference class of peers to measure against each other. Even if your goal is to raise the baseline, you get a sense of practical parameters.

Discuss: It is amazing what results can be achieved when a law department asks its law firms to make verifiable progress against an empirically-established baseline. This structured dialogue begins with the one-way measurement, but it does not end there.
Key to this self-evaluation is a question that recognizes the dual responsibility of the law firm and the client: "What could Bank of America do better to enhance your Firm's diversity performance/metrics for the coming year?"
Align: As the Bank of America profile demonstrates, the discussion can go beyond the numbers to the challenges faced and the other ways in which the law firm is striving to serve the commonly held goal. The discussions are key for reinforcing the goal, as well as deepening the law department/firm relationship by creating dialogue, a sense of shared purpose, and alignment in perspectives on the problem being addressed.

Improve: None of the foregoing matters unless it actually results in improvement. But it does. What we choose to measure is a form of incentive in its own right. And client goodwill is of key importance in a highly competitive environment that is so dependent on relationships.
Understanding they are falling behind their peer firms has a substantial motivational impact on legal overachievers. ‘Law firms are competitive by nature. So any constructive comment on areas for improvement is usually enough to motivate change within the firm,’ remarks Quarmby.

Reward: Firms that perform well should be rewarded. In addition to high marks on their performance reviews and the attendant goodwill, Bank of America actually hosts an awards dinner for its top performing firms. The winner even gets their award directly from the Bank’s GC.

Repeat: There is no finish line. There is a sustained commitment to continuous improvement.

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Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

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