Marlene Gebauer 0:19
Welcome to The Geek in Review, podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer,
Greg Lambert 0:26
And I’m Greg Lambert.
Marlene Gebauer 0:27
This week we bring back Heidi Gardner from Gardner & Co. and Harvard Law School to talk about her upcoming book release “Smarter Collaboration: a new approach to breaking down barriers and transforming work.” This is a follow up to her book from five years ago titled Smart Collaboration. We joke that she’s making a trilogy and that the last book is going to be Smartest Collaboration. We do love trilogies.
Greg Lambert 0:47
Yes, we do. Well, Marlene, you recently hosted and ilta podcast on Remote Working, What Does the Future Hold? So how’d that go?
Marlene Gebauer 0:57
That was great. So I got to talk to our old friends Sang Lee and Richard Hsu, who we both interviewed on the podcast, and both have talked about remote work. So it was nice to follow up with them and see how things have changed since the last time we talked.
Greg Lambert 1:13
Good, good. Yeah, we’ll have to listen in on that one. So our AALL crystal ball answer this week comes from John Beatty, from the University of Buffalo law school, and covers the talent pipeline into the legal information profession. Let’s take a listen to John. And then we’ll jump right into our main interview with Heidi Gardner.
John Beatty 1:33
John Beatty at the University of Buffalo Law School. As an academic, what I see coming through is a dearth of new talents. As the profession ages out directors retire, people in the middle positions gonna move up to be the new directors. And we have we don’t have a pipeline of people coming in. And I think it’s becoming a less attractive profession, because, as an academic, you’re pretty much required to have two degrees. And very few schools pay you enough money to have a law degree just given how expensive law degrees are. And on top of that, I think that Dean’s and other administrators don’t necessarily value what librarians do. And so there, there’s probably not more money coming. And it’s going to be increasingly difficult to attract people into academic entry level roles unless we could radically change what we’re doing, whether that’s maybe not requiring dual degrees for every single position. Or maybe we need to start hiring people with one degree and putting them through school to get the other one.
Greg Lambert 2:42
John Beatty 2:43
Some sort of like on the job training or more fellowships or something, but I think if we don’t do that, within a few years, we’re not going to have people were most of us are going to be short staffed outside of the biggest schools that are the most attractive places to work.
Greg Lambert 2:56
Do you see this as a something that is a current event? That or that is caused by current events? Or do you see this as a long term process that’s finally hitting the law schools?
John Beatty 3:11
I think it’s the second thing, I think it’s a long term process. I mean, we were talking about this 10 years ago that, oh, we need to create a pipeline, and nobody’s ever really done it. It’s just kind of, you know, there’s all there’s always somebody next year to fill the positions. And now there isn’t, and we haven’t done anything about it for too long.
Greg Lambert 3:28
All right. Well, John, thank you very much.
John Beatty 3:29
Marlene Gebauer 3:34
We welcome Heidi Gardner, distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School, co founder of Gartner and collaborators, co author of smart collaboration and the upcoming smarter collaboration. Heidi, we’re excited to have you on the podcast. Welcome.
Heidi Gardner 3:47
Thank you so much.
Greg Lambert 3:48
So your first book, it was smart collaboration. And it was on really the “why” of cross functional collaboration. It really dove into the why it makes sense for organizations to foster collaboration amongst different groups. Now, the new book Smarter Collaboration with the subtitle, a new approach to breaking down barriers and transforming work. It continues at emphasis on the why but it also starts diving into the who and the how of collaboration. So can you kind of review the importance of why collaboration is so important? And then tell us about your journey from the one book to the next on from smart collaboration to smarter collaboration, and how your new book builds upon the foundation of the original one.
Heidi Gardner 4:40
Absolutely, Greg. So let’s start with why is smart collaboration so important? The reason remains very similar from the first book to the second, it’s that our problems today are incredibly complex and multifaceted. So think about the kind of issue that’s really on the minds of corporate boards. or executives or leaders of law firms or their clients issues like talent engagement and retention, or ESG, or political uncertainty and the ramifications on supply chains, etc. If you look at any given problem like that through a single lens, you’re absolutely bound to miss really crucial aspects of it. And taking that blinkered, siloed view is opening yourself up to risks. And we need people to engage in smart collaboration. That means integrating different kinds of experts, people with different life experiences, different knowledge domains, and creating more holistic solutions to address these really complex problems. So that’s why smart collaboration matters so much now, and I dare say it matters even more now than it did with the the first book published just five years ago. I mean, our journey between those two books has been absolutely fascinating and gratifying in the sense that the first book took off way faster and much bigger than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. And it’s given us the opportunity to work with organizations around the globe in putting those ideas into practice. That’s where the new book was born from the how tos. And so we focus there not only on the business and talent case for collaboration, you know, really setting the stage why this matters so much, and what are some of our empirical findings demonstrating how important it really is. But then really getting into how do you make it happen? How do you make it stick? What are the different use cases for smart collaboration? And by drawing on all of these different case studies, and further datasets and empirics that we’ve been doing for the last five years, we think we can provide a pretty comprehensive step by step guide for organizations that do want to put this into practice.
Greg Lambert 6:55
Now, I do want to follow up and ask is the next book going to be called the smartest collaboration?
Heidi Gardner 7:00
It’s a trilogy. Without a doubt. Absolutely. Absolutely. I know, and I hope by then we actually, you know, have a soundtrack for it, too. Now, I will say that I’m taking my own medicine, right, the first book smart collaboration, I’m the sole author on it, although I will say I was extremely careful in the introduction in the acknowledgments to to mention that it’s a collaborative effort, I could have never gotten there by myself, I had an incredible research team at Harvard University, both the Business School and the law school, but really have to thank the executives and the participants who have been part and parcel of this research from the get go. But in the second book, I’ve now teamed up with a co author who has very different experiences from me, you know, we both share a background at Procter and Gamble. But that was, you know, about 1000 years ago. And since that time, our paths have diverged. And he has worked in financial services and consumer products and technologies, been the CEO and chairman of various software companies, he’s worked in private equity. And he’s not an academic, you know, he’s a real world practitioner. And by bringing in a co author, who can really keep me honest and push my thinking, I’m sure it’s a much better book. That’s why it’s smarter this time around.
Marlene Gebauer 8:16
Heidi, you divide the book into four parts, the case for smarter collaboration, assessing your collaborative starting point, how tos and use cases, and troubleshooting collaboration challenges. So let’s start with the case for smarter collaboration. Some of the reasons that you highlight through examples are revenue, profits, efficiencies, risk management, customer loyalty, and positive outcomes. I think everyone would agree that these are good things for our business, and that all are incentivizers in law firms. Yet there’s a strong historical sense of individualism, even in big firms where there are resources for collaboration,
Greg Lambert 8:56
maybe, especially in big firms.
Marlene Gebauer 9:02
There’s also the data problem, not tracking the data or not even believing in the data for organizations that fit this profile, what has been the most successful in changing minds and behaviors?
Heidi Gardner 9:14
Well, I think you’d get that in the right order, its minds and behaviors. So first, we have to convince people that smart collaboration matters. And I often start with the clients perspective. I mean, you know, that is the reason every law firm is in business is to help their clients. And so we do a lot of research with law firm’s clients, and actually some of their clients or my clients because now I work with corporate legal departments and lots of companies as well. And we begin by asking, what is it that those organizations those those customers, those clients, the corporation’s are up against, and what do they want and what do they expect their outside counsel to be able to do with and for them? And when we hear directly from the General Counsel, the heads of compliance or the head of the risk committee at the board level, we understand that they want their lawyers, their outside counsel, not just to be legal technicians, but to understand their business. They want them to have a point of view on the commercial aspects and the competitive landscape and the regulatory changes and a whole host of different angles that go well beyond just the legal expertise. And so when we can present that case, to lawyers, partners in firms, for example, and help them understand how it is that they’re expected increasingly to serve their clients on these bigger, broader businesses use, they do begin to develop an appreciation for the idea that they can’t do it alone. You know, no matter how smart or hardworking they are, it’s impossible to have the well rounded perspective that their clients are demanding from them. So that’s where we really start is with the client case for collaboration. And then we do present a lot of the data, right, you know, people talk about collaboration is a soft topic, which frankly, makes me want to gag, I mean, you know, we have, we have data and math and science and empirical behind this, this is not a fluffy topic that you get around to when your real work is done. If you’re not engaging in smart collaboration to do your real work, then you’re either doing something that’s pretty low value, or something that’s falls into the realm of commodity work, and who wants to be there, right, so we can bring data to bear on, why bother collaborating, and it’s those outcomes that you mentioned before, right? We can we can demonstrate across dozens and dozens of law firms of every shape imaginable, you know, boutiques global firms, big, small, domestic, you know, all sorts of law firms and other professional service firms around the globe, that when they engage in smart collaboration, they generate higher revenues and profits, and they generate stronger, stickier client relationships. And they attract and retain better talent. So when we can start to lay out the evidence base for partners, it does begin to change their minds. But there’s a knowing / doing gap that we have to close. So just because they know that this is important, that doesn’t mean that they know how to engage this way. And so we can, by working with a host, you know, of different kinds of organizations, we have a whole sort of ecosystem that we draw on to help law firms change behaviors of partners of their professional staff of the up and comers, etc. And some of that begins with a diagnosis of why they wouldn’t be engaging in collaboration, you know, and that’s where we bring our diagnostic process to bear, you mentioned that that’s kind of second part of our book is helping firms understand what stands in the way and where collaboration is already helping them achieve great results and how to replicate that. So behavioral change takes time. But we can demonstrate, we’ve got plenty of case studies showing that behavioral change is absolutely possible. And it’s possible to sustain it in ways that drive these outcomes that we’ve measured.
Greg Lambert 13:10
You noted that collaboration is good for organizations, and it’s good for the employees involved in the process, which goes full circle back to being beneficial for the for the overall organization. Now, I don’t know if this reference is dated or not, but it reminds me of the scene in the movie Office Space where they had the banner, it says, “Is this good for the company?” So but I just want to know, how is it that you look at it as the symbiotic relationship? And as the employee of it, how does collaboration help them? Because I think that’s, that’s what they’re really more looking at is, Am I doing this? Am I basically cutting my own throat by collaborating?
Heidi Gardner 13:58
100%, and you know, Greg, very early on, we were asking that same question. We knew that no matter how beneficial smart collaboration is for an organization, every smart person out there has some degree of self interest in self preservation. And they were going to ask sooner or later, the wisdom question, you know, what’s in it for me? And so empirically, we dove into that. And so we wanted to know, what’s the difference for individuals who engage in more versus less collaborative behavior. And through case studies, we have this little case study that we use that has become sort of a fan favorite, we call them the twins. And so we were able to bind in our millions of data records to law firm partners who were practically identical. They shared so many professional and personal characteristics, they really are almost indistinguishable, except for their behaviors. One chooses to operate in a fairly siloed way he like kind of a hub and spoke And he’s got a handful of other partners that he engages with on a routine basis, but not that many, and they actually tend to be quite similar to him. Whereas twin to, you know, his alter ego behaves really differently. It’s not just that he collaborates with many, many more partners in serving clients. But he was also somebody who developed a very diverse network and people who engaged much more collaboratively with one another. So he was in this sort of tangled web of relationships. And what we can demonstrate, again, empirically, by drawing on on data and statistics is that people who operate like twin to generate significantly higher outcomes for their clients, and for themselves. And so they were able by being in this web, this twin in particular, and people who operate like him, they’re able to get closer to the clients, they have their ear to the ground through all of these relationships and their initial flow, they know, the gossip about which GC is going to leave and go where they, they have the latest in terms of the market trends, they know the latest jargon and acronyms, they really have the information flowing to and from them. And they’ve developed true relationships, so people trust them, other people will bring them in, they will be able to call on people and count on them to deliver. And so we can show statistically and through case studies, that people who engage in these kinds of behaviors are better off across a whole range of dimensions. And what we’ve actually been looking at very recently, is the compensation records for a range of law firms. And it’s fascinating, because what we were asked to do in a consulting sense was to examine really interrogate the data for bias. And so by digging in, we were able to see whether there’s bias in the system, you know, along gender lines or other kinds of lines. But once again, you know, we had these huge datasets, and we were able to examine the effects of collaboration. rainmakers, the ones who are getting paid the most for their origination, tend to be the ones who are able to draw on this web of relationships inside the firm and sometimes externally able to deliver the most sophisticated work and generate the most revenue for their firm. And it comes back to them in the dollar sense.
Greg Lambert 17:28
Looking at potential leadership, or when you’re looking at people to put into leadership positions. Would you want people to look for those who are already establishing these types of collaborative efforts where they have a diverse network already? Is that something that I guess they need to? Is it something they can learn later? Or is it something that they kind of start off with?
Heidi Gardner 17:55
So Greg, do you believe tigers can change their stripes?
Greg Lambert 17:58
Heidi Gardner 18:01
Right, maybe a little bit. But if somebody’s been a lone wolf, if they have been territorial about their client relationships, if they even say the term my client, do you really think they’re going to grow up and be somebody who is both willing and able to generate the kind of trusting relationships that allow them to create the value we’ve been talking about? I mean, maybe they can, maybe, but it’s going to be an uphill battle, we really want to be looking at true leadership, people who think they deserve a title, or people who are power hungry and want to control resources. Those are not, they’re not really leaders. They’re just people who want the title. We should be looking when it comes to law firm leaders, and frankly, any other kind of organizational leader at people who have the organization and the clients best interests at heart. Who is it that we are going to bring in to serve our clients who’s going to make the biggest impact? This is not a selfless act, this is not saying I’m going to fall on my sword and give away all my relationships. This is looking at it strategically and saying, if I provide the best possible client service, it will reflect money as well as on these other people whom I’m bringing in. That’s the kind of leader mindset that people should be looking for when they’re trying to figure out who’s the next generation of individuals to lead the firm? I absolutely think that’s an essential part. And frankly, I think it’s the lack of that sort of selection criterion has been at the heart of some of the leadership failures we’ve seen.
Marlene Gebauer 19:47
So I’m glad you brought up earlier the knowing and the doing gap because you suggest using a diagnostic to assess your organization or teams collaborative starting point, I think This is a great idea because organizations or teams, you know, often they know they need to collaborate, but they aren’t sure where to start or where to focus. You mentioned also that people at the top often have no idea what the collaboration obstacles are at the ground level until they actually see the data. So a diagnostic is also very helpful in that scenario, what are the common discoveries, your research has shown that bubble up and tell us how the diagnostic tool works and how it should be applied.
Heidi Gardner 20:31
So let’s start with what might be counterintuitive for some listeners, which is the idea that leaders aren’t fully in touch with what’s happening in terms of collaboration in their firm. In fact, we go so far as to say that leaders are almost always biased in their beliefs about collaboration. You know, I often get calls from law firm leaders, and they’ll say, Well, you should understand that we’re highly collegial, as if big group Hugs is what their clients are paying them for, you know, and I explained that smart collaboration is not about collegiality. In fact, it’s, it’s really difficult, far from people being nice to each other. It’s actually a tough act, because it requires people to engage with others who are also powerful and autonomous and experts in their own right. Now, leaders tend to be biased about collaboration, because, well, frankly, nobody says no to them. And so they underestimate how hard it is for other people to have influence and get people to engage in collaborative client service. So we collect data to help understand where the barriers are, and frankly, where the bright spots are, as well, because if it’s already working, if collaboration is already generating results in some parts of the firm, then we want to understand why it works there and where it would be replicable. But we can begin by collecting lots of data, we in sort of research terms do what’s called triangulation. So we never believe in any one data source, we collect financial records, we collect surveys from the various partners or stakeholders, we certainly talk to clients. And we collect a variety of different types of data, trying to understand these barriers and bright spots. And what it turns out is a customized view of what stands in the way of collaboration. Now those barriers are quite common across law firms. What’s different from one firm to the next is how important each one is. And so you might have a firm, for example, this the product of a merger, or some kind of combination. And that means a lot of people in the legacy firms don’t know their new colleagues, right, no matter how long ago the merger happened, there’s still lots of pockets where people are strangers to one another, at least, not familiar enough that they actually trust each other enough to bring them into a client relationship. And so a firm that’s grown up through combinations like that will have lots of pockets where competence trust is lacking. People just don’t know how good the other players are. In contrast, you have firms that grew up through lots of lateral hiring. And here interpersonal trust can be a real barrier, you know, the kind of, oh, I don’t want to introduce the newbie to my client, you know, the my client comes in here a lot terminology, my client, there’s a lack of interpersonal trust, and that I don’t want to introduce the newbie to my client, because what if they leave and take my clients relationship with them. And so we see, depending on the growth trajectory of a firm, that the barriers would be quite different from one firm to the next. And what we’re doing right now is codifying this methodology. It’s something we’ve done for many, many years with various law firms and other kinds of companies and organizations. But we’re codifying it now into a do it yourself toolkit. And that toolkit is going to be published, like my book by Harvard Business Review Press. And it will be available for people to purchase so that they can conduct using our tools and our frameworks and our approaches, a diagnostic themselves to really understand the tailored approach they need to take so that any remedies they put in place are actually affecting the root causes that they turn up.
Greg Lambert 24:23
Now, how do you mention that there’s different types of barriers depending on the type of law firm or the culture of the law firm? Can we step back even further, if you compare corporations to law firms? Are there things that are specifically unique to law firms when it comes to barriers to collaboration?
Heidi Gardner 24:45
We have done this diagnostic in dozens and dozens and dozens of organizations around the planet. And there are as many differences between individual law firms as they are between all the law firms and every other kind of organization and I No, there are people who make a career out of telling lawyers how special they are, and that they’re so different from everyone else on the planet. But come on, I mean, at the end of the day, we’re humans. And we are dealing with people who yes, might be a little bit more skeptical or their training has made them, you know, engage in certain kinds of behaviors. But I, you know, I hate to bust the bubble. But it’s not true, like law firms aren’t unique. As I said, there are more differences between law firms than they are, you know, law firms as a category than, you know, comparing them to whether it’s accounting firms or consulting firms or other kinds of organizations we work with, like financial institutions and biotech companies, and so on.
Greg Lambert 25:44
Interesting. So I found this one part of your book on setting collaborative priorities to be really interesting, because this is where some of those difficult decisions are being made on what efforts are we going to put into collaboration, and you have this matrix that you’ve set up with these quadrants for I think there’s ease of implementation on one side, and on the on the bottom, it’s the size of the prize, that lays out, you know, very nicely on what things should be avoided, what things would make a difference? What things are high priority, and what you define as the quick wins. So I think it’s a it’s a good way to look at the change management part of it. Can you talk to us a little bit more about what’s involved in setting those collaborative priorities?
Heidi Gardner 26:35
Absolutely. Well, I should mention, you know, as a former McKinsey consultant, and Harvard Business School professor, there’s no way I was going to write a book without a two by two matrix in it. So here we go. So we’ve got
Greg Lambert 26:46
You knew at least two or three pages, we’re gonna have some figures it it.
Heidi Gardner 26:50
Without a doubt, trademark hot hallmarks of my professional past. But the reason we think it’s crucial is it’s a it’s a simple, but highly applicable way of trying to cut through all of the competing initiatives, and really forcing people to take a more objective, not political view, of which one should get resourced and sequenced. And by looking at, you know, we call it the size of the price. So how much upside? Is there? Really, I mean, can you back it up with data is implementing some sort of knowledge management database really going to give you the bang for the buck? That at setting up a sector based go to market strategy would, you might spend the same amount of money doing either initiative, but which one’s going to give you the highest higher ROI? And so that’s the size of the prize that we try to understand. And we encourage people to think about, but the second dimension is, imagine you had two equally attractive options in terms of what they will return. Which one would you go for first, the easy one of the hard one, I mean, clearly the easy one. And so we get people to think about if there are easy, high priority or high advantage kinds of options out there something that’s really going to be beneficial. And it’s easy to do, well, frankly, you should be doing it already. And if you’re not, you should probably be fired because it means that you are succumbing to politics and letting something other than rationality drive your sequencing and prioritization. So it’s an easy high value ones are probably already being done. The ones that are low value and hard to do, we’ll just take them off the list altogether. And taking things off the list is really hard to do. That’s why, you know, you might have a powerful backer or somebody who thinks it’s the, you know, the greatest idea or they did it in their last firm, or for a whole variety of reasons, you know, they read a book on it, and they think it’s, you know, the greatest thing and being able to explain why it is that the firm’s not backing that initiative is crucial. So being able to sequence it and prioritize based on these various criteria is really crucial. And then from a change management standpoint, you have a tough decision, do you do the the high value difficult things or the lower value, easier things sort of off diagonals, and our recommendations to get some quick wins on the board? You know, there’s plenty of psychological research social science research showing that people are motivated when they can make steady progress against even a series of small goals. And so we really recommend get some points on the scoreboard, take those easier wins. Use it to learn both you know your own capabilities, perhaps as a leader, as well as the appetite of the organization for change, and the building your own pilots or your own use cases. And once people see the proof of concept on some of the smaller lower risk items, they might be more willing to dive in with, you know, all the resources that they’ve got.
Marlene Gebauer 30:00
Heidi, you include a test on determining behavioral tendencies when it comes to collaboration, tell us about how the use of tools like this can help in hiring, keeping the right balance on the team, and retaining the right talent.
Heidi Gardner 30:12
So we’ve developed in partnership with some other specialists, a psychometric tool. And the idea behind a tool like this is to really help people understand at a deeper level than they might otherwise just by navel gazing, what their natural inclination is. And so we’ve identified through all of our research, of course, its database, but we were able to to look at the data we collected from all of these organizations around the planet, and all of the collaborative and the anti collaborative behaviors that people engage in. And we boil it down to seven different dimensions. So for example, someone’s risk propensity, scientists will argue whether you know, that is natural in somebody Is it is it nature versus nurture, we don’t need to get into that debate. But we do know that at any given point in time, some people are much more likely to be risk seekers. They’re motivated by capturing the upside, and risk be damned, we’re willing to go for it. And there are people who are risk spotters, no matter how much upside there is, their mind naturally is drawn to trying to identify where the problems are, what could go wrong. And you know, that’s one of the dimension is a risks botter versus risk seeker. And what our tool does is help people analytically understand where they are on that dimension, as well as the six others, and then gives them a report, which helps them understand when that tendency is likely to be very helpful in a collaborative sense. And when by either over applying it, or putting it into the wrong context, or not being able to play to their strengths in any given group that they’re in, depending on the the makeup of that group. And we can show when that tendency is not going to be helpful for them, and is not going to lead to collaboration that drives the sorts of outcomes we’ve talked about, you know, this tool is available. It’s frankly, a pretty low cost tool for people to use. And we found, what is incredibly powerful is when a group uses it. And so whether it’s a practice group, or a management committee, or you know, other groups within an organization within a law firm, they can take this test, and it will reveal to them not only the makeup of the individuals in that group, but also the collective tendencies. And so we just worked with the board of a major technology company. And we were able to show them that they are off the charts when it comes to several of the dimensions. So they are, you know, high initiators and risk seekers and you know, a few other dimensions that they’re really strong on. And it means that they’ve got blind spots, it means that, you know, they’re likely to step in landmines that they didn’t see, or to overstep, or overplay certain strengths that they’ve got. And when we’ve used this tool in law firms, it was surprising to people the diversity of behaviors and profiles that they’ve got within the partnership. And we can help people understand how to use that diversity, how to really leverage the different kinds of individuals within a leadership team of practice group or the firm as a whole, so that they can team up and collaborate much more effectively for client service and other kinds of internal initiatives as well.
Greg Lambert 33:39
Now in in the book you use, you give a lot of examples, on a number of things, you have these little kind of short stories throughout. But there’s a number of examples on incentivizing collaboration. And one that stuck out was gap the popular clothing chain. That was really interesting, because they had done away with the traditional annual review process, and changed the bonus structure so that it was more heavily weighted on collective team based outcomes. How is it that a large company like this can pivot on that to use that as an incentive? And is there is that something that you can see law firms doing as well?
Heidi Gardner 34:23
So the gap example is fascinating. And they have been incredibly successful in making that pivot that you talked about, you know, they realized that their individualistic performance management system was undermining the kind of innovation that they needed to be effective in their marketplace. And they were smart enough to identify this before it hit them too hard. Well, I mean, you know where I’m going with this one, right. I have just written with the co author of of my forthcoming book, Ivan Matt viac. We’ve also co authored a forthcoming Harvard Business Review article where we really dig into the how tos on this topic, and I hope that a lot of law firm leaders will be able to see how applicable it is in that kind of organization, I’m actually working with one of the major professional service firms can’t say more than that take about how to implement this exactly. One of the points is that firms need to move away from motivating people to be sharp elbowed, I can’t be any clearer than that. I mean, the kinds of KPIs that exist in a lot of law firms really set people up to think about a win lose mentality. If it’s good for me, it’s got to be bad for somebody else. And vice versa. People think about splitting credits is a term that I hear a lot, and it just gives me the willies. Because that’s not how we should be thinking about it, there shouldn’t be a finite amount of credit when it comes to delivering superior client service. And if somebody you know it, firms tend to set up their compensation systems so that it makes people think that, you know, 100 is the most you could ever get, it puts them in the mentality that they’ve got to be altruistic, and give away some of what they deserve in order to help create a collaborative environment, which is going to benefit the clients. So there are lots of ways around this, we can create, complimentary, you know, you may not do away entirely with individual KPIs. In fact, I’d recommend that you don’t do away with it entirely. We can dig into why in a minute. But But complementing those individual KPIs, you can think about what it is that you’re really trying to achieve. Are you trying to drive key client teams? If you are, why isn’t the people who serve that client would be better off when the client outcomes as a whole are better? So rather than trying to sell more employment advice, or more tax advice, or more IP services into a given client? Why wouldn’t we say whatever the client needs, let’s join up and deliver truly value added service to them, and then we’re all better off. Because then we all keep our ears to the ground. We don’t need to be territorial, we don’t have to protect relationships. And we can create the sort of joined up solutions that are out ahead, sometimes what our clients even know to ask for. And it’s that kind of proactive client service that stems from collaboration that really distinguishes one law firm from another. And frankly, there are way too few law firms engaging in that kind of client service.
Marlene Gebauer 37:35
So I’m wondering if the KPIs have anything to do with with the next question, because I think what a lot of people who are leading collaboration efforts say is that, you know, yes, you can get it started. But it’s so hard to maintain over the long term to kind of keep that connection to keep that enthusiasm going. What are some suggestions you have to be successful in a successful smarter collaboration in the long term?
Heidi Gardner 38:00
Oh, I agree with you. 100%, one of the most common mistakes we see is for a leader to start a collaboration project or initiative or something with a lot of hoopla and fanfare. And then at the first sign of resistance, or obstacles, fold, like a house of cards. And even if, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but what we see is that collaboration requires an investment. People need to learn these capabilities, they need to invest in building trusting relationships, they need to understand how to combine their technical expertise with other people’s so that they can address these bigger, broader business issues, not just the legal component of it. And that takes time. And it takes a lot of sustained effort. The problem, though, is that the benefits of collaboration, they take time to flow in. So everything that we’ve demonstrated higher revenues and stronger profitability and attracting and retaining the best talent that doesn’t happen as soon as you kick off a collaboration initiative. And so what it really takes is sustained leadership to make sure that you get through this sort of pain period where the costs are still outweighing the benefits. You know, that’s the the investment phase. And leaders need to persevere through that. Because eventually, all of our data at Our experience shows that collaboration does pay out those lines cross and the benefits outweigh the costs. So what does it take for a leader to be able to persevere? We’ve written a whole chapter on this in the book because we found that leaders really do need specific tactics that will allow them to keep the faith and more importantly, help others keep the faith that they’re on the right track. So we can recommend a variety of different ways Leaders go about this one, harking back to something we talked about earlier is getting those quick wins. So finding ways that you can create the proof of concept, that collaboration really does pay out. And this ranges from picking, you know, two or three specific clients that you really think you could move up the food chain with, and then going after them in a systematic way partnering with them, and adding significant value, maybe that’s what you do. And you demonstrate, hey, we used to serve this client in a mono line way, they used to be just a, you know, IP client. And now we’re serving them in with two or three other practice groups. And we’ve moved from serving just the deputy GC focused on intellectual property to really talking to them about, you know, board level issues, if you can show that that’s happened in a client or two, wow, that makes people you know, sit up. And notice, that’s probably not a quick win. But there are other areas where you can think about, you know, how do we convince people through experience in our own firm, that we’re on the right track, and there’s nothing that attracts followers faster than success. So set yourself up for success. And make sure that when you have those successes, it’s not enough to have them in a paper bag, right? If you’re hiding your successes, if they don’t go very far in terms of influence. So set those those pilots up in a way that they’re convincing that you have a communication plan in place to make the most of them, so that you can demonstrate how they were achieved and why they’re replicable. This was not magic, this is something that other partners can do. And there really is a, you know, fairly straightforward set of guidelines that leaders can follow to make sure that they don’t lose the momentum.
Greg Lambert 41:51
I don’t know why. But the you know, the song, This little light of mine that you sing in church came to mind when you don’t don’t put it don’t put it under a bushel.
Marlene Gebauer 42:01
Sing it Greg, go ahead.
Greg Lambert 42:03
So Heidi, one of one of the topics that you talk about is not just internal collaboration, but also outside collaboration with third party partners. Now, I know a lot of times when you look at bringing in outside people that you can create this us versus them type type of challenge. And is that a perceived threat? Or are we actually collaborating? Are we outsourcing? Or are we giving up our autonomy and you know, giving it to somebody else? So I know that those are legitimate questions that need to be asked. But how can companies create an environment to foster a collaborative culture where working arrangements with these third parties can actually flourish and help everyone?
Heidi Gardner 42:50
This is such a critical area for law firms, because frankly, this is one of the areas where I think law firms are behind many corporates, a lot of law firms still look at tasks that need to be done strictly from a make or buy framework. And what they need to be thinking about is make buy or partner. This kind of dynamic arrangement is much more like what sophisticated companies engage in, you know, sophisticated organizations will develop deliberately an ecosystem of providers, sometimes even rivals that they will team up with, when they understand that for a greater good, by teaming up with these other organizations, they can deliver whether it’s better, faster, cheaper, more effectively, stronger innovation, there’s lots of reasons why partnerships really matter. And I think law firms need to open their eyes more to the possibilities of partnering with external providers. And those range from technology providers and data scientists to you know, a whole host of other kinds of organizations that would inject not only complementary skill sets, but I think really importantly, new ways of thinking, you know, bringing in fresh ideas and new modes of operating is really crucial for law firms that need to make some of these big leaps forward. And it’s not easy, like you said it, people become hyper protective of their patch, when they see a potential threat from the outside. And so it’s incumbent on leaders to develop a very strong, clear, non threatening rationale for why it is that they’re choosing to partner rather than develop in house capabilities. For example, being able to articulate that in non threatening ways, you know, highly rational, and at the same time, being compassionate and empathetic why it is that somebody might perceive that as a threat is really a crew Short leadership behavior as well. And laying the ground in ways that doesn’t position. Every outside party as a threat or a competitor to be beaten, is part of a culture that leaders need to nourish, so that people do become more open to the idea that even a potential rival in one area could be a legitimate partner in another.
Marlene Gebauer 45:29
The final chapters of the book are devoted to life lessons, how to avoid the pitfalls when beginning a collaboration program. What are the common mistakes? And how do you avoid them?
Heidi Gardner 45:39
Oh, this was so much fun to write this part of the book. I bet. It’s really about unintended consequences. And so one of those chapters focuses, for example, we call it the illusion of inclusion. Diverse diversity can actually come back and bite firms. In other words be counterproductive when leaders are not leading in the appropriate way. And so misguided collaboration efforts can undermine diversity and inclusion efforts. Let me give you an example. A lot of corporate legal departments right now, with the very best of intentions, are setting quotas. We want X percent of our external counsel teams to comprise fill in the blank, women, minorities, etc. The unintended consequence is that those quotas fail to consider the impact on those individuals. And so if you’ve only got 17, and a half percent of your equity partners who are women, and clients are clamoring for them to represent 50% of their deal teams, you’ve got a problem, it means that those women partners are going to be spread so thin across these different teams that in inhibits the exact outcomes that clients think that they’re trying to help. So people who are spread too thin across a range of teams, they can’t actually dig in and do as substantive work as they would like to. Or if they can, it means that they’re seriously sacrificing in other areas of their life. People who are spread too thin across multiple projects at once, they often get pigeonholed. So they do the same piece of work again and again. And again, rather than having the opportunity to truly stretch and grow. And people who are pigeon holed on a team doing fairly routine bits of the project are not the ones who get the client face time. And they’re not the ones who get the glory when the deal closes, or the project goes really well. And so in one of these chapters, where we’re focusing on the unintended consequences of misguided collaboration on diversity, inclusion spells out and again, you won’t be surprised to hear by now that we have the data to support it, it spells out where some of these problems arise. Right. So that’s one of the that’s one of the chapters in that part of the book. And we, you know, we also spell out what happens, for example, when collaboration goes awry in a crisis. You know, the irony, a crisis is exactly the time when you need people to be open to innovation to novel solutions to ideas that don’t come naturally to mind. And yet, because of a whole host of psychological factors, it’s often the times that people are the most closed minded. And yes, people will pull together through a short time and a crisis. But it doesn’t mean that the way that they are engaging with one another doesn’t mean that the actual collaboration is as effective as they need it to be. And so you know, in this last part of the book, we try to offer some very practical takes on what happens when the best of intentions around collaboration, backfire, how to spot it before it happens and what to do about it. If you find yourself stepping in it.
Greg Lambert 49:02
Heidi, we ask all of our guests the what we call their crystal ball question. So we’re going to ask you to pull out your crystal ball and peer into the future for us over the next two to five years or so. What do you see for the future smarter collaboration in the industry is particular in the legal sector.
Heidi Gardner 49:21
I predict if you’re asked me to look into a crystal ball that we’re going to see a lot more collaboration at broader scope levels. In other words, we’re not just going to be seeing the winners focusing on collaboration between, you know, practice groups A, B and C, or between offices X, Y and Zed. What we’re going to see is very deliberate, hyper intentional collaborations between perhaps unlikely parties. So we’ll see the the firms teaming up with the regulators, with the data scientist with the technologists to anticipate what’s Some of the major trends are going to be and get out in front. That kind of proactive collaboration is where significant value is generated. And I will go out on a limb and say that the best firms are going to open themselves up much more readily to that kind of collaboration, as hard as it is as risky as it might be perceived to be, and put themselves out there in the way that you know, some corporates are doing right now. And, you know, some of the technology companies, et cetera, are really making strides. And law firms that are going to be very successful, will put the effort into making those collaborations happen, they’ll develop the relationships, they’ll invest in them, they’ll put the resources behind it, so that they can really achieve significantly more through these collaborative efforts than they could do if they were simply treating this ecosystem as the other.
Marlene Gebauer 51:02
Well, we’ll leave that on a very positive note, Heidi Gardner, author of the upcoming book, smarter collaboration, a new approach to breaking down barriers and transforming work. Thanks for coming on the show and talking to us. Thanks, it’s been a lot of fun. Where can our listeners find out more about you and your work with gardener and collaborators.
Heidi Gardner 51:20
So we’ve got a new gardener and co website that is going to be launched very shortly, the last people to check it out on gardener and CO check it out on the web, we also have a range of different links, we’ll give those to you for the show notes. And most of all, we’d love for people to preorder a copy of our forthcoming book, because pre orders are everything for authors these days. And that’s available on lots of the online retailers already.
Greg Lambert 51:45
We’ll make sure that we get all those links out there.
Heidi Gardner 51:48
So thanks so much for having me.
Greg Lambert 51:53
It was great having Heidi back on the show. And I do hope that the third book of the trilogy is the smartest collaboration. And there was one thing that she can’t we didn’t really dive into a deep, but it was something that was sticking to my head was that whether it’s in the law firms themselves, or even society as a whole, this idea of a zero sum game where if somebody’s winning, I’m losing that it’s a win lose kind of situation. I think this type of collaborative effort really was based on that rising tide lifts all boats, kind of aspect. Yeah. So yeah,
Marlene Gebauer 52:34
I think she nailed that. I mean, particularly in police, you know, in law firms where you know, you really have you struggle with that. And you know how to, you know how to sort of change that thought, I liked that she highlighted. This is not like a flash in the pan like you got to dedicate a lot of time and effort to this. And you know, can’t just kind of fall apart. If it doesn’t work the first time you got to persevere with it. I also liked that she has all these great tools to help you go through the analysis and then figure out what to do. That was pretty great, too.
Greg Lambert 53:07
We’ll put information on how to preorder Heidi’s book on the show notes. So as she said, pre orders are everything for authors. So fantastic out there and pre order this pre order. So thanks again to Heidi Gardner from Gardner and CO or gardener and collaborators for coming back on the show.
Marlene Gebauer 53:27
And of course, thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found at @gebauerm on Twitter,
Greg Lambert 53:40
And I can be reached @glambert on Twitter.
Marlene Gebauer 53:43
Or you can leave us a voicemail on The Geek in Review Hotline at 713-487-7270 and as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca. Thank you, Jerry.
Greg Lambert 53:54
Thanks, Jerry. All right, Marlene, I’ll talk with you later.
Marlene Gebauer 53:57
Okay, bye bye Greg.