We have been exploring working with Lancaster University – we completed three projects with them in 2015 – and I was in recent discussion with them on productivity. It is an area that I suspect some of our law firm clients could work with the university on the research they are currently conducting. I read over a brief that was sent to me and was immediately struck by how useful productivity is as a lens for lawyers – particularly the partners that we tend to work with. A simple definition of productivity within the brief is
a measure of the amount of output (goods and services) obtained from a certain amount of input (labour, materials, energy, etc.), or how well various resources or inputs in the organization are used to achieve the planned or desired results (outputs). At the simplest level, improvements are engineered by either increasing the numerator (output) or decreasing the denominator (input).
When working with partners who need to become ‘more productive’ the general tendency is to work harder and so increase the input. The focus is actually on producing more rather than being more productive. This can be culturally bred into the partner after years of being measure on input (hours billed). It can be a quantum leap of effort to look to reduce the input and instead focus on delivering improved results from a more sustainable effort level. Client demand, organisational measurement processes, personal characteristics, office norms all conspire against a focus on productivity and instead condition a response to work harder and longer.
The well publicised UK productivity gap indicates this is a wider malaise. Our 360 debrief discussions with partners and other senior members of organisations often indicate that personal and organisational productivity is a key focus. It is certainly something we will be exploring further.