Monthly Archives: February 2009

Managing performance for quick results now … and stronger business in the longer term.

In the current economic climate, the first response can be to make redundancies and cut staff numbers, which almost inevitably has a detrimental effect on the remaining staff. It often leads to “survivor syndrome” where the remaining staff become de-motivated and disengaged, resulting in poorer performance. So, even if redundancies do have to be made (and to help avoid them), now is the time to work harder to help people to perform to the best of their ability.clip_image002[6]

Good performance management can be designed and implemented in a matter of weeks, ensuring each individual employee knows what is expected of them and by when, how they will be measured and how they will be rewarded. It is the foundation stone of good people practices. Get this right and improved business performance will follow. Performance management is not to be confused with appraisals! Having an appraisal system in place doesn’t mean you have a good robust performance management system. Many appraisal systems are often little more than a paper exercise carried out at the end of a business year, which can generally do more harm than good to the organisation and the individual. They usually have no link in to the business planning process which means they are pretty well worthless”

A robust performance management system will ensure the key business results are translated into personal objectives for leaders of the business and then cascaded down through their teams. These objectives should be written in a way that are measurable; that is they have meaningful measures and targets for the business and individuals. This exercise should be a joint exercise between manager and employee, there is little point setting objectives and targets that have not been accepted by staff. Agreement ensures buy-in from both parties. By adopting such a structured approach to performance management means no more subjective appraisal reviews.

So how do we translate this to help improve the bottom line now?

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All the research shows that the web is being used more and more to find providers of legal services – even if they instruct you offline. With the goalposts constantly moving on how to get top of the list on the web search engines, law firms will have to work even smarter on SEO in 2009. Getting up the rankings on “natural listings” on e.g. Google – as opposed to less productive “pay per click” listings – is more important now than ever.

In the current economic you want as many prospects as possible coming to you, rather than your competitors. 2009 will see search become more personalised. We have already seen this with the introduction of Google’s new personalised search results tool – Google Wiki – towards the end of 2008. Moving on from there, 2009 should be focused on five Search Engine Metrics:

  • Non-Branded Search Engine (Organic) Referrals – that is search engine results and click-throughs from organic search results. This is where SEO as we know it comes into play – getting the positions that people can find.
  • Bounce Rate – a metric that we all love. Lowering bounce rate should be of huge significance in 2009. Make your content more appealing and let them find it fast.
  • Time Spent on Site – closely related to bounce rate is the amount of time spent on your site. This metric helps you to find out what is working on your site and what isn’t.
  • Subscribers to Your Content – personalisation is becoming more and more popular with the average searcher. As a result, rankings in this sense are irrelevant. However one area that you will need to monitor as personalisation and blended search become more common is tracking the users that are subscribing to your content. For example, your RSS feed subscribers to your blog(s), the number of followers that you have on Twitter, the number of people subscribing to your YouTube channel. These social subscribers can provide a lot of insight into how people are engaging with your web properties and with your brand online.
  • Site Search – how users are engaging with your site’s search functionality. Besides Google, you would think that internal site search is a popular activity when users land on your site. This engagement metric provides you with additional insight into what keywords and topics people are looking for when they arrive on your site. The fact that they are using your internal site search may also be an indication that they are not finding the information that they are looking for when arriving on your site.

In 2009, engagement metrics such as site search will become even more important in understanding the searching habits of your site visitors. Are they looking for demos? Perhaps they are looking for video content. Whatever the case may be, look for this metric to become more important in 2009.

For more information on this topic, contact Ian Sheldon of Inpractice at isheldon@inpractice.co.uk

Any big decision should be justified with a business case to quantify return on investment

Lawyers are struggling to make big decisions in this uncertain economy. The most difficult are often the most important and at the minute a lot of firms are frozen in the headlights, feeling unable to move. But it’s more important now than ever that decisions which will improve the performance and competitiveness of your business get made and actioned now. The best way is to develop a meaningful “business case” to evaluate cost, returns and payback period, carrying this through to your bottom line if a) you stay as you are and b) if you introduce changes. Then you have a sound basis for making a “go” or “no go” decision – and to explore the financial impact of changes to the initial plan. Not enough firms take this measured approach – but Thursfields did.

Inpractice worked with 13-partner Worcestershire based Thursfields in the review and strategy development process which has led to Thursfields’ £250,000 investment in a new integrated IT system supplied by SOS which, the firm believes, will directly assist its ongoing growth.

Richard Blasdale and Allan Carton of Inpractice worked with Thursfields on the firm’s strategic IT development, quantifying the business case to justify this key investment, setting out the spec and evaluating responses; also starting the process of preparing the people for the changes ahead. The new solution will provide enhanced document, case, practice and client/marketing management systems across Thursfields’ three Worcestershire offices employing some 114 staff.

The deal comes at a time when firms are increasingly deferring or cancelling projects because of the current economic gloom. But Thursfields’ managing partner Nick O’Hara and the Management Board concluded that now is a good time to introduce improvements in efficiency and operations to build for the future provided the investment could be justified:

Nick O’Hara explains the timing and need for the investment: “Thursfields is growing and with that comes the need for expanded IT solutions which will allow all our staff to run centralized data, document management and workflow systems for clients. This will help maintain our focus and commitment to delivering an ever better service and support to clients, meeting their needs in the professional, approachable, efficient manner clients expect from Thursfields. In today’s current climate, these factors are more vital than ever,” he added.

The implementation of the new system and roll out to the Thursfields’ offices is targeted to go live May 2009.

Quantifiable key benefits across the practice included productivity improvements for fee earners; reduced workloads, improved cash flow and debt management for finance; efficiency gains for marketing and HR; increased rate of client acquisition; enhanced corporate standards and compliance; greater system resilience and reduced operating costs.

Inpractice worked with key personnel in the practice to evaluate potential suppliers and products on a like-for-like basis (which is never easy from the understandable varied formats and included / excluded / missing items in responses from suppliers) using the Inpractice scoring system to make decisions rational and easier.

Inpractice’s Allan Carton was impressed with the commercial approach Thursfields took: “Like all other law firms just now, Nick and his colleagues were very aware of the uncertainty of the current economic climate. Partners don’t want to spend money; but if it makes good financial business sense and you can show a return on investment and bottom line benefits within an acceptable period, they will. The relatively short payback period coupled with hard and fast practical gains across the practice were sufficient for Thursfields to enable them to make and justify a difficult decision, letting them move forward with confidence.”

For more coverage of the impact of this major move for Thursfields, go here:

If you are considering improvements in your use of IT systems, please contact Allan Carton (acarton@inpractice.co.uk or 07779 653105) or Richard Blasdale (rblasdale@inpractice.co.uk or 07976 416999) of Inpractice for a no-obligation discussion on your plans and options.