There are many great business books written every year. But one of the best books of all time that has particular relevance right now is over ten years old. It’s old by today’s norm, but Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action” offers timely advice for running modern law firms. .
We often struggle to explain why some businesses succeed and others don’t. The same is true for law firms. Why would one firm excel and another fail when they essentially have the same excellent lawyers and operate in similar market environments?
According to Sinek, many companies, including law firms, all think, act and communicate in the same way. He explains using a concept called the Golden Circle, pictured below.
Go to “Why”
Every organization knows what it does, some know how they do it. But few companies and businesses can effectively communicate the why. The easy answer is profit, but profit is really just a result. The why that Sinek refers to is purpose, values and beliefs. This is an increasingly important concept today.
It is the opposite of the number of companies that operate. They may tell you, for example, that they create great, easy-to-use widgets. Good widgets are neither inspiring nor compelling to customers. It’s the same in law firms. Each law firm has the best lawyers, an impressive list of clients and an excellent reputation. But is it enough?
Why we love Apple
Apple makes computers like Dell and a whole host of other companies that we barely remember. So why is Apple so successful? They upset Sinek’s golden circle. Before telling you what they do, they tell you what they believe. As Sinek explains Apple’s philosophy, “Everything we do shows that we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. We challenge the status quo by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. He continues: “We happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
Well, actually, we do. And, by the way, we will also take an MP3 player, a mobile phone and a range of other products, from a the computer company. Americans, heck, pretty much the whole world, fell in love with the why of Apple.
Can this apply to the legal industry? It’s better. Because law firms, as much as any other industry, cannot simply sit idly by and watch their world become increasingly competitive. And, honestly, there are a few companies that have already shaken up the legal business model. They are called, among other things, alternative legal service providers. Additionally, recent polls suggest that Gen Z and Millennials want to do business with — as well as work for — companies that align with their values.
The logic of the brain
Sinek’s golden circle model is not just a function of psychological mumbling. It’s based on how the brain is wired. It turns out that the brain corresponds (in the simplistic secular representation) to the circle. The neocortex of the human brain is the outer layer, the level what. It is responsible for our rational and analytical thoughts and language. The two middle sections, the how and the why, are the limbic brain. The limbic brain is responsible for human behavior, decision making, and feelings, such as trust and loyalty.
So our communications about the quality of our lawyers or their success are so navel-gazing. Of course, potential customers understand all the features and benefits, facts and figures you provide them. But when it comes to what drives behaviors and what brings customers to the table, it’s feel. Before you worry we’ve gone all kumbaya on you, there’s science behind the way we make decisions.
When we communicate from the inside out – starting with the why – we are talking to the part of the brain that initiates the behavior. This is where the so-called instinctive decisions come from. When you look at the data and then assert that something is wrong, it is the limbic brain that drives the process.
How does this manifest itself in the workplace? Sinek says, “The goal is not just to hire people who need a job. It’s to hire people who believe what you believe.
Why the Recipe for Success Doesn’t Always Work
The main reasons given by people when asked why their business failed are:
- bad people
- Bad market conditions
If these are the real reasons for business failure, shouldn’t the opposite be true? Sufficient capital, the right people and a great market should be the recipe for success. But many examples prove that this is not the case.
Take the Wright Brothers, for example. They should not have succeeded Samuel Pierpont Langley. If you’ve never heard of Langley, it’s because he never took to the air and quit immediately after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Sinek loves this example. Langley was funded by the War Department, served on the board of Harvard, and worked at the Smithsonian. He featured frequently in The New York Times, had access to the best minds, and had an engaged audience that was just waiting for the seemingly inevitable event.
Yet Orville and Wilbur beat it with little more than the proceeds of their bike shop and a dream that the “flying machine” would change the course of the world. Langley, on the other hand, dreamed of being rich and famous and the people who worked for him were there for the pay.
What do your lawyers think?
It’s not about the quality of your lawyers or the impressive list of your clients. It’s about what your lawyers believe. Do they believe that…
- do they have a better, more efficient way to deliver legal services?
- improve the lives of their customers?
- their law practice makes the best use of a wide range of talents?
- change the way legal services are delivered?
- Will the associates they bring in have the experience they want while making a meaningful contribution to the practice?
These are the beliefs that, by the way, attract great customers, retain the most valuable employees, and position your business for long-term sustainability. At least some of your competitors are selling these whys. For companies that do this successfully, a big part of the how is process improvement and legal project management. We will discuss more about Sinek’s theories and how in part 2.
The conversation – Is it rational to trust your intuition? A neuroscientist explains