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Leverhulme
20 June, 2008  
London Calling

Leverhulme deflates earnest Guardian government job ads … debunks a consultant on “effective networking” ... and deconstructs a course for lawyers on how to ask clients for more work


imageAs The Undertaker, Dr Gordon Brown, and his creaking Labour government, sink deeper into the mire, a new game is said to be sweeping the parlours of Britain.

Each Wednesday, the left wing and terribly serious Guardian newspaper contains a priceless lift out called Society Guardian. In it are all the latest jobs offered by government, local authorities and borough councils, showing that our taxes are being put to good use.

The game is simple. Read out a paragraph from an advertisement and ask your life partner to guess what the job is.

Do you want to try? Here goes:

“This is a highly influential position. Consequently, you’ll need to bring us significant experience of the interface between policy and delivery, and a proven track record of success in negotiating with senior stakeholders.”

Give up? Well, this job is National Identity Scheme Policy and Delivery Manager for the Home Office Passport and Identity Service and it pays £49,596 per annum.

Next?

“You’ll have experience of partnership working at the highest level, as part of a broad background that allows for thinking from a wider perspective. Gravitas is essential if you are to forge a united purpose between disparate groups, along with exceptional communications skills.”

This is the job of a Strategic Partnership Manager at the Council and pays ”£47,000 and car benefit”.

I still haven’t the foggiest.

Finally:

“You will take ownership of a range of key customer care projects, setting the highest standard for all our activities and ensuring their attainment. In particular, you will define our approach to customer insight and feedback, providing guidance to colleagues at every level and implementing innovative programmes for customer segmentation, mystery shopping and focus group testing.”

Who would have thought that the Hackney Council was looking for a Customer Care Manager, Standards and Insight, paying £40,722 to £43,275 plus benefits? Imagine the lucky candidate announcing the title to admiring friends in the pub.

I am just wondering whether the implementation of customer segmentation involves chopping up troublesome stakeholders.

* * *

A few years ago this gem of a comment appeared in the NSW Legal Profession Advisory Council Discussion Paper on Lawyers’ Communication Skills:

“In a profession which relies on words, it is interesting that communication is one of the issues most complained about by clients.”

I have a bald and unproven theory called “Partners in the Library”.

At law school, some people drink coffee in the common room and gossip or they play sport or, in extremis, spend time in the university bar having fun.

Others remain in the library swatting away. They achieve the highest marks and consequently the best jobs.

At the law firm their well-honed working practices continue, so deftly complementing the billable hours system, and they rise seamlessly through the ranks to become partners.

All of a sudden they are in charge of things like management and social events. Partners’ meetings become a buzz of reminiscence and blue sky thinking.

“I move that we have an egg and spoon race.”

“Didn’t we have one of those at primary school?”

“This weekend, let’s make the whole firm take part in an egg and spoon race so our troops can be forced to bond with each other!”

In England, shrewd people are providing magnificent training courses for legal professionals and I’m glad to say, they are heavily subscribed.

One of my old bosses went on one. To be fair, he clearly had special needs in the Human Beings Department. But he’d learned a little technique, of which he was proud, that if you nodded while people were talking, they would feel important.

The trouble is that he would nod at inappropriate times, like when Dawn, a potential customer, said, “You think I’m hopeless, don’t you?”

This week The Lawyer provided some sage advice from a Mr Will Kintish, consultant on effective and confident networking.

imageAt first glance, the article is very disturbing, speaking as it does in headings of Couples, Threesomes and Groups of Four or More.

But then you realise Mr Kintish (pic) is writing of what happens when one walks into a room full of strangers. Take his advice on dealing with the single person:

“This person stands by the wall because they know no-one and do not know how to break the ice. They are literally praying for someone to talk to. Approach slowly, smile, shake hands firmly and make good eye contact. Exchange names and listen carefully for their name – that way you’ll hear it.

“What next? Think what you have in common and start asking questions. ‘Where have you come from?’ is a safe generic question, eliciting either a geographical or company name reply.

“The conversation will eventually come to its natural end.”

I expect it will and sooner than Mr Kintish thinks.

What if the reticent singleton says, “I’ve just come from Grimsby?” Do you think Mr Kintish might respond with a robotic “Thank you for that geographical reply”?

The average cost of one of Mr Kintish’s networking courses is £297 per delegate per day. Value with value added, I say.

* * *

Another course doing the round is a program elegantly entitled, “Creating the Opportunity to Ask for Work”.

It came highly recommended by a partner at a national firm who told his subordinates he had acquired phrases they might find “useful when trying to develop opportunities with clients”.

This course provides helpful sample conversations, which the lawyer can learn by heart.

Professional: “We’ve really enjoyed working with you on the transaction and I hope that you and your team feel the same way.”

Client: “Yes I think it went well overall.”

Professional: “What we normally like to do after a major instruction like this is to send in an independent person from the firm to have a structured review of what we did well and areas of potential improvement on the particular matter and how we are adding value to you generally. Would it be OK if we set that up?”

Client: “Sure, as long as it doesn’t take too long.”

Then later the course provides a section entitled “Humbling Disclaimers … soften the approach, but ask the hard question anyway”.

Professional: “Without being too forward, can I just ask you about the opportunities to work with you on any future projects?”

Or,

Professional: “I don’t mean to push but can I ask about the opportunities for working with you on another assignment now we’ve completed this one?”

But remember if you’re going to try any of this on a real human being-type client person make sure you learn your lines thoroughly.

Then approach them with plenty of eye contact, frequent nodding and a right hand outstretched which is ready to grasp theirs firmly.

It’s the recipe for success. You might get a job some day managing Standards and Insight somewhere.