by Deb Knupp / December 11, 2018
A professional service firm’s shift from focusing on client service to client experience can be transformational. Chicago’s Levenfeld Pearlstein is a shining example of this principle in action. Levenfeld Pearlstein CEO Angie Hickey talked with us about the extraordinary success of the firm’s client experience strategy, The LP Way™.
Simply, The LP Way is the execution plan for our client experience strategy. Our strategy as a business is to build a consistent and unparalleled client experience. And we believe if we do that, it will be a revenue-generating strategy.
We know that everyone can say they have a strategy. Where the rubber meets the road is in the execution. None of this is rocket science—it’s challenging, but not impossible. It’s all been done before by other industries if you just have the curiosity to look and the tenacity to get it done in a law firm. We studied the Ritz Carlton. We studied Disney. We studied Mayo Clinic, Southwest Airlines, and Nordstrom. We really tried to understand—what is a client experience strategy, and how does it work?
Primarily, we learned that you can only execute a client experience strategy through your people. Every single person has to understand, embody, embrace, and achieve it. We knew this would be a substantial undertaking, bigger than anything we’d ever done before. Another thing we learned is that in order to be effective, the strategy has to be simple. It cannot be a 72-page plan. It has to be something that every single person, from the most senior partner to the person in the accounting office, understands and can articulate. That was our challenge.
As students of business, we had what felt like a million different initiatives in play. We were aiming to adopt best practices in every area of the firm. We knew that we had to really simplify and connect all of these moving parts.
The LP Way culminated into a five-step process. Because we are lawyers, every word was meticulously chosen, and we kept negotiating the copy down. It couldn’t be a chapter, not a paragraph, but a sentence. A statement, a bullet point. Then we did the really hard work of getting feedback. It took about two years for people to realize, “Okay, this is not just another passing initiative. This is not going anywhere.”
We had a very strong roll-out plan, implemented by members of the executive committee. They were each trained in how to lead mixed-group (meaning employees from different practice areas, from different levels of the firm) discussions. Leadership truly honed the message that every single person in the firm plays an important part—and is tied to—a client’s experience.
The first three years were focused on educating and building awareness of The LP Way inside the firm. We reorganized our compensation metrics, our performance standards, everything. All of our internal communications tied each initiative to a specific step of The LP Way so the relevance and impact in what we were trying to accomplish was clear.
The first step of The LP Way is “Attract and Retain Talent.” You can’t accomplish anything unless you have talented people. We stopped saying talented attorneys, because talent means talent, at every single level of the firm. This step is grounded in the Jim Collins “Good to Great” principle of getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats.
Second is “Lead by Example.” This comes from the David Maister concept to Practice What You Preach. It doesn’t matter what you say you do. It matters what you do. You have to walk the talk, starting at the leadership level.
Step three is “Cultivate Effective Groups.” This is the most challenging step to execute and is still a work in progress. Our practice groups are comparable to small business units in other organizations, and our practice group leaders are full-time practicing attorneys who’ve never been trained in, for the most part, management or leadership. There is a lot expected of them. The practice groups are the front lines of the client experience—these are the people who deal directly with our clients. It’s crucial that they are organized effectively and are transparent. So we spend a lot of time looking at how our practice groups are supported, what the leverage model looks like, and the efficiency of how the work gets done. It’s the hardest step to execute. We do a work in what’s called P3—pricing, process improvement, and project management—in step three. We believe that value happens at the intersection of these three Ps.
Step four is “Align Systems.” By systems, we are not talking about just back-office technology and accounting, but also our governance system, reward system, and performance management system. I would say that this step is the essence of my job as CEO—to make certain each area of the firm is aligned. The easiest example I like to use here is, you can’t say you’re a collaborative firm and then have your compensation system reward individual performance. The misalignment there is noticeable. This step is modeled after the McKinsey 7-S model.
Step five is “Ask for Feedback.” We ask for feedback within the firm at varying levels. This is how we confirm we’re really doing what we’re saying. We’re known for how well we communicate with our clients. We’ve always established this as a best practice and have asked our clients how we’re doing, even before it became trendy to do so. GrowthPlay supports us in this step by managing all of our client interviews. The LP Way continues to build upon itself, and the feedback keeps it progressing. It’s often hard to hear the truth, but if we refuse to listen, our talent and our clients will just vote with their feet—and that’s even more painful than hearing the truth.
The LP Way has completely transformed Levenfeld Pearlstein’s client experience strategy, and their success is contagious. But if you’d like to initiate this kind of change within your own firm, you may be wondering where to begin. Think about these first three steps as the seeds to launching transformative change: