As the economy forces more belt-tightening on law firms, it’s tempting to make decisions based strictly on metrics — of profitability, productivity, efficiency. For the record, I’m completely in favor of profitability, productivity and efficiency. But I firmly believe there is more we should be paying attention to and tracking. What more? Our Values Proposition, not just our value proposition.
Value proposition is a basic concept of business. [Note: this is “value” without a final “s.”] Wikipedia describes value proposition as “a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer of value that will be experienced.” It’s the benefit delivered to the customer (from KM personnel, services and systems, for example), after taking into effect the cost of those personnel, services and systems. Once we know our value proposition, we use it to explain to our internal customers why they should be using our services or to explain to management why they should be funding yet another KM project. Perhaps your KM value proposition is based on the efficiency your systems bring to the practice of law. Perhaps your KM value proposition is derived from costs you demonstrably reduce.
Amber Naslund takes it one step further by reminding us that a value proposition isn’t just a business school exercise or a marketing gimmick:
Delivering something worthwhile is not achieved in a board room with big flip charts and spreadsheets and ideation sessions. It’s not delivered with a slick brochure or well-written copy, or a stack of press hits in the Wall Street Journal. It’s not delivered in key messages or brand attributes, even. It’s delivered in the work that you do with and for your customers, each and every day. The hard stuff, where you roll up your sleeves and show what you’re made of. Solving real problems for real people.
While a value proposition is useful, I’m beginning to think that a values proposition is critical. Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical, used the phrase in a recent HBR blog post to suggest a better way to differentiate yourself from the competition:
There is a temptation, amidst the turmoil, for pundits to conclude that the only sensible response is to make bold bets — new business models that challenge the logic of an industry, products that aim to be `category killers’ and obsolete the competition. But I’ve come to believe that a better way to respond to uncertainty is with small gestures that send big signals about what you care about and stand for. In a world defined by crisis, acts of generosity and reassurance take on outsized importance.
He goes on to describe interactions with service providers who were competent but left the customer dissatisfied because the delivery of services lacked humanity. He then contrasts that with service providers whose values helped them understand in the critical moment what really matters. As a result, they provided “not-so-random acts of kindness that humanize companies and offer an uplifting alternative to a demoralizing status quo.”
This raises an interesting question: what’s the values proposition of your department?
- What’s the quality of your service?
- Do you love what you are doing? If so, does it show?
- What’s the tone of your interactions with colleagues and customers?
- To what extent do kindness and consideration color your actions?
- What intangibles about your service do your clients value?
- What intangibles about your department make your colleagues glad to be part of your team?
Bill Taylor quotes Mother Theresa who once told her followers: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”
What do your small everyday actions say about your values?
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