An essential element of coaching involves the coach working with the client to generate insight as the pathway to effecting change. In working in the legal services sector with the Law Society Consulting team, I have a role in looking to advise members on new product and innovation in their practise. In that work, as in coaching leaders or business managers, getting people to reflect deeply and give an undivided attention to an issue or problem is key to addressing change. The skill of the coach and consultant is in framing the question(s) to enhance reflection. A good question may reveal a pattern of behaviours or offer a view point for greater objectivity; a starting point on the process of change.
To illustrate the art of framing, let me share some thoughts on some recent activity I have been involved in.
The legal profession is noted for its conservative and cautious approach to change, but the twin pressures of new technologies and regulation/de-regulation are forcing attention to the economy and nature of practise. At the beginning of 2015 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) commissioned research, from the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), into innovation in legal services. If you take a look at https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/innovate/sra-innovate.page the motives of the SRA are crystal clear. The SRA want a “strong and diverse legal services market with consumers’ choice at its heart” amongst other things. Whatever you think of the SRA, the research is there to help reflection on their drive to objectify those aims.
On November 10th the Law Society Consulting team and Warwick Business School, Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), held a breakfast seminar for Law Society members, at the Shard in central London to present findings from research on innovation in the legal services sector.
After the compulsory stares out of the windows on the 14th floor of the Shard, looking over South London, the delegates were invited by Prof. Stephen Roper and Jim Love, who headed up the research, to reflect on, and learn from, the findings. Their purpose was to look at what was going on; what drives innovation in the sector, the impact of competition, regulation and legislative change. Overall there was need to understand the barriers and enablers to growth in the current climate.
Law Society Consulting wanted to understand what type of advice members would need in the future, and to help provoke some thinking around the topic of innovating, directing and implementing change. We were looking for insights too.
With the many challenges of adapting to new market conditions most of the delegates were there to gain insight, to see what their peers were up to, to begin the thinking about what and where to change their business. The research provides a framework to asking the right questions about how innovation arises in the sector but not what to do, which I suspect many in audience wanted a quick answer to.
Now you may say that research should provide insight, that is its primary purpose. Yes, but knowing something is not the same as making sense of it. Insights are contextual.
What generates insight? And why are they so important to the process of change? The brain is a connection machine. It has evolved to reconcile disparate pieces of information, find connections and patterns and make sense of the world. An insight, the penny dropping, the ah ah! moment, is the connection made, the new map in the mind created. It in turn produces new thoughts and ideas that create further energy in the mind and body to act.
Focusing on the right thing is a strategic choice. For those in the legal profession the agenda of the regulator is probably second only to the agenda of the client. At Parallel Mind, one of our favourite questions to ask is “where are your clients going, and are you going with them?” All perfectly challenging and in most cases a great point for getting the energy flowing. However, at the Shard meeting, a delegate, a criminal law practitioner, observed that he was not too keen to address the first part of that question and certainly had no intention of following his clients. A moment of insight for me, as I recalibrated the usefulness of that question in future client coaching.