The Firm: High-performance law firms

By Cheryl J. Leone and David W. Favor
The Daily Record Newswire

A high-performance organization has a well-defined purpose, vision and mission. These three elements are understood by the leadership, and the leadership team is passionate about them.

The principle behind a high-performance organization is having a purpose that you are passionate about. This is not a marketing gimmick, but a guiding principle.

The purpose drives the firm and is the fundamental reason for its existence. There is also the idea that you give over control to the team and you rely on leadership skills instead of management skills.

The core to every successful team is the individual. However, the greatest accomplishments happen when the individual is willing to subordinate his or her goals to those of the team.

A firm can achieve greater success by replacing the hierarchical boss/subordinate relationship with an empowered work team. In a team environment, people are not managed or controlled; they are driven by the organization’s purpose and goals.

When we first get a call to work with a business, we generally find a group that is task focused. Best case is that they are organized under a traditional management structure, and the worst case is where there is no organization at all.

They want to become a high-performance organization. This is a business model that replaces top management with leaders (or trains the existing management team in high-performance principles).

There are a lot of names for this concept; high-performance teams, self-directed teams, purpose-focused teams, goal-directed teams and several others.

The flow of these models will go something like this:

• Define your purpose. There is no right or wrong answer, only your answer. Once defined, this will influence your vision. Purpose or vision is nothing more than what you want to end up with when you are done. This is a goal statement

• Define your values. This is a set of rules that you won’t violate based on your belief system, life experiences and the culture you live in. They will define the boundary within which you will operate to accomplish your purpose. The combination of purpose and values will define who you are or what your business is.

• Define your strategic plan. This is a roadmap showing how you will accomplish your purpose without violating your values and when. It is usually a high-level plan that includes several lower-level, more-detailed plans dealing with marketing, business, IT, etc.

It is a new way of looking at your life or your firm.

The old, traditional management methods are difficult to get beyond. Most of the old management lessons are not forgotten or ignored; they are incorporated in a new focus.

The old management methods created a controlled environment focused on schedules and resources. The new method does not ignore schedules or resources but the focus changes to the purpose or vision.

The work is accomplished by empowered teams that have assigned responsibilities and accountability. Control is spread among the teams, and management becomes a resource for them. This allows for creative solutions and has the potential for vastly improved performance.

The biggest hurdle is giving up control and believing in your team. This is all about leadership over management.

The big question we get time after time is, “Why would you do this?” Simply put, with the right values and the right reasons, it provides for a very efficient work environment where the culture is one of enthusiasm, high energy, accomplishment and satisfaction from the top to the bottom.

It helps you deliver an extraordinary work product and allows you to buy into superior client service as the foundation of your firm. And imagine that a place where you are eager to come to work and eager to accomplish what you have a passion for.

Cheryl Leone and David Favor are principals of Catalyst Group, Inc., a national professional development company in Raleigh, N.C., with emphasis on law firms through values-based management and high-performance training. You can get more practice tips by going to or visit their Web site at