The second challenge in W. Edward Deming's Fourteen Points is Adopt the New Philosophy. It is particularly relevant in today's legal services industry, especially as many traditional law firms try to build and sustain a collaborative and productive workplace culture.
This is the third of a series of sixteen articles that will explore the relevance and, for some law firms the existential importance, of W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points, especially for small and midsize law firms.
The second of Deming's Fourteen Points was a clarion call -- and for the legal profession, a wake-up call -- for a profound cultural shift within organizations: to view errors and inefficiencies not as individual failures but as opportunities for systemic improvement.
The legal profession is often painted -- and often rightly so -- as a conservative industry resistant to change. Yet, the increasingly competitive landscape, technological advancements, and shifting client expectations are forcing law firms to reconsider traditional ways of operating. At the heart of these transformations should be what Deming called the "new philosophy" — one that values continuous improvement, innovation, and collaboration.
A crucial aspect of this new philosophy is the movement from a culture of blame to a culture of learning. In traditional law firm environments, mistakes can be harshly scrutinized, often leading to a fear of failure among employees. This fear can stifle innovation and collaboration as lawyers may prefer to "play safe" rather than risk making a mistake, to "keep their heads down" rather than point out even the most obvious opportunities for improvement.
By adopting Deming's philosophy, law firms can transition towards a culture where errors are viewed as systemic issues rather than individual shortcomings. In this environment, mistakes become opportunities for learning and improvement. This shift can lead to increased creativity, teamwork, and ultimately, a more resilient and innovative legal services organization -- and, as the experience has demonstrated -- a more competitive and profitable one.
Another component of the new philosophy is an embracing the concept of teamwork and a breaking down hierarchical and other artificial barriers. A common obstacle in many law firms is to overcome the "silo mentality," where different departments or teams work independently of each other. This siloed approach can hinder knowledge sharing, innovation, and overall firm efficiency. It produces stasis, rather than synergy.
By espousing Deming's philosophy, law firms can work towards a more collaborative culture. This might involve encouraging cross-departmental projects, creating shared goals that require cooperation among different teams, or implementing collaborative tools and platforms that facilitate information sharing.
Finally, Deming's new philosophy speaks to the importance of moving beyond short-term thinking to a long-term, strategic approach to every issue and opportunity. Often, law firms are driven by billable hours or individual case successes, which can lead to short-term thinking, sometimes not even reaching beyond the current fiscal quarter. While these are important metrics, they can sometimes overshadow the bigger, more important, picture – delivering consistent, high-quality legal services and achieving long-term client satisfaction.
Adopting Deming's new philosophy means that law firms should prioritize long-term strategic goals over short-term wins. The need to understand that the path to sustained success involves continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement.
And when we use the word they, we are not referring to just the managing partner or partners of the law firm; instead, we mean every person in the organization.
Deming's challenge to adopt the new philosophy is not just about embracing change for its own sake. Rather, it calls for the building and sustaining of a workplace culture that values learning, collaboration, and long-term thinking. As law firms strive to build more productive and collaborative work environments, this new philosophy might just be the guiding compass they need.
Our next post: Cease Dependence on Inspection.
W. Edward Deming's Fourteen Points provide a framework for sustained growth, improved quality, and better client service. Their successful implementation will require commitment, leadership, and an ongoing dedication to improvement. The law firms that integrate these principles into their daily operations will be well-positioned for future success in the ever-evolving legal landscape.
To learn more about the Fourteen Points, consult W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, (Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1982). Future posts in the Walker Clark World View blog, will examine the strategic relevance and practical application of each of the Fourteen Points to law firm operations and management.