Virginia-Clegg-Senior-Partner-DAC-Beachcroft-24

The Rise of the MicroNed

I feel truly blessed. I have spent 30 years in Legal working with some of the best brains out there – decent, capable people trying to do the very best things for their organisations. This short article is about exactly this. Doing the best thing for your business and an emerging approach to making this happen.

 The Challenge

Over the years we have had many questions put to us which have all been in the zone of “how do we really make this business perform?”. These have included the following and have spanned both business services as well as legal groups:

“How do we professionalise?”

“Are we set up in the right way?”

“Why does it take us so long to do things?”

“Are we competitive and as good as others?”

“What should our ideal structures look like?”

“Are X department as good as they need to be?”

“Why is that team not profitable?”

“I don’t know what I don’t know”

“Why don’t we know this stuff?”

“I wonder if that team are telling me what I want to hear and are too focussed on doing what they like?”

These are all great questions and I have seen many attempts at addressing them but seldom do people feel they have hit their sweet spot. I have now seen (and have participated in) a new approach as part of some new mandates and feel the right answer is emerging. In many ways it is obvious, but this approach has seldom been leveraged. I am calling it the rise of the MicroNed – the part-time non-executive “as a service” for Key Business Areas.

 How does this work?  

And so let me explain:

  1. Basic management exercises (including the famous “getting lost in the jungle after a plane crash” exercise) all categorically show that group decision making produces better results than individuals making decisions alone.
  2. Research clearly shows larger diverse teams make better decisions.
  3. Boards get this – multiple people are appointed and they appoint Non-Execs. They don’t rely on just one person to take key decisions.
  4. Even in Parliament and the House of Lords decisions are debated with multiple people feeding in, and a long-established process of checks and balances.

So why does everyone think it is a great idea to allow key groups and functional areas in law firms and other businesses to be led by just one person who is the primary decision-maker, without support from anyone else with domain expertise?  Why do we think that will give us the best performance or organisational decision making? Why do I now think this model needs to change?

Again let me explain by way of giving you a few examples:

  1. We meet many capable people but let’s face facts in any organisation a person in a key role probably deals with 20 or so of the same people, and works on four top business priorities,  and so experience and capability, although strong, is framed in those terms. People like me and other consultants will not currently have the depth of organisational experience but will have a much wider field of visibility due to what we do daily. I work with around 300 different people across the top priorities of a diverse range of businesses. Our fields of vision are very different. Neither model by itself will be perfect for a business but mixed in the right proportions the two are a very powerful combination.
  2. I used to have a “job” (https://www.hyperscalegroup.com/our-founder) and I like to think I was good at it. We had a good track record, enjoyed a lot of success and ran a tight ship. Behind the scenes we ran a “Central IT” concept. Four great people, each with different experience. If we all agreed on something it was normally the right thing to do. If one of us strongly disagreed we probably would not do it. It was a very successful model and worked, the business and the performance of our area accelerated on many fronts.
  3. A client was struggling to make things happen, due to multiple priorities. We put in place a model where I worked one day per month helping with information on products, AI and wider issues and sense checking what we were doing. Within a short time, we were flying. The firm had the people to make things happen and I knew where to look. We cut out the research which they did not have time for and wasted time and avoided a contract with a costly supplier.
  4. A corporate client has a similar arrangement with me. They have a core product they know inside out and superb experienced people. By simply asking a question in advance and talking about it we avoided a large research project, avoided additional software costs and worked out the right questions to put to their core supplier and IT function. Two hours of discussion and sense checking potentially saved the business in excess of a six-figure sum.
  5. I was a law firm partner in a superb sector team some years back. We did a deal for a small amount of time per month with a leading third party in the field. That one person and their knowledge, input and connections brought a step change to the team. Again, for a small injection of industry knowledge we really accelerated.
  6. On a basic level, I have lived through independent file reviews and quality audits. They are never fun but are always beneficial and lead to improvements.

The list goes on….Seldom is great decision-making the result of one individual.

 And so what am I saying?

I am saying essentially three things:

  1. Group decision making and input/challenge give better results – we know this. It is applied at the very top of organisations but not lower down in functional areas and groups, and there is no reason for this. We need to change this if we want to improve performance.
  2. If I were designing an ideal structure for any business now, I would consider a core team and organisational structure but I would also appoint a range of “MicroNeds” i.e. effectively Non-Execs in key functional and delivery areas, each with relevant domain knowledge. These people might only work for a day or half a day per month but they would help functional leaders eliminate the research, they would have domain-relevant knowledge and would constructively challenge but would probably not report into those functions. They would not be spies in the camp or Big Brother type characters but would be like Non-Execs on the Board i.e. they would be there to help guide, act as a sounding board and constructively challenge and mentor. Importantly they would bring a different field of vision from the wider market. They might help people address specific issues. Like Non-Execs they would be very experienced; you would not need and could not justify appointing them full time but a small amount of input could make a huge difference.
  3. Choosing the right people is key. Having seen the results I think it could be the missing ingredient – the “magic ingredient” to make optimum performance. It gives functional areas both the horizontal, as well as vertical, perspective. On budgets, it saves money rather than costs money too (see above). On risk it minimises it. On resilience, it increases it. Confidence will increase. Using collaboration means you excel. On field of vision, you don’t miss out.

2021 – The way forward

From what I am seeing 2021 could be the year of the MicroNed. The year in which we realise the value of what everyone brings to the party and the value of experience. It could be the year we free up the talent of people in our organisations to make great things happen. The year in which we cascade the very best collaborative business practices and also support the development of our people in doing this.

In my view, we are entering a new era. 2021 will bring with it a new world, demanding new approaches. Whether you agree with this article or not I would perhaps ask you to question whether the BC (“Before Covid-19”) structures and processes are fit for a more complex PC (“Post Covid-19”) world? If not, what does good look like to you?

For detail of our MicroNed and “as a service” offerings please email dereksouthall@hyperscalegroup.com

Derek Southall

Derek Southall

Hyperscale Group
Derek Southall, founder and CEO is a high profile and very well connected figure in the legal technology, innovation, knowledge management and digital marketplaces. Derek has spent nearly 25 years in a range of leading strategic roles for a top 50 global law firm, for most of this time as a Partner and Head of Strategic Development and subsequently as Head of Digital and Innovation. During this period Derek oversaw and helped drive growth from £27 mil TO to in excess of £425 mil TO as well as driving and supporting numerous mergers and international expansion to 18 offices in 10 countries. Derek was ranked by the FT as one of the top three most innovative lawyers in the UK in its first study into the legal market. Derek also led the firm’s technology team to become ranked as the most innovative in Europe and subsequently the firm to ranked as the second most innovative firm in Europe as well as picking up a range of other awards. Derek has been the relationship partner for a long list of major household name clients in a range of sectors including Automotive, FMCG, Financial Services, Food and Drink, Fashion and Construction and has a strong track record in sales and product delivery. Derek has been ranked three times in the last three years as an Acritas Star for outstanding client delivery (based on independent feedback). Derek chairs and was one of the founders of the Legal IT Innovators Group (www.litig.org) which has 80 or so of the top 100 firms as members and which plays a key role in driving ahead technological thinking and change for the good of the legal profession. In this role he has worked alongside the United Nations and a range of other large organisations. www.hyperscalegroup.com recently joined forces with two other leading advisory businesses in the fields of technology, operations and financial management to create the www.intuityalliance.com which has been referred to as the “Holy Trilogy” of Legal IT. Its purpose is to pool experience and intellectual knowhow to ensure we have a more holistic approach to how they give advice. Derek also serves on the advisory boards of several start-ups and has recently been appointed to the advisory board of the Global Institute of Innovation, which brings together around 400 academics to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.