Steady Growth or Innovation? What Your Law Firm Can Learn From Microsoft’s Crossroads

Last week, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer announced his retirement. And, some sources are saying this is a good opportunity to reboot the company’s disenchanted corporate culture.

Is Microsoft in such dire straits?

Consider 2010, the advent of Apple’s iPad announcement. Microsoft had already created a buzz in the tech community for its mockups of a tablet computer. Dreamed up by the inventor of the Xbox videogame, the tablet folded like a book and its users could sketch directly on the screen.

But, Microsoft waited. And, while the Apple iPad transformed into a worldwide phenomenon, for its turn, Microsoft scrapped the entire tablet computer idea.

According to Steve Ballmer, Microsoft needed to refocus its efforts on the Windows operating system for which the company first earned its reputation.

“So ingrained is Microsoft’s culture of protecting entrenched interests that swinging for the fences is sometimes punished, and so people stopped trying, say current and former employees and outsiders,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“They say that an outsider CEO may be the best choice to welcome back technologists who think outside the box.”

In any venture, it’s important to decide on a vision. There are two extreme choices in business: (1) invest in innovation or (2) invest in the sure-thing.

For centuries, entrepreneurs have known there exists a trade-off between risk and reward. Too much risk in finding the next, new, cutting-edge technology and your company may be left in the red. However, too conservative and your company may be left in the dust.

It seems as though Microsoft isn’t sure where it should land on this thin, insensitive line of risk and reward. To those law firm managers surviving the recession, do you?

Of course, a tradeoff does not imply one without the other. For law firms, there is middle ground between innovative legal resources and services and traditional practices.

“Whether to manage a company for growth or for efficiency is a classic business conundrum, and the choice isn’t simple,” Shira Ovide reminds us in the Wall Street Journal.

Before you throw out nautical décor and ask I.M. Pei to design your new law offices, consider the following:

  1. Is there a large innovation gap between your firm and others in your same practice area?
  2. When was the last time you updated your legal technology?
  3. What is the average age of your associates?
  4. What is the spread of ages for employees at your law firm?
  5. What is the type of profile for associates you hope to attract in the future?
  6. What is your mission statement?
  7. How large do you want your firm to grow in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Often innovative companies attract bright young talent. However, if your youngest associate is in his late thirties, how well will a 20-something tweeting law grad assimilate in your firm?

On the other hand, if your firm is top-heavy, it’s likely your firm is lagging behind in the best latest technology and methods for managing your firm.

If you haven’t yet, it’s important to create a 5 to 10 year plan for:

  • Risk Management
  • Global operations
  • Incorporating technology
  • Growth targets
  • Leadership training
  • Social media/mobile devices

In the case of Microsoft, Mr. Ballmer may scoff making radical ideas come true, but he knows how to make the company green—with money, that is. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Microsoft has become one of the world’s most profitable companies by quadrupling its annual revenue, making about 75 cents in gross profit for every dollar in sales.

Google takes in half that amount.

So, yes, maybe Microsoft’s digital music player was too little, too late (do you even remember the Zune?). And, perhaps Apple’s brand is little a bit more “cool”. But, if slow and stead wins the race, Microsoft is right on track.

Does your law firm strategy match your corporate culture? Learn how to grow your business with C4CM’s audio course: Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This information-packed webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including (but not limited to):

Steps to build client loyalty, manage expectations and generate client referrals

  • Identifying and maximize cross-selling opportunities
  • How to match your marketing strategy to seniority level
  • Making business development a sustainable, ongoing part of your culture

-WB

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