As for the client, we probably err in the opposite direction: We spill copious ink and marketing dollars trumpeting our dedication to client service, but how often do we articulate it so simply: “Making life easier for the client?”

“The working team” may not be a unit of organization we think much about, but if I had to put my money on one of these five to be first among equals, it would be the working team every time. Here again we learn a lot from another sector: The military. The Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force all drill “unit cohesion” into recruits more strongly than any other value or characteristic. Its importance has been described in various ways, but a primary component is the individual’s partially submerging his interests for the good of the unit. Here’s how one Army commander put it:

The strongest motivation for enduring combat, especially for US soldiers, is the bond formed among members of a squad or platoon. This cohesion is the single most important sustaining and motivating force for combat soldiers. Simply put, soldiers fight because of the other members of their small unit. Most soldiers value honor and reputation more than their lives because life among comrades whom a soldier has failed seems lonely and worthless.

Lastly, the individual level: Here I take issue with our McKinsey tutors, because I would rank “personal development” and “a sense of empowerment” on an altogether different plane than “a higher paycheck or bonus.” I don’t believe they belong in the same conjoined phrase. Yes, compensation has to be “fair” first and foremost, and spot bonuses or awards can work wonders, but when we’re in the terrain of “meaning quotient,” dollars should be largely absent.


  • firm
  • society
  • client
  • team
  • you

Stories that involve all five components can be remarkably powerful. They offer the example of a major financial services institution needing to implement a cost reduction program. When conventional communications along the lines of “expenses are outpacing revenue” had no impact, they turned to a “five factor story:” society/more affordable housing; clients/more competitive prices, team/less duplication, faster pace; individuals/bigger responsibilities. Within a month, employees reporting they were motivated to help what was after all still a cost reduction program jumped from 35% to 57%.

Finally, “buy in.”

We talk about it a lot, but do we walk the talk?

In one of Daniel Kahneman’s famous experiments, researchers ran a lottery with a twist. Half of the participants were randomly assigned a lottery ticket. The remaining half were given a blank piece of paper and asked to write down any number they pleased. Just before drawing the winning number, the researchers offered to buy back the tickets from their holders. The question they wanted to answer was how much more would you have to pay people who “wrote their own number” than people who received a number randomly.

The rational answer should be no difference at all, since a lottery is pure chance, and therefore every ticket number, chosen or assigned, has the same odds of winning. A completely rational actor might even want to pay less for a freely chosen number, given the possibility of duplicate ones. The actual answer? Regardless of geography or demographics, researchers found they had to pay at least five times more to those who chose their own number.

This result reveals a truth about human nature: when we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome—by a factor of at least five to one.

How do you implement something like that in the real world? Here’s a story:

When Neville Isdell took charge at Coca-Cola, in 2004, he cocreated a turnaround strategy by bringing together his top 150 employees for three multiday “real work” sessions. The process was then cascaded further down into the organization, at small working meetings where participants could in effect write their own lottery ticket about the implications for their particular parts of the business.

With hindsight, this process of creating and interactively cascading what became known as The Manifesto for Growth is seen as a pivotal intervention in a two-year turnaround in which the group stopped destroying shareholder value and generated returns of 20 percent, driven by volume increases equivalent to selling an extra 105 million bottles of Coke a day. In this period, staff turnover fell by 25 percent, and the company reported what external researchers called unprecedented increases in employee engagement for an organization of this size.


Now, let’s try to bring all this back to the C-Suite in your firm.

We’ve learned a few things in this series:

  • In the face of an unknown future, experiments are essential, and experiments are best conducted closer to the front lines than they are from the top down.
  • “Flow”—that solid rocket booster to productivity, creativity, and contribution, requires not just a rational framework and emotional support but far more important (according to 90% of respondents), meaning.
    Meaning has to have components (a story) that relate to:

    • the firm
    • society
    • clients
    • the team
    • and the individual

Distributing decision-making down (Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola) and letting people “write their own lottery tickets” requires the prerequisite be in place of trust, respect, and confidence.

I began by saying we don’t trust, don’t respect, and have no confidence in our C-Suite or, indeed, any “non-lawyer” on the premises.

Shall we turn that upside down for a moment?

How would you, Dear Lawyer, feel if your CFO, your CMO, your CIO, or for that matter your multi-talented administrative assistant, second-guessed you at every pass about how you practice law? And told you to your face occasionally that she could do your job better than you, as well as telling other people both inside and outside the firm the same thing?

Is the impact this kind of behavior has sinking in?

Let your CFO manage, strategically and operationally, the finance department. Same with the CMO and marketing, the CIO and your technology, your client relationship people and organized structures for approaching client relations, your HR people and recruiting. We should all strike an entente cordiale here: You let them do what they do best (manage) and you do what you do best (lawyer).

Again, we can diagram how this would work:

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