The Next Big Thing – Developing a Competency-Based Business Development Curriculum | JD


By Kristin Walinski, founder and chief executive officer of Scribe

On Nov. 16, 2021, Jill S. Weber, the chief business development officer at Quarles & Brady LLP, led a session explaining how she created and executed a competency-based business development curriculum using change management techniques.

Shortly after Weber joined her law firm, a partner asked her to explain to associates that writing a client alert did not count as business development. Weber both disagreed and agreed, explaining that alerts are a part of business development, but associates need to realize that business development encompasses many more tools and techniques. Weber realized this conflict presented an opportunity to set expectations for the lawyers in her firm for business development. So, she began developing a competency-based business development curriculum.

Here is how she employed a change management strategy to accomplish her goal.

The ADKAR Change Management Framework

Weber suggested that when championing change, it’s important to build confidence that firms will thrive through any transformation. To build that confidence in her firm, Weber adopted the ADKAR framework for change management, which sets forth five concrete outcomes essential to ensuring lasting change:
  • Awareness: I know what’s changing and what we’re trying to achieve as an organization.
  • Desire: I understand the benefits the change will provide for our organization, my team and me personally. I want to be a part of it.
  • Knowledge: I understand the specific actions I need to take and the changes in mindset I may need to make to achieve our objectives.
  • Ability: I have been given the training and tools I need to implement the change and feel confident I can be successful.
  • Reinforcement: I am motivated to continue the journey because I see the progress we’re making and believe our goals are achievable.

Weber started by setting five goals for the curriculum:

  1. Defining business development competencies at every phase of a career, from associate to partner
  2. Educating attorneys on the business development skills needed to achieve business development competencies
  3. Aligning business development education with firmwide training at three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced
  4. Educating attorneys on the breadth and depth of services across the firm
  5. Turning knowledge into effective, practical action

She then began walking through the ADKAR steps.

Step 1: Awareness

Because she was new to the firm, Weber asked a lot of questions of people throughout the firm, including the firm’s president, managing partner, partners, associates, co-chairs of the associate development committee, head of HR and more. The information-gathering phase, she observed, was “the most time-intensive, but also the most valuable.”

In this early stage, Weber spent a lot of time educating stakeholders on why the competencies were important and how they related to business development. She also wanted to tie different competencies to varying levels to offer lawyers an idea of the time it takes to progress through the skills.

As an early test of the program’s structure, Weber met with new partners about a few of the competencies. First, she conducted a general training session. Then she held one-on-ones with each partner, working collaboratively on their website and LinkedIn bios. Through this process, she learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t, but, perhaps more importantly, she built support for the change with the partners, who became advocates for the curriculum.

Step 2: Desire

Weber knew she couldn’t form a business development curriculum on her own. So, she built a cross-firm task force consisting of firm leadership, partners, associates, members of the associate committee, professional development and human resources. Together, they brainstormed what would and wouldn’t work and gave feedback on training. By spending this time and gathering their input, it helped build the desire for the program in the hearts of the people that she needed to influence.

Step 3: Knowledge

Weber wanted to set up four core categories of competencies to serve as a foundation for the program: visibility, client experience, relationship building (both inside and outside the firm) and revenue generation. For each level, the curriculum specifically defines what each competency means with actionable and measurable steps. For example, senior associates aren’t simply told to find ways to increase their visibility. They are instructed with SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound) goals, such as updating their firm and LinkedIn bios twice per year and posting updates on LinkedIn twice a month.

Step 4: Ability

People learn better when learning is structured to use all of their senses: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. At the firm, Weber implemented multiple tiers of this multimodal learning to address different learning needs and give lawyers the tools they needed to succeed at business development.

Weber structured a three-tiered education model for Quarles & Brady. First, the firm offers a short business development tip that lawyers can read in two minutes or less, with links to additional resources for lawyers who want to dive deeper into a topic. Every other month, Weber’s team holds hour-long education sessions that align with the tip topic. Finally, practice group leaders receive slides with key takeaways that they can review in five minutes at team meetings.

Step 5: Reinforcement

To reinforce learning, Weber created an online business development resource center. The firm organized the center around the four core business development competencies. Attorneys can choose a competency, then click a link to view the full curriculum and relevant resources.

The Results

To date, the firm has successfully turned business development knowledge into action. Weber notes that the curriculum is still evolving, but so far, lawyers have been excited about the learning opportunities it affords. She is looking forward to seeing how the curriculum impacts the firm’s results.

This post originally appeared in the LMA Mid-Atlantic member newsletter for the fourth quarter of 2021 


Read More: The Next Big Thing – Developing a Competency-Based Business Development Curriculum | JD

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