VeraSage Symposium November 2013-some reflections

HR Firm of the Future signpost Crop


The VeraSage Institute has 3 central pillars on which professional firms are based. These are:

  1. Never bill by time
  2. Never use timesheets,&
  3. Offer a 100% money back guarantee.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           As a senior fellow of  VeraSage, earlier this month I was again very privileged to attend a VeraSage symposium comprising its founders, some senior and practising fellows and also some VeraSage guests, this year held on the Big Island of Hawaii.

It is always a treat to meet with such smart, stimulating,courageous,& innovative people who continually challenge and push the boundaries to find new and better ways of running their businesses, serving their customers and improving their respective professions not just for themselves but future generations.

This year was no exception.

Whilst there were a huge variety of topics discussed over the days (and nights) a very brief snapshot of some of the presentations follows.

After the welcoming remarks by VeraSage co founder Dan Morris,the formal part of the 2 day symposium commenced with the irrepressible and dynamic Boston lawyer Chris Marston (who that evening married his beautiful Cecilia on the beach at Waikoloa) challenging us all on how we compensate our team members and ourselves.In short Chris believes if we are going to value price we need to value pay- and that means abandoning what is essentially the old labour model of compensation.

Wise Sage Ed Kless also delivered his views on compensation arguing that in a professional knowledge firm everyone is a defacto owner of the business and should be entitled to some share of profit.

Needless to say there was significant discussion from the attendees on how best to compensate team members and 2 things became clear.First, there are any number of options and one size does not suit all and second,gone are the days when anyone is paid for simply turning up for work to just do an “OK” job.

First time guest Laura Snyder,an ex-practising and in-house lawyer, flew all the way from Paris to explain her vision for providing out-house general counsel support to international SME’s.

For a change of pace part time accountant and the G. Robert Newhart Non-value-added Verasage Fellow, stand up comedian Greg Kyte continued his Certified Public Agnostic theme by delivering a humorous presentation titled “Do You Believe In God?

Dan Morris led us in a great discussion on the benefits of the much under utilised Before Action Reviews.

Reminding us that surveys show 85% of businesses think that financial statements produced for them by their accountants are next to useless, Adrian Simmons ( who the next day was appointed VeraSage’s newest practicing fellow) updated us on the innovation that is Thriveal. In particular Adrian explained how the Thriveal Lab is allowing young-and not so-young- CPAs the opportunity to get together in an environment where experimentation and creativity is supported and fostered as they increasingly look to provide new services and products that are of real value to their clients.

Next it was some of the Australian attendees turn to take to the stage with McCullough Robertson partner & founder of eLawyer Matthew Burgess walking us through his and his team’s creativity journey, the abolition of non-time-based pricing and their ultimate abandonment of timesheets.

Joelle Blackburn, People & Development Manager at Moores Legal,spoke about many lawyers (lack of) self confidence and self esteem when it comes to pricing. Joelle emphasised the critical importance emotional intelligence plays in well functioning professionals whilst sadly noting that in the professions we score high on IQ but lower on EQ than the general public.

Next up was David Wells Managing Partner of Moores Legal who took the room through their journey of adopting Moores Agreed Pricing, abandoning timesheets on 1 July 2012 and providing examples of the positive impact this has had on their firm’s culture,their people and their clients.

Craig Hollett partner at BBV Legal in Perth was another who spoke about his firm’s transition over the last 3 years when they first adopted fixed pricing across the whole firm.

To end formal proceedings on Day 1 Ron Baker reminded us that if your “why” is not polarising it is probably worthless and re iterated how our firms are primarily determined by the customers we don’t have quoting Steve Jobs who said

” I am as proud of what we (Apple) don’t do as much as what we do do”.

On Day 2 Laura Snyder made an excellent presentation on some of the radical changes and shake up affecting the UK legal profession and one couldn’t but help think that the legislative intervention in the UK legal services market was primarily a response to the exorbitant cost of legal representation in the UK and a move to free up a protected profession. It will be very interesting to see how the UK legal market in particular pans out over the next few years and whether of any of this makes its way to other jurisdictions.

Inspirational VeraSage Senior Fellow Michelle Golden stimulated our thought processes when posturing the potential roles in professional firms of a value strategist and how that requires a different skill set to a result strategist.

Ed Kless talked about leadership and in particular the brilliant thoughts of Howard Hansen & Steven Geske best espoused in their book “Healing Leadership-A Survival Guide for the Enlightened Leader” ( a book I have since read and highly recommend).Many of us left the conference with the desire to be “a non anxious presence“.

Jeff Wald Managing Partner of Top 100 US Accounting firm Kennedy & Coe presented his firm’s recent history of not only adopting fixed pricing but how his firm create an impact & is a major influence in the defined industries they specialise in and how they do it whilst having fun. Very stimulating.

Libby Klein one of the early drivers of value based pricing at Moores talked about her own personal journey at the firm and the challenges and highlights she has so far experienced along the way.

Dan Morris then gave us an insight into his soon to be written book “Lessons From The Waterhole” and we all can’t wait for it to be published.

Ron Baker-after copping two well deserved roasts from both myself and Greg Kyte- recovered enough to close Day 2 with a presentation about our Post-Causality World explaining that innovation and creativity can never be planned for-it should always take us by surprise and why there is little or no creativity in data driven organisations.

Finally Ron left us with the following 10 lessons he has recently learned:

1. The Four Defenses for Keeping Timesheets dominate the debate: we need them for: 1) pricing; 2) cost accounting; 3) project management; and 4) determining the efficiency of the team. All these are incorrect and have been empirically refuted

2. “In the real world…”? When some one says this, they are losing, or are about to lose, the debate

3. Eliminate “the fade”-discounting degrades our pricing integrity and trains customers to ask (and expect) discounts

4. Separate project management from pricing, they are two entirely different skills

5. Eliminate individual revenue targets–it creates silos and works against the one-firm firm principle

6. Our new #1 KPI should be “how much value are we leaving on the table?

7. The professions need to get back to providing excellent customer service

8. Our self esteem is important–without it we cannot do a service to our team nor our customers

9. Understand and communicate the immense psychological positives in firms that have no timesheets

10. Timesheets are the real cancer in the professions–they need to go. VeraSage will continue to provide heat and light to this debate

There were many memorable quotes from these 2 days none more so than from Matthew Burgess when he said:

” With timesheets I used to ask is it billable? Without timesheets I now ask is it valuable?

Which question does your firm ask?

Burning Timesheets



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