A Strategy For Growing Your Practice: The Science

Those of us who have created firm mandated business development plans know that putting something together to meet firm requirements is one thing; creating a strategy that is motivating enough to lead to implementation and success, is quite another.

Fortunately, neuroscience gives us the information we need to both understand ourselves and to leverage our natural tendencies in order to reliably create the results we desire.  In this article – the first of a series that incorporates the neuroscience behind motivation and leadership – our Associate, Lori Shook and I discuss how you can leverage the science of motivation to create a business development strategy that will lead to your greatest success.

What neuroscience tells us about our drivers and behaviors

Neuroscience has helped to identify the functions of the various parts of our brain and what triggers them, cares for them, calms them and strengthens them.  As Lori discusses in her video on the subject (see the link below), the strongest and oldest part of our brain is the limbic system.  This is charged with keeping us safe and is responsible for drawing us towards those things that it perceives as rewards and away from those things that it perceives as threats.  It does this by pumping chemicals into our system: dopamine hits for reward and cortisol and adrenaline for threats.  It is this reward and threat system that has the limbic brain drive us every day.

So how do we use this information to our advantage?

Studies show that these threat and reward responses are triggered around certain human needs.  If we know how to ensure our brains feel less threatened and more rewarded, we can set ourselves up for greater feelings of motivation and well being.  We have the tools to better design our success.

The Triggers

Neuroscientists and others have worked to categorize the human social drivers that evoke a threat or reward response in our brains.  Some of you may have heard of the SCARF model by David Rock, which you can read more about here. Lori has developed her own way of categorizing and explaining these social drivers under the acronym Be SAFE & Certain as follows:


Watch Lori’s video here.

Although each of us may ascribe a different hierarchy to these human needs – and thus respond more or less strongly to their presence or lack thereof – the fact of the matter is that these are the social needs that the limbic system of all normally functioning adult brains respond to on some level.

Creating Motivating and Inspiring BD Strategies that Lead to Success

When we apply this model to our business development efforts, it is obvious why requiring a BD strategy of our teams and ourselves is a no-brainer (pun intended).  A BD strategy, when created with our natural social drivers in mind, has the potential to motivate us and our teams and is much more likely to lead to success than an ad hoc approach.  Here are some further tips for creating BD strategies that lead to results:

  1. Belonging:  Creating BD strategies that are aligned with the Firm strategy, gives us a sense that we are part of a team approach.  (Note to law firm management: This requires the Firm to have identified concrete goals with measurable desired outcomes and shared them with the team).  Our sense of belonging is increased when teams of people are brought together on a regular basis to work towards a goal.  We can increase our sense of belonging in the moment by finding others to work with in pursuit of a specific BD goal; a BD buddy system, if you will.
  2. Status:  Writing a strategy that explicitly states how we plan to contribute to the Firms efforts, makes us feel that we have status (social ranking) in our team.  Where this “status” is acknowledged and rewarded by others, we are even more likely to work towards our BD goals.  That is why having a BD strategy that has been carefully considered and acknowledged by mentors and practice group leaders will be more motivating.
  3. Autonomy:  Giving our team members and ourselves the opportunity to identify how we are best suited to AND most excited about contributing to the success of the Firm’s BD strategy, increases feelings of autonomy.  Business development is not just about attending networking events.  There is a myriad of ways legal professionals can and should be fostering and conveying the Firm’s brand for the purposes of growing the business.  When we take the time to specifically identify how we want to contribute, based on our individual strengths and aptitudes, we will get that hit of dopamine urging us to follow through.
  4. Fairness:  Creating an individual BD Strategy makes it clear that it is our obligation to be part of BD efforts.  It allows us to identify our “fair share” of the obligation to grow the firm. Firm leaders be warned: The social driver of fairness, is actually one of the strongest social drivers we have and when it is threatened it can lead to strong feelings of flight, fight or freeze and may even result in feelings of revenge.  I see many associates that feel lost and unsupported in their BD efforts.  Is it any surprise that so many are leaving, complaining or putting their heads in the sand when faced with the growing pressure to bring in new business?  Firms that have provided coaching, training and mentoring in the BD skills that we just didn’t learn in law school, have increased feelings of fairness and thus engagement among their teams.
  5. Expectations:  Envisioning concrete and measurable “desired outcomes” in our BD Strategies gives us the opportunities to set expectations for ourselves so that we can celebrate when we achieve them.  This is especially powerful when these “desired outcomes” are confirmed and then celebrated by the Firm.  Don’t be afraid to set lofty goals that may be a bit of a stretch. Studies have shown that just by creating goals that inspire us, we are giving our selves a hit of dopamine that can motivate us into action!
  6. Certainty: By creating a BD strategy that is then approved by the Firm or our partners, we are creating a certain road map for success.  We know what to do and when to do it.  The accompanying dopamine hit we get from having a concrete plan, can help us push through the resistance, hesitancy, and fear of failure that many of us face when we think about attending another networking event, posting something online or following up with a contact.

Finding BD Success Through Neuroscience

As mentioned above, although the Be Safe & Certain model applies to the workings of any adult brain, each of us has our own hierarchy of drivers.  Some of us will be more motivated by belonging.  Others of us thrive in certainty and under concrete expectations. Identifying your dominant drivers and leveraging them can be difficult to do on your own.  That is why getting the support of an internal or external coach, who will ask the right questions to clarify what generally works for you and how that can be leveraged, can lead to much more predictable success in your BD efforts. Law firms who create systems and programs for formulating BD strategies that tap into universal motivators, will see more predictable success across the board.

Following the above tips will also give rise to more positive feelings around business development. This is important for firms looking to grow since,  as neuroscience has also shown us, positivity significantly increases productivity.  But that is a whole other blog post…  Stay tuned!

How can SC&C Help?

Are your fee earning professionals working as a team to grow the firm? Have they received the direction and training they need to give them a sense of certainty as to their role? To learn more about our BD and leadership programs and firm retreats and how they can increase feelings of motivation and engagement amongst your team, contact us at info@sccignites.com.

Read our case study “Getting the Whole Team On Board for BD Success” here.