What can we learn from “The Sound of Music?”

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens; 

bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens ……”

You will have heard that song many times, and Julie Andrews – as Maria – sang very eloquently about the value of a number of items, all of which brought joy to her and the Von Trapp family.  The items, as well as being her favourite, were also very small things indeed and yet they eventually made a huge difference.

Maria’s underlying mission in the movie was to nurture and educate the seven Von Trapp children, and by starting with the “small things” she was then able to impact upon the “bigger thing”, and deliver long-term success.

Within our own lives and in our business world we regularly encounter major change and significant challenges such as implementing new case management systems, introducing remote working and making significant structural challenges. We also regularly discover novel ways of outsourcing services such as IT, typing and transcription, telephony, marketing and business development.

We also know how difficult these big things seem to be, and how often failure lurks amongst our efforts, and then the regular incidence of low adoption occurs.

But let us pause for a moment and reflect upon how small things could be a new focus for us.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Is there anything that Julie Andrews could teach us – and never mind about solving a problem like Maria – could she help us solve our own problems?

These are some of the ways – for Stephen Scown.

Robert Camp, former Managing Partner, and now the impressively titled Director of Strategic Innovation at Stephens Scown knows about the deep value of seemingly small initiatives that the firm has put into practice. These range from sending positive postcards internally to each other if they see a good thing done, or setting up a safe space for those with caring responsibilities to meet and support each other.  

He has also introduced ”random coffees”, with anyone in the firm being able to put their name into a hat and go out for a coffee with a colleague they don’t know.  This has very clearly helped to break down unnecessary barriers and create a strong, integrated culture. 

Stephens Scown has been ground-breaking in becoming one of the first employee-owned law firms in the country, and is experiencing significant benefits in staff retention and profitability as a consequence.

Robert summarises by saying “it is often the small things you can easily implement that make the greatest difference”.

These are some of the ways – for Keystone Law.

Kristina Oliver, Director of Marketing for Keystone Law has shared how the firm engages with a remote workforce from the very beginning and how they keep a London-based support team motivated. 

When a lawyer joins Keystone they receive a welcome pack that is unlike anything you could imagine, which presented as a desk tidy contains a range of materials and stationery that will help them, along with bringing a splash of Keystone branding to wherever they may be working. This is supported by a very personal note from the CEO that really resonates with each lawyer.  

For the London support team, there are a range of thoughtful actions that surprise all who join the firm. These range from a fresh supply of bread and condiments for breakfast to regular team social events and daily exercise sessions for those who want to get their heartbeat up over lunch or simply burn some calories so they can indulge on Pastry Friday when a supply of cakes and sweet treats arrive in the office.  

Those who go above and beyond their expected duties are also recognised every month with rewards and awards.  

Birthdays are a key celebratory point too, with every single person sent a special card and gift delivered from firm.

Keystone Law is, of course, one of the pioneering publicly quoted law firms on the Stock Market, and its performance this year has seen a share price rise of over 35% with a similar rise in revenues, and lawyer numbers increasing to over 300.  The central support team views the lawyers as its clients, and in treating them with that same respect it has been able to attract and retain those lawyers really effectively.

It is no coincidence that the performance of these two different sized firms is significantly above the norm, and clearly an attention to detail and the “small things” must be a factor here.

These are some of the ways – for you.

How often in our personal lives do we think about a major goal, be it learning a new language, losing weight, getting fit or changing a major habit?

Then how often do these great ambitions and challenges fail because we spend so long in thinking about the big picture and planning that we lose that original focus and drive?

Instead why don’t we just learn one new word a day? Climb one extra flight of stairs a day and for a new diet let’s just have one day where we don’t drink that extra glass of wine, or even, a “wine free day!”

James Clear in Atomic Habits highlights that the regular practice or routine of smaller things is a source of incredible power and a component of compound growth. Changes that may seem small and frivolous transform into remarkable results, if you’re willing to persevere with them.

He expressed four laws of Behaviour Change as:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying.

We can very easily apply this philosophy in our business lives.  

For example, take Robert and Kristina’s ideas as a very easy place to start.  There may be a need to put a full blown document management system or put remote working in place, or change your legal structure, and of course these need careful and long-term planning – but why not also think first of all about making some easy changes – and then banking those easy wins, and getting people into the habit of adopting new, but small, changes.

The small things become the big things.

The best way to effect change and bring improvement into business is to start with some simple things and see what impact that has before working towards the larger changes.  Big changes are always going to happen, but take time, resource and planning and perhaps we could all do better by not using the enormity of the challenge as an excuse to not start making a difference now.

Of course, one of the reasons that the small things can make the biggest difference is because we actually DO the small things, and so they appear to have the biggest difference.

One of my favourite quotes that I often keep in mind is “delivery beats perfection” – and some of the best deliveries, especially around this time of year are simply “brown paper packages tied up with string.”

Martyn Best, Document Direct






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