“The greatest invention of all time isn’t the wheel, it’s the organization.” This quote from Keller and Price’s book* elicits responses ranging from agreement to laughter. To Keller and Price, nothing has greater potential to deliver innovation and to benefit society than an organization. But, the organization has also been one of the most ridiculed institutions in recent time. We have all seen the posters that proclaim: “Meetings, none of us is as dumb as all of us”; and we’ve heard the jokes that start-off something like: “How many accountants does it take to…” So, what’s the difference between an organization that is mocked and one that is revered? Leadership.
During the July 31st Leadership Breakfast in Chicago, David Cowen used the example of a pit crew to illustrate the importance of leadership in an organization. David detailed how 20 years ago, a NASCAR pit stop took 45 seconds compared to 12 seconds or less today. What happened? Ray Evernham happened. Ray was the pit crew leader for Jeff Gordon. He understood that a driver could make up a few seconds on the race track by himself, but the biggest opportunity was to make up tens of seconds in the pits by providing Jeff Gordon with highly a specialized team. The pay-off was worth many titles and millions of dollars in winnings.
In the early days of NASCAR, the pit crew employed the people that drove the truck or worked on the car during the week. Straying from the norm, Ray Evernham brought in athletes to join Jeff’s crew. He wanted specific body types for specific functions. Tire changers had to be short and stalky. The fuel guy had to be very tall. They practiced, watched tape and weight-trained until the pit stop was performed as gracefully as a ballet and as efficient and precise as a Swiss watch. Ray even had team shirts made that read “refuse to lose.” Ray was a leader who transformed an organization, which had been an afterthought for most, but turned out to be a significant competitive asset. Ray’s vision and innovation paid off in a big way for Jeff Gordon.
Comparing our world of litigation support to NASCAR is unexpected, perhaps, but quite valuable in this sense. In our industry, litigation support teams are often viewed by our high talent legal teams as the pit crew circa 1974. Leadership can help change this perception and advance the litigation support function by transforming the equity in our organizations from helpful team members to high-performance assets. As you look at your organization, ask yourself: how are we viewed? Why are we viewed this way? Have I done my part to drive the necessary change within my organization? What can I do that would give our legal teams the competitive advantage and, by proxy, deliver additional value to our clients? It is up to you, as a leader, to transform your organization. Write your own success story or risk ending up as the punch of line to “how many litigation support staff does it take to… ”
*Excerpt from In Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Performance and Competitive Advantage by Scott Keller and Colin Price
Nathan Reichardt is the WilmerHale DiscoverySolutions Director of Operations. He joined the firm in 2011 and is responsible for the operation of WilmerHale’s Litigation Support Department and the WilmerHale Discovery Solutions Technical Team. His teams work with attorneys in all WilmerHale offices to leverage in-house, cutting-edge technology or third-party document review technologies to efficiently manage the discovery process in the most cost effective and accurate manner. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Reichardt was an executive at Accenture, after previously serving as an engagement lead, project manager, business analyst and application lead at the company. He can be reached at email@example.com.