Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


Using the Art of Persuasion

I was interested in receiving notice of an posting on BNET Insights (July 7 2008) titled:  More Lessons in Persuasion: Using “the Power of Because” by Jessica Stillman.  She refers to a Behavioral Scientist Ellen Langer who worked with others to conduct experiments “which involved someone trying to cut in line to use a photo copier”.  It seemed that someone providing a reason followed by the word “because” usually was allowed to cut in line.  She concluded that the research suggests this technique works in persuading others.

I’m not sure she is correct in most cases although I do have an example where I asked for a favor using the technique.  I was late in arriving at the airport (it tends to be how I operate).  Usually I get to the gate to be one of the lasts that boards the aircraft.  It is a habit that has come back to bite me at least once.  The day I am going to relate was one of those days except I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make through security in time.

To remedy this I used my loudest voice and said “I need to jump ahead in line because I will miss my plane if I have to wait” to the other people waiting in line.   I got a few a comments like, “Hey, we are all late” or “Not my problem” but one person allowed me to move ahead of them bringing me nearer to the front of the line.  After that, another person ahead of me told me to move ahead of them, and another, and another until I was at the front of the line.  Once my credentials were checked by security, I turned around and gave a sincere thank you to that line of strangers.  It made my day!

I think the word “because” had little to do with how I got through security.  Most likely, the way I pleaded my case with nervousness and angst sent a stronger message to the one person who felt moved by it.  Then others in the group took heart and gave me assistance.  There had to be someone in the crowd who valued being kind to strangers with the others deciding to model his behavior.  To me persuasion is more about speaking to peoples values and needs to move them to action.  It is very personal and different for each person on the other end of a persuasive argument.

I learned to think of persuasion in this way in a business school MBA class, where I spent a whole semester learning how to be persuasive.  A semester may seem like a long time to spend on this topic but it was very good from beginning to end. 

When I read the posting mentioned above, I remembered that the professor for my class wrote a book called “The Art of Persuasion”.  Since I apparently lost the book and can no longer remember his name I decided to do some searching on the web to see if I could find it again.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so.  Instead I found of number of books on Amazon.com that discuss persuasion in relation to sales.   While some of the books look good, others focus more on topics like:

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment & Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Authority
  • Liking
  • Scarcity
  • Establish credibility
  • Lead by example
  • Play Matlock – this is one of the strangest suggestions I found.  It means – play dumber than you are.

See the Wikipedia entry on the Principles of Persuasion for descriptions of some of the topics.

There are some very interesting articles and books that focus persuasion efforts on learning about the individual(s) you want to persuade (their goals, values, needs, etc.) and presenting your ideas in a format that resonates with them. 

Susan Cramm, The Art of Persuasion, CIO.com, July 2005

The Art of Woo’: Selling Your Ideas to the Entire Organization, One Person at a Time (book review), Knowledge@Wharton, October 17, 2007.  Amazon Link to learn more about the book.

Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Collins Business, 2006

Jay A. Conger, The Necessary Art of Persuasion, HBR OnPoint, May-June 1998. Amazon Link to a digital copy of the article.


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Writing a Business Case

Whether you are making a justification for staff additions, new software, new online resources, next year’s budget, or the myriad of other reasons libraries need resources, you will do a better job of solving problems or improving services if you use a business case to plead your case.   What is a business case?  The many books and articles on the topic will tell you it is more than a memo or a hallway conversation and can be created following a formula that is straightforward.  The following seven components of a business case come from a Business Case Toolkit available through the BPR Online Learning Center.   

  • Situational assessment and problem statement
  • Project description
  • Solution description
  • Cost and benefit analysis
  • Implementation timeline
  • Critical assumptions and risk assessment
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Your next question may be “How do I use a business case in a library setting?”  To answer that, let’s do a better job of describing what each component represents.  Additionally, let’s use a specific project like purchasing electronic resource management software (e.g., OneLog, Lookup Precision, or Research Monitor) as an example – We will call it the ERM Project and assume that the firm has 200 electronic resource titles.   Please note that I’m making the comments brief.

Situational assessment and problem statement – Describe what the current situation is or the problem your project or action will address.  Be succinct but include the details that need to be considered. 

ERM Project –  [Firm Name] has approximately 200 electronic resources including online services (e.g., Westlaw & Lexis), Internet subscriptions, CD-ROMs, and custom built interfaces for accessing resources. While we have provided easier access to these resources through our portal, we continue to have some users who find it difficult to use electronic resources. Additionally, while we have worked to improve recovery of costs for these services as they are used for clients, we see room for continued improvement.

Project Description  – Describe the project including goals, time frame, resources needed and cost. 

ERM Project – The goal of this project is to improve access to electronic resources, increase recovery of associated costs, improve management of userids and passwords, …  This project will be completed by [month, year].  Costs for the project include hardware, software, staff, implementation costs, ongoing costs, etc.

Solution Description – The purchase and implementation of ERM software provides the ability to:

  • Manage userids and passwords and autopopulate those userids and passwords for the electronic resources being managed

  • Track the use of online resources

  • Prompt for and validate client matter number to allow recovery of costs associated with the online services

  • Produce usage report to use to disburse expenses to clients

  • Produce reports that can be used to determine value of electronic resource as well as training needs of researchers

Cost and Benefit Analysis – Cost/benefit analysis includes the cost of the project along with the benefits and any estimates at the return on investment (ROI).

The cost of the ERM solution is ____ including software, hardware, etc.   You will probably want to show the breakdown of each component of the purchase.

The benefits the purchase and implementation of an ERM solution include:

  • Better management of the 200+ electronic resources for which we are currently paying. 

Better management is probably too general a statement, as most of the justifications are probably anecdotal.  I would still list it as a benefit and probably use the number of hours of library staff time that could be put to use in other areas of their work.  See below for a formula you can use to calculate the hours.

  • Improved management of userids and passwords.  With the password management and autopopulation, it would be easier for users to access the services.  This would reduce the lawyer and staff time spent looking for and using the electronic resources.   The calculation for ROI could go as follows:

((____ researchers x ___ minutes spent looking for userids per day) / 60 minutes) x average hourly rate = fees recovered by better management of access

Example: ((400 researchers x 10 minutes) / 60 minutes) x $250 = $16,667 of lost revenue per day.  If you expand that to number of workdays per year, you might take 166 days x the lost revenue per day.  If you use the $16,667, the annual lost revenue would equal $2,766,722. 

My minutes may be a bit high and not every attorney could be counted as a researcher but what ever calculation you use should produce significant results in relation to your firm size.

  • Increased cost recovery.  Providing validation of client matter numbers allows researchers to enter the correct number at the time of research reducing exceptions and allowing for quicker disbursements.  Validating against the client/matter numbers in Elite would allow us to manage exceptions (wrong client/matter number – use of firm admin matter numbers) more efficiently.  

Accounting staff currently spend  time working on exceptions and/or doing data entry for disbursements (for services that don’t provide electronic files for uploading disbursements.) This would not eliminate the time needed for these projects but it would reduce it to a very small amount of time.

___ hours not spent managing exceptions  x 240 work days per year (allows for 4 weeks of paid time off) = staff hours that could be freed up for other work. 

Example: 2 hours x 240 days = 480 hours (.24 full time equivalent in staff hours)

$__ per month for Westlaw and Lexis where the costs are disbursed to firm admin numbers x ____% of charges that could be disbursed to clients (this would be a guess but even 10% of the charges would be significant) =  additional $________ in dollars recovered each month

You would probably see better recovery for other services as well as the Westlaw and Lexis recovery represented here.  You may also do much better than the 10%.

  • Reduced use of duplicate materials that account for $_______ of the library budget.  Easier access to resources should increase the use of the electronic services and reduce the need for some of the print duplication.

This doesn’t take into account the cost of the server and the resources needed to set up the system initially, but those costs are only incurred initially and as the software/server gets upgraded.  If you wanted to show that, you could show the costs of the system across 2-3 years against the ROI to demonstrate actual cost.

Implementation Timeline.   A timeline can be a simple list of the project milestones (events in a project) or tasks. 

  • Install software & all integration components (client/matter number tables) and provide training to administrator by [date]
  • Set up resources that will be managed by system [date] 
  • Set up userids and passwords by [date]
  • Set up integration with client matter numbers in time & billing system by [date]
  • Turn on functions (e.g., autopopulation, validation)
  • Begin testing by [date]
  • Provide training to pilot group by [date] 
  • Begin pilot group use by [date]
  • Introduce to practice groups by [date]
  • Release to firm by [date]

You can probably provide less detail than the list provides but I include it to give you an idea of what might need to be done.  Also, you may use less functionality than listed here and there may be other functions the vendors provide that are not listed.

Critical assumptions and risk assessment

  • Assumptions
    • Information Technology staff and Application Development staff will be available to work with Information Resources staff during times needed
    • ERM would be purchased at end of trial using dollars budgeted for this purpose if it works properly and if the script creation is something that can be managed by Information Resources staf
    • Information Resources staff will take the time to test and will provide feedback
  • Risks
    •  The system may not deliver on its promise
    • The system may not evolve as the needs of the firm does

 Conclusions and recommendations

  • The benefits of the system outweigh the costs and the risks
  • The firm should go ahead with the purchase

This is very much a first draft of a business case that is no doubt missing something and far from perfect.  However, it should provide you with the basics of writing a business case.

A recommended quick read: Developing a Business Case (Pocket Mentor)