How an Improv Mindset Helped a Law Firm and Tech Company Increase Revenue [Case Study]

Sometimes it’s necessary to let go of the way you think everything should be done.

When you choose to let go of assumptions and your own ego, you’re open to creative problem-solving and innovation.

Let’s take a look at how a law firm in the Southwest was able to use improvisational techniques to change the way they engaged with their clients and meet their business goals.

The Problem

The law firm was losing cases to other firms or they were discovering critical information late in the legal process because their clients weren’t opening up.

It had gotten to the point that other law firms that were more expensive and not as qualified were even able to woo their clients away and the managing partner was at his wit’s end.

No one seemed to be able to nail down the source of the problem.  

The Observation

After seeing the attorneys in action, a few things stood out.

  • The client’s body language made a dramatic shift over the course of the conversation. They started out leaning in and speaking quickly and then slowly drew in on themselves, sitting back and eventually even crossing their arms.
  • The attorneys were critical right off the bat. Their goal was to uncover information important to the case, but they were shutting their clients down with their criticisms.
  • The negative words the attorney’s used – often jumping in and interrupting – made the clients feel as if they were the ones on trial.

As one man was leaving the firm after his initial meeting, he expressed that he didn’t feel like the attorneys cared about how difficult the situation was for his family and that they made him feel “dumb” for not preparing their documents properly.

Needless to say, the man didn’t hire the firm to handle his case.

It was clear that, though the attorneys meant well, they were bringing risk-aversion, negativity, and a need to show their superiority to initial client meetings.

But the clients were looking for a partner to walk with them through their scary legal battle. They needed to know that someone was looking out for them, was on their side, and had answers.

The Solution

The attorneys took part in some unique business training  –  built on the foundations of improv – that focused on “yes, and.”

They learned how to lean into discomfort and have creative, collaborative conversations.

After their improv experience, the firm implemented a five-minute, improvisational, “Yes, and” period for each initial client meeting.

The new strategy was for the attorneys to listen to their clients and respond with comments like, “Yes, I bet that was really hard! And then what happened?” or, “Yes, I understand why you chose that action. And I’d like to know more about the other person’s response.’”

These positive, open-ended comments effectively drew the clients in and allowed them to feel like they were truly being heard and not criticized.

After that initial listening and encouragement period was over, the attorneys and their clients were able to collaborate and brainstorm about what the next steps in the process should be.

The Outcome

Can you guess what happened?

The results were pretty amazing.

When putting this business training into into action – listening and offering “Yes, and” statements – the amount of time that the client did the talking more than doubled.

The clients felt like they were being heard, and in turn, were confident enough to speak freely, giving the attorneys the information they needed to build the best case possible.

One small department in the firm nailed down $750,000 in extra work during the first six months of using this simple improv training technique.

Why improv business training worked

In improv, the “oops” moment is the point at which anyone realizes something is off-kilter.

There is a misconception that the improvisers attempt to hide mistakes from the audience. People assume that if something goes wrong, it can be quickly covered up and the audience is none the wiser.

The truth is, good improvisers use the mistakes as a jumping off point.

The law firm recognized that they had some “oops” going on, though they couldn’t immediately pinpoint what the problem was.

Acknowledging mistakes takes courage.

Change comes from failure and learning from the “oops.”

Through their improv training, the attorneys learned that one of the biggest mistakes they were making was their negative responses to prospective clients during the initial interviews.

The attorneys learned to take a step back and let the conversation with their potential clients flow more freely.

Harman International

Let’s take a look at another company who followed the “yes, and” principle to success, just like the law firm did.

Harman International is a U.S.-based company that uses German engineering to create sophisticated, specialized, and expensive dashboard audiovisual systems.

A “yes, and” leader

In 2007, Dinesh C. Paliwal took over as CEO.

At this time, Harman dominated 70 percent of the luxury car market. This made up two-thirds of the company’s revenue.

Clearly, there wasn’t much growth potential there.

Paliwal recognized a huge opportunity in emerging markets where Harman’s products didn’t have a presence.

He was at a crossroads of sorts.

Paliwal could do what other high-end companies would do – strip down existing technology to attempt to sell at a lower cost.

The issue with this choice is that the product would have still been quite expensive and not very functional.

Or, he could do something more innovative.

Being a natural improviser  –  and putting his instinctual business training into action – Paliwal pulled together a team to reimagine how to deliver a great experience that came in at a lower cost for new customers.

Implementing improvisational training techniques

Paliwal called his initiative Saras, which means “adaptable” in Sanskrit.

Harman’s other engineering teams had always been larger, highly specialized, and singularly focused.

This group was different.

It was small and cross-functional.

The team was also comprised of people with mixed skill sets, educational experiences, and were diverse nationalities.

They weren’t afraid to set lofty goals, either.

Confronting resistance

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Paliwal and his new team, though.

Saras met resistance along the way from uncooperative engineers and salespeople who balked at the idea of selling a product they were convinced would eat their commissions.

Through all the naysaying and near-outright rebellion, Paliwal and his Saras team continued to say “yes, and,” learning from their mistakes and pushing forward.

The result was more than $3 billion generated in revenue, with Harman setting new standards in their industry.

An must-have business training technique

If attorneys, engineers, and tech company CEOs can successfully employ these techniques, you definitely can.

When you learn to listen without judgment, throw away your initial critical attitude, and use open-ended “Yes, and” statements, you’ll be able to communicate easily with anyone.

Do you find yourself jumping into a conversation with negative feedback right away?

Listen without judgement, toss your ego, and free up the lines of communication with open-ended questions. #improvtips

The next time you have a conversation with someone, be intentional about how you respond. Don’t interrupt with your ideas or your opinion, simply encourage the dialogue along with “Yes, and” statements.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.