Planning for Success – Strategies & Action Plans

Originally posted on Small Firm Innovation

In the second planning installment, we discussed key issues and goals. That leads us to today’s discussion of strategies and action plans.

Strategies are the “how do we get there?” phase. For many solos and small firms, this can be the hardest phase to complete, since partners often have many ideas on how to achieve the goals.  It’s hard to sort through the “chaff” and prioritize the best strategies for each goal.

However, you must prioritize and decide on the best course of action at some point in order to create a successful plan.  The best plans are usually the simplest as well. You’ll probably have to go through a couple of iterations of the plan before you get it right and have everyone’s “buy in”.

Start with the 4 or 5 firm goals you’ve decided on and discuss strategies to achieve each goal, one by one. I find it best to list the ideas on a flipchart while letting the partners talk out all of the strategies necessary to achieve each goal.  Nothing should be filtered out at this point.  If you don’t allow every idea through without self-censoring, you will miss the best ideas.

Lawyers are naturally critical, and want to kill ideas before they hit the page.  You may also have political motives involved, with some partners trying to suppress ideas that don’t benefit them personally. That’s why it’s necessary to have a good facilitator to allow all of the ideas to get through to the page for reflection by the group.  The group will then decide what stays, as you move through the prioritization process.

Prioritize 3 or 4 strategies necessary to achieve each goal. With the strategies decided on, start assigning responsibilities and setting deadlines for each strategy.  Once you have responsibilities and deadlines assigned, your strategies will become action plans.

Write down all of the action plans and spread them out over the 3 to 5 year term of the strategic plan. This will become the “guts” of the strategic plan.  Usually the action plans will run over a number of pages to start.  I recommend you then run different “sorts” of the action plans, noting the firm goals being addressed. Run a sort by chronological date, and finally do a sort by responsibility.  In this way, everyone knows what their “job” is and their task is clear to everyone else, which ensures accountability.

You need someone to take overall responsibility for execution of the strategic plan. This would normally be the Managing Partner.  The Managing Partner must be able to influence partner behavior through compensation in order to execute the plan successfully.  This is where most firms fail in the planning process, as they aren’t able to force execution. This results in no follow-through and the plan sits on the shelf undone as a result.

Finally, turn the strategic plan into a one page document that keeps the firm goals in everyone’s mind at all times.

This is the final installment of the strategic planning series for solos and small firms.  I hope you have found the ideas helpful, and welcome you to contact me if you have any further questions about strategic planning for your firm.

Strategic Planning for Law Firms – Key Steps in the Process

So what’s all the mystery about strategic planning for law firms?  Why do so many firms fail to do strategic planning, and if they do try it, why do they fail to implement?

First I’ll address the mystery part.  Most law firms are run as democracies, which allow partners to do what they want with no real accountability.  Strategic planning assumes that you are thinking about your future as a firm, not as a group of solo practitioners.  This is the key to making a strategic plan work.

Here’s some key questions to address in getting the planning process going.

Where Are We Going?

Ideally, you should follow a standard strategic planning process, which involves creating a mission statement and long-term vision for the firm.  The strategic planning process will address the next 3 to 5 years, and should be revisited every 3 to 5 years as the environment changes.

Who Are We?

A core values statement is also essential, to guide all partners and staff on the firm’s expectations of its people.  This will decide who’s in the boat, and who isn’t.  The core values statement is normally created separately from the mission statement, but must support it.

What’s Stopping Us From Achieving Our Vision?

First you need to identify the key issues facing your firm at the moment.  This gives you a place to start turning issues into goals and strategies.  Every issue is a potential hurdle which is preventing you from achieving your firm’s goals.  The firm’s  key issues should be summarized and prioritized.  The top 5 issues should be discussed and ideas exchanged on how the issues are stopping the firm from achieving its mission statement and vision.

What Are The Steps Along the Way To Achieving Our Vision?

Once the mission statement and vision are determined, usually during a strategic planning session with all partners, then you can start eliciting goals from the mission statement. The firm’s goals are normally contained within the mission statement.  Focus on the top 5 goals.

Quantify Objectives

With the top 5 firm goals decided on, you can then quantify objectives which must be met in order to achieve the goals.

How Do We Get There?

Conduct a brainstorming process to consider various strategies to help achieve the goals.  Prioritize the strategies needed to achieve the goals.

Who Will Do What And By When?

This is the action planning stage.  Here we identify who will carry out the strategies and assign deadlines to complete the action plans.  This provides accountability and helps with follow-through.

How Do We Ensure It All Gets Done?

This is where most firms fall down and don’t implement their plans.  You need a management structure with accountability to make it happen.  The Managing Partner will be in charge of executing the firm plan and will ensure every partner does their part in implementing the plan.  The Managing Partner must also be able to impact partner compensation to make partners accountable for their role in the process.

Strategic Planning for Law Firms – Key Steps in the Process

So what’s all the mystery about strategic planning for law firms?  Why do so many firms fail to do strategic planning, and if they do try it, why do they fail to implement?

First I’ll address the mystery part.  Most law firms are run as democracies, which allow partners to do what they want with no real accountability.  Strategic planning assumes that you are thinking about your future as a firm, not as a group of solo practitioners.  This is the key to making a strategic plan work.

Here’s some key questions to address in getting the planning process going.

Where Are We Going?

Ideally, you should follow a standard strategic planning process, which involves creating a mission statement and long-term vision for the firm.  The strategic planning process will address the next 3 to 5 years, and should be revisited every 3 to 5 years as the environment changes.

Who Are We?

A core values statement is also essential, to guide all partners and staff on the firm’s expectations of its people.  This will decide who’s in the boat, and who isn’t.  The core values statement is normally created separately from the mission statement, but must support it.

What’s Stopping Us From Achieving Our Vision?

First you need to identify the key issues facing your firm at the moment.  This gives you a place to start turning issues into goals and strategies.  Every issue is a potential hurdle which is preventing you from achieving your firm’s goals.  The firm’s  key issues should be summarized and prioritized.  The top 5 issues should be discussed and ideas exchanged on how the issues are stopping the firm from achieving its mission statement and vision.

What Are The Steps Along the Way To Achieving Our Vision?

Once the mission statement and vision are determined, usually during a strategic planning session with all partners, then you can start eliciting goals from the mission statement. The firm’s goals are normally contained within the mission statement.  Focus on the top 5 goals.

Quantify Objectives

With the top 5 firm goals decided on, you can then quantify objectives which must be met in order to achieve the goals.

How Do We Get There?

Conduct a brainstorming process to consider various strategies to help achieve the goals.  Prioritize the strategies needed to achieve the goals.

Who Will Do What And By When?

This is the action planning stage.  Here we identify who will carry out the strategies and assign deadlines to complete the action plans.  This provides accountability and helps with follow-through.

How Do We Ensure It All Gets Done?

This is where most firms fall down and don’t implement their plans.  You need a management structure with accountability to make it happen.  The Managing Partner will be in charge of executing the firm plan and will ensure every partner does their part in implementing the plan.  The Managing Partner must also be able to impact partner compensation to make partners accountable for their role in the process.