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.

Planning for Success – Key Issues & Goals

Originally posted on Small Firm Innovation

In the first planning installment, we talked about creating a vision and core values statement. The next step is to identify the firm goals and key issues facing the firm.

One suggestion for getting buy-in from the partners is to have them write down the top 3 goals for their practice and for the firm, as well as the things that are stopping them from achieving their personal and firm goals (the key issues).  Submit these for compilation and discussion at a planning retreat.  This will also start the process of aligning personal and firm goals.

At the planning retreat, list all the goals and issues on flipchart paper and post them for all partners to review as the day proceeds.  Then start discussing the issues one by one until you have exhausted all issues.

I’ve found the process is usually more successful if you start by discussing the issues first and the goals after.  Lawyers are naturally focused on what’s wrong with the firm rather than the positives, so I find this approach simplifies and speeds up the discussion considerably as a result.

Once all of the issues have been discussed, then you can start prioritizing the issues.  Aim to have the top 5 issues decided on by the day’s end.  This part of the process can proceed quite quickly if you’ve already had a thorough discussion of the issues beforehand.

Once you have a prioritized list of the top 5 issues facing the firm, you can now start to turn those issues into quantifiable goals.  For example, if one of the issues is “lack of profitability”, then the goal can be converted to “increase profits by x% over x years”.  This is a quantifiable goal with a deadline, which is essential for follow-through and measuring the success of the firm plan later on.

Review the list of goals submitted prior to the retreat, and add or modify to this list based on the discussion of the key issues.  Decide on the top 5 goals as a group.

Once you have decided on the top 5 goals, then you need to determine if completing these goals will be enough to achieve your vision.  If not, you will have to repeat the process until you come up with an adequate set of goals which will achieve your firm vision.

In the first installment we talked about determining where you’re at today and your vision of where you want to be in 5 years.  The difference between these two points is known as the “planning gap.”  The strategic plan will include all of the steps required to get you from where you’re at today to achieving your vision.  The strategic plan will normally cover a 3 to 5 year time frame.

This completes the goal-setting phase.  Now we can start thinking about the strategies and action plans needed to complete the firm plan.  We’ll discuss this phase in the next planning installment.

Planning for Success

Originally posted on Small Firm Innovation

I’ve talked to a number of solo and small firm lawyers over the years about the topic of strategic planning, and often get asked the same question: “Isn’t strategic planning  just a “big firm” thing?”

The answer is that strategic planning is for firms of all sizes.  In fact, it’s even more important for solos and small firms in today’s competitive legal environment.  Solos and small firms can use strategic planning to focus their efforts and “steal” work from big firms by providing better value through lower rates and more flexible billing arrangements, for example.

“Isn’t strategic planning too time-consuming for our partners?”  It doesn’t have to be.  In fact, I will outline a straightforward question and answer process which will easily guide you through the planning steps and produce a strategic plan once you’ve answered all of the planning questions.

“But I’ve already got plenty of billable work which clients need me to do now!”  Yes, you may have lots of work now, but are you doing the kind of work you want to keep you intellectually satisfied, and is it producing the most amount of profit for the least amount of your time?  The strategic planning process will help you resolve these questions.

Where are you going?

You start by creating a vision for your firm and deciding what your practice or firm is going to look like in the long term.  What type of law will you practice, who will your clients be, how big will your firm be, will you have a “bricks and mortar” or “virtual” office?, etc.  You need to envision all of these things and look out 5, 10 or 15 years out for your vision of the firm.

The visioning process doesn’t have to be complicated.  Some large firms spend weeks or months creating a vision, as they have many partners who must come to a consensus on it.  But as a solo or small firm, you only have yourself or a few other partners to come to a decision on your vision, so the time required is much less.

The planning process usually involves taking some time out at a retreat to have partners think about the future of the firm, and is most likely facilitated by a third party.  This third party option usually works best, since all partners have vested interests, and you want someone independent to guide you through the process to ensure you have “buy in” from all partners.

Where are you at now?

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, you need to confirm where you’re at now. What is your current profitability by practice area, who are your current people, what is your current management structure, what is your partnership entry criteria, etc.  You will need to do a SWOT analysis, which is a review of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to really define what your current position is.

Who are you?

This is the core values step. This involves creating a set of “values” for partner behavior which all partners are required to adhere to.  You need to decide “who’s in the boat” and who isn’t.  You need the right people to help you achieve your firm vision.

What are the steps required to achieve our vision?

Once you know where you’re going, who you are and where you’re at today, you need to figure out the steps needed to achieve your vision. These steps are known as goals, which will help you to determine if you’re making progress towards achieving your vision.  The goals need to be quantified, so you will know when you’ve reached each step along the way.

Next steps

These are the first key steps in the planning process, which will help you kick-start the creation of a new strategic plan for your firm.  In future posts, I will continue this series on strategic planning for solos and small firms.  We’ll fill in the details on how to complete your firm strategic plan and instill an ongoing strategic mindset to maximize your firm’s competitiveness and profitability for the long term.