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.

What Strategies Should Law Firms Be Focusing On Now?

I would suggest one simple killer strategy that firms should being doing already, which is even more critical during tough economic times. Interview all your top clients and find out what issues are “keeping them up at night”. Then help your clients focus on these issues and resolve them. They’ll thank you for it with more work and market share. This strategy will also help you avoid losing your top clients to other hungry firms approaching them during this period.

Tough times like these lead to many opportunities for smart firms. Another great strategy is to pick up star partners from your competitors in lucrative practice areas you want to grow. These folks are available now since it’s slow, and not normally available in regular economic times. When the economy returns, your new star partners will help your firm dominate your market space and greatly enhance future profitability.