Despite regularly preaching to our clients the importance of carrying out a Strategic Review of their business, we – like many of our clients - found that we had been too busy doing the day-to-day job to carry out a root and branch review of our own business.
Last year, we therefore decided to conduct our own (rather overdue) Strategic Review.
Self-appraisal – an uncomfortable experience
A strategic review starts with an evaluation of your own business. This is not an easy task. It can be very hard knowing what to cover in that evaluation (what should we include, leave out, how deep should it go?) and to do it impartially. No one like critiquing themselves, especially if they know it may uncover issues outside their comfort zone that they would rather not deal with. Of course, as well as looking at the internal strengths and weaknesses of your firm, you also need to consider the external threats and opportunities and how you are going to mitigate or exploit those.
And once you have completed a review, the next step is how do you turn your findings into a plan to drive ‘change’ forward within your firm that allows for real growth? If a strategic plan is just consigned to a document that is never read or implemented it will never deliver meaningful change.
Key steps in a Strategic Review
So, having run and participated in numerous strategic review and planning initiatives for law firms all over the world, here are the top pointers we think are essential to getting the most out of valuable Partner time and ensuring strategic improvements can be identified and implemented.
1. Establishing a clear strategy and developing a plan for achieving it is best accomplished using a structured process. Set up a framework before you start so everyone knows what is expected of them and you have all the raw information you need on which to base decisions.
2. A strategic review can cover numerous law firm functions including business development, human resources, compensation, technology, pricing, financial management and leadership. Trying to address all of these areas at once is too broad and leaves little time for implementation. Decide on your immediate priorities and set realistic objectives.
3. Get outside specialist help when devising your strategic plan. An impartial third party can address difficult issues candidly, challenge pre-conceived bias and apathy, keep discussions on track and share the benefit of their experience of what works and what doesn’t.
4. Don’t be tempted to just copy the competition. Differentiation is key. The strategic planning process must be customised to your firm, its culture and stage of development.
5. Set goals that are both ambitious and pragmatic: Your strategic plan should have a meaningful payoff, while remaining grounded in a realistic understanding of what can be accomplished.
6. Don’t underestimate the resources needed to drive strategic improvement. You need to appraise your firms’ existing resources (skill sets, available time etc) to decide if you have the in-house capacity and capability to put your plan into action.
7. Invest time planning your implementation process and don’t delay putting it into place, otherwise your strategy will lose focus. Immediate successes are critical to building momentum.
8. At every stage in the development of the strategic plan you should consider how you will track it. Your strategic goals should be clear, time based and measurable. Quarterly reviews are a good time to see whether you have over or under-estimated what you have accomplished and if necessary make adjustments.
9. Remember that changes in the legal market – and in client expectations – are constant. Plans made only a few years ago may no longer be relevant in today’s dynamic and ultra-competitive environment so keep your strategy flexible and current.
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