"A Plan is Nothing. Planning is Everything." - Dwight Eisenhower
Recently I did a Lunch’n Learn session for a medical malpractice firm on Long Island. Halfway through my presentation, the issues of putting out fires came up. One of the junior partners complained that if he wasn’t doing legal work, he was putting out fires and that there was no time for any business development. The two senior partners confessed (no surprise here) nothing was in place; however, several discussions had taken place with no decision and no forward movement.
So let me be blunt and bottom-line it for you. Good planning and implementation avoids feast and famine cycles. Strategic planning is as much about planning as it is about implementation. It’s a long-term plan for growth and profitability. However, many professionals don’t invest and take the time to plan, which results in loss of valuable time for all and misuse of limited resources.
Avoid these planning pitfalls right from the start and you’ll have a strategic plan that is a living, breathing document. Or, as I tell my clients all the time, Information + Implementation = Transformation, or in lawyer speak RESULTS. The problems usually occur somewhere in the information and implementation part. The following are some of the planning pitfalls I see all too often:
▪ A Meaningless Plan: The vision, mission and value statements are viewed as just going through the motions and not supported by actions and don’t have buy-in from partners, practice group leaders, and key decision makers. Typically, these are discussed during yearly weekend retreats or when the client pool is drying up.
▪ Lack of Ownership: The most common reason a plan fails is lack of ownership, especially when there is more than one person is involved. If professionals/practice groups don’t have a stake and responsibility in the plan, it will be business as usual for all and nothing will get done. Getting mired in the daily grind, putting out fires etc. For lawyers it’s the billable hour, which leads to losing sight of long-term goals and perpetuates more of what is, and dare I say the irony of it, increasing risk because the business development efforts are not consistent.
▪ No Accountability: Accountability and high visibility are needed to help drive change and put the plan in motion. Otherwise, it is business as usual. This means that each measure, objective, and initiative must have an owner. Progress reports are critical. If there is no method to track progress, how can forward movement be tracked?
▪ Lack of Empowerment: Accountability may provide strong incentives for improving performance. Employees must also have the authority, responsibility, and tools necessary to impact relevant measures. Otherwise, they may resist involvement and ownership.
▪ Lack of Communication: The plan doesn’t get communicated to associates, paralegals etc., and they don’t understand how they can contribute. Bottom-line, when everyone buys into creating new results, the desired results will show up. It doesn’t happen easily but requires dialogue, engagement and leadership.
▪ Execution: Implementation is not discussed in the strategic planning process, thus lacking commitment and alignment. The planning document is seen as an end in itself.
None of this is rocket science, but it involves commitment and follow-through. Time and time again, I see law firms wanting to adopt marketing strategies before they do an overall plan vision for their firms. Big Mistake. Save yourself time money and resources by getting help right at the start.
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