Implementation of Strategic plans
Not many organizations (and even fewer law firms) would claim excellence in implementing strategic plans or achieving strategic goals. The industrial globe seems littered with abandoned plans, half completed projects and unrealized strategies. Where strategic success has been achieved, it has often taken longer to achieve than planned, or has proved more expensive than anticipated. Even where the plan has been successfully implemented it sometimes results in less return on investment than expected. In short, the grand plan often turns out to be a major disappointment. It is therefore critical that the aspirations and strategic intent of the firm should be refined down into some defined and action-based strategic projects and initiatives and for the firm to prioritize those initiatives according to a number of factors including the resources of the firm to implement. Even then, law firms often find that decision making gets stifled or that projects simply run out of steam,
Leading and coordinating the firms strategic initiatives
One gap which is often seen in poor execution firms is poor or ineffective leadership ability at the top of the firm. Poor leadership leads to many ills, but the impact of leadership on both decision-making and strategy execution. Law firms which have proved to be good at strategy implementation invariably have strong leadership not necessarily from an individual but from a leadership group. Effective firms have usually put in place well defined roles and responsibilities. Managing Partners, senior managers and boards are all clear on the extent of their mandates. Partners who are not involved in management are ready to cooperate and act in supportive roles. They are willing to accept that the firm needs to be managed and that partners cannot be involved in every decision.
However, the role of the Managing Partner or Top Management Team is not just to roll up the sleeves and pursue action points themselves to the exclusion of others but should be mainly concerned with four distinctive roles. These important roles – the roles of Promoter, Sponsor, Coordinator and Motivator – together provide the foundations for building a successful strategic execution process whatever the size of the firm, but recognising that the Managing Partner and Top Management Team will bear a greater operational burden in smaller and medium sized firms.
This decade is already proving to be an exciting time for law firms, as they face a future of change, upheaval and new horizons. The legal profession has already entered a time of huge change and transformation right across the world. In the midst of challenge and uncertainly, however, there some huge opportunities for entrepreneurial law firms who manage to get their strategies right and to implement them effectively.
Many of us dislike change or are frightened by it and lawyers are no exception. It would be easy to paint the new challenges for law firms in entirely negative language, and many have already chosen a doomsday approach. But if you stop to analyse what is changing, both in society and the legal profession, some comfort can be drawn. Take the clothes you are wearing as an example, or what you carry with you. Wool, cotton and silk have been around for centuries and polyester for a number of decades. Buttons and zips have been in use for many years. The point is that, whilst clothing styles may have changed, the basics of much of our clothing have altered little. A similar point can be made about your working environment. You may have had a mobile phone for less than fifteen years, and the pc on your desk at the Office for a similar time, but many other factors have broadly remained the same. The basic laws which underscore our whole legal system are still in operation. And this is likely to be the case for many years to come.
The point is that what tends to change is style not substance, how law is practised (and by whom) rather than necessarily the substance of the law itself. This is mainly brought about because there is an inexorable pressure by clients to be able to obtain their solutions and out-comes quicker, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before. In addition, our Society is changing too and this means amongst other things greater people-power by non partners and the costs of labour going up faster than our ability to raise fees at the same rate.
In face of this, the biggest change currently being faced by law firms is changes to their working practices being forced on the profession by the competitive pressures from both inside and outside the industry.
It is one of life’s little truisms that people tend only to move to action if there is something in it for them. Within the professional service firm, it is often thought that all professionals are self starting, highly motivated driven individuals who merely need all to be pointed in the same direction for success to be achieved. Sadly this is far from the case. I have found some consistent partner management difficulties over many years of managing people, and advising others how to manage people. On the whole, professionals (apart from their fee earning work) are poor at management and as difficult to move to do new things as pushing a boulder uphill. If a firm is going to achieve the partners’ ambitions for it, then partners must be motivated, inspired, cajoled and disciplined into pulling their weight and working towards the overall vision and objectives of the institution. A good start is to recognize some of he typical obstacles to change and to take those into account.
Another important aspect is to turn strategic intent into a discrete project and to use project management techniques to drive the project through. A good and typical example might be the very sensitive topic of changing the way partners are remunerated or compensated