Successful Strategy: The Essential Supporting Acts (Part Two)

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By Sean Larkan | Apr 30, 2015

 

In Part One of this article, I focused on some important pre-strategy initiatives which should be tackled to lay a sound foundation for a successful strategy implementation.

Here are some others:

Key governance structures

Your strategy must walk around in the heads of partners. Each should be clear on the part they can play.

Your strategy must walk around in the heads of partners. Each should be clear on the part they can play.

Fundamental to strategy success is a cohesive partner effort and involvement. It is not something which can simply be done and driven at EXCO/Board or MANCO level. But there are still many firms that have not yet tackled fundamental structures like clarifying what is expected of partners – contribution and performance criteria, and how feedback around meeting those criteria should be gathered and fed back to partners. In some cases this may come with consequences, depending on the basis of your partner equity structures – meritocracy, lock-step or managed lockstep and so on. Depending on the culture of the partnership this will usually flow into partner performance management or feedback, support and development systems.

Get these in place and there is a much greater likelihood you will get your partners focused on assisting to implement firm strategy – after all, it will be a key contribution requirement and criterion for partners and they will be measured on this.

Decision-making

In some cases you may need to streamline decision-making structures in the firm. There are still firms, and quite large ones, who go through a laborious process of having partners review and agree upon virtually every decision of consequence about to be taken by a leader or management executive. Strategy requires decisions being taken, and decisiveness. It usually calls for partners to relinquish some control and decision-making powers to their managing partner/director.

Key information systems and management structures

Once you embark on a strategy exercise, and finalise partner performance management or feedback and development systems for partners, your information and support service management structures and personnel should, and will, be tested to the full. Where possible (in the time available), it is wise to vigorously review these at this early stage to ensure they are adequate and ready to support your strategic initiatives. Otherwise shortcomings here can in themselves cause strategy implementation to stumble or even fail.

The strategy document itself

As noted in Part One to this article, keep the document “lean and mean.” I would suggest limiting this to a short summary of your Core Purpose (however you decide to constitute that), your strategic key objectives (or call them “key result areas”) and key strategies.

Don’t bog it down with too much detail or layers of actions, time-lines and responsibilities for all and sundry in the firm. The detail can come later in the form of implementation plans by task force Leaders, practice/industry group heads, senior support service managers or even partners in their individual business plans.

The reason for this is that you want your strategy walking around in the heads of every partner and manager in the firm. This will only happen if it is short and punchy.

Too often the process of finalising the strategy is dragged out for far too long. As a result partners are lost along the way and interest in and support for the strategy initiative slips. Keeping the document short and focused on truly strategic issues assists greatly. You can test all your strategic key objectives by asking “Will success in achieving this objective have a massive impact on our firm?” If not, it is not strategic and shouldn’t be in your strategy. You will need to be vigilant as partners and managers will invariably try to bring in non-strategic albeit important items on to the list for attention.

Post Strategy

Strategy is good strategy when it works and gets results. You will need to spend most of your time on post-strategy exercises, which is contrary to what happens in most firms. By this point many are too often “tired of strategy”!

Task Forces

I find the simple structure of a very small task force (not a committee) headed up by one driven, energetic partner or support service manager can work wonders. They should report directly to the managing partner on implementation. Where appropriate, short implementation plans can be useful, provided they don’t become bigger than Ben Hur.

Other strategies

Bear in mind that successful firm strategy often runs into or requires other sub-strategies for success. These may include a People Strategy, Finance Strategy or even a Brand Strategy. It is important these follow the same principles and are carefully aligned with the main strategy.

Partner feedback and performance-management systems

This is where these systems come into their own, post-strategy. Partners should receive feedback on and sometimes be measured (depending on the natures of your partner structures) against how they contribute to the strategy-implementation phase.

Keep your strategy alive – stress-testing

Most of the benefits of strategy come not in formulation but in stress-testing and fine-tuning it along the way. Be sure to do this at regular intervals – annually or at most twice annually is usually enough.

There are many reasons for this – reporting successes or problem areas, keeping partners interested and motivated and adapting to changing market conditions. Strategy is a living animal, a journey rather than a destination, and one which never really ends, as firms adapt, strategise further and move on to new things to compete effectively – and ideally, to dominate.

Strategy on its own does not achieve success. It is rather everything that goes with strategy to ensure its success.

I hope these ideas will prompt readers to consider what these things may be in the case of your firm. Each firm will be different – as to culture, structures, stage of development, strategic prerogatives – and these will determine how you tackle and support your strategy to successful implementation and results.

Contact the author, Sean Larkan.