A year ago, I published an EIC article titled ‘Forget systems and structures – getting the job done is the key’.
In that article I suggested effort often goes into putting in systems or structures, but not enough emphasis is put on ensuring the success and implementation of projects – and that, consequently, results don’t always follow.
Successful firms succeed because they get the right things done. This gets results, the real test of everything we do.
On the strength of feedback, I would like to expand on this theme and look at some practical examples and how these may play out in law firms.
The obvious one is developing and implementing strategy. I have found that three things are vital for successfully doing this:
- Get all the pre-strategy items agreed and out of the way before you commence developing the strategy per se: I call these “Core Purpose” while my colleague Nick Jarrett-Kerr refers to them as “Strategic Intent.” These would include things like determining locations, practice areas, industry sectors to focus on, values and cultural attributes (guiding principles), profit-sharing and leadership structures, and the like;
- Limit the number of Strategic Key Objectives (those things, if you achieve them, which will have nothing less than a massive impact on your firm) you identify in the strategy process to a maximum of five or six, and appoint task forces headed up by one person (who has power to co-opt others) to get the job done. Report on progress;
- Formally stress-test the implementation, success of the strategy and make necessary changes at least annually (properly done, you will get more results out of this than the first part of the process).
The next is your brand (your firm brand, employment brand and individual brands), arguably your most valuable but misunderstood firm asset. Ensure this is done:
- Get a brand strategy specialist in to help you, someone who is not principally focused on names, logos, colours, printing, websites and other aesthetics. These are important, but come later;
- Ensure a common, simple understanding around brand (you need to all speak the same simple language and know that you each play an important role in strengthening and supporting your brand) and educate each and every member of your firm around this – every lawyer, every support staff member, every partner; this is not something you leave to ‘marketing’. It is a strategic matter which should be owned by firm leadership;
- Develop a brand strategy to ensure the critical elements are tackled and actually implemented. In the first year this may chiefly involve item 2 above, but that is no bad thing. One example of these elements is achieving Brand Fusion™ – i.e., ensuring that what you as a firm suggest or promise (review your website and brochures to find many examples) you actually deliver, and people inside and outside the firm actually experience in practice;
A final example is achieving consistent, across the board partner-team performance and contributions. Most firms who seek our advice point to this as an ongoing issue.
It is hard to summarise this complex matter in a few points, but these are key areas to address:
- Ensure all partners have a clear understanding of what it means to be a partner and the range of contribution criteria they need to meet;
- Ensure those contribution criteria are focused on the right, critical elements for the firm at its particular stage of development, growth and market positioning. This will differ from firm to firm;
- Develop a suitable feedback, support and development system for partners to ensure regular feedback, actioning of issues and support where needed;
- That there is absolute clarity around partner responsibilities and accountabilities for building and running successful teams of lawyers (a somewhat controversial subject in some jurisdictions). We have developed a sophisticated Responsible Partner™ methodology to address this;
- Develop an efficient one-page ‘snapshot’ or ‘dashboard’ reporting system, which is produced at least monthly, and provides feedback on all critical performance and contribution elements;
- Ensure some form of appropriate partner accountability and consequences based on the above results.
The above are just three examples, but do even these and you will be well on the way! I hope they provide some useful pointers. I would be happy to expand on these based on individual firm circumstances.