Here’s my Two Workshop Process to devise a practice group strategy and plan that will be effective and that partners and staff will be committed to.
For a large department (say more than 30-50 lawyers), appoint a small project group comprising some partners and associates to lead the process and a small steering group (comprising other influential partners) to act as the internal client.
At the outset consider why you need a strategy. Here’s how to address the cynicism and ‘sell’ the project:
- Review what work the firm has lost because it wasn’t ‘top tier’?
- Analyse client feedback (comments such as ‘We gave the work to a rival because it was bet-your-ranch work’)
- Review any macroeconomic trends to see what will affect your area of work
There are two persuasive arguments: either, look at this description of nirvana if you change (ie move up a tier), or look how bad it might get if you stay as you are!
Also, start thinking what your compelling vision might be. People will be more attracted to a strategy if the ship is sailing to Rio than some other places I could mention!
Another initial approach would be to conduct a confidential survey amongst partners and staff to ascertain concerns and aspirations.
The first part of the discussion should be on data and diagnosis, such as:
- Where are the opportunities and threats?
You could analyse in further detail the market by looking at the sectors you are interested in to assess the market sizes (H/M/L) and likely rates of growth and profitability of this work.
You might also carry out an analysis of profitability by sector and work type before the first strategy workshop.
- An honest appraisal of your capability.
What are you good at? Be honest! What, if added to your capability, would make your service offering even more compelling?
- Competitor activity?
Is there anything you can learn from other firms? What are competitors doing to improve their offering? Are there new potential competitors or business models to consider that might radically change the market for your services?
If you do spend time on this, of course, you should probably choose not to do what competitors are doing and deliberately do the opposite. Focus on your unique strengths!
Output from Workshop 1
The second part of your first strategy workshop should focus on answering the question ‘so what?’. You need to provide an overall strategic focus for all associated practice groups (a sort of departmental glue!). Specific outputs should be:
- High level strategic goals – these could be in terms of reputation, growth (revenue and profit), geography, sectors, type of work, service offerings etc
- High level strategic options – what are the general approaches you need to do more of, less of or differently to achieve these goals and the opportunities in the market. Being all things to all people doesn’t work very well as a sustainable strategy.
Options are likely to include developing more distinctive service offerings and remaining flexible so the team can take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
The Project Group then presents the output to the Steering Group members. Have they missed anything? Ultimately the output should be shared widely with colleagues to get initial buy-in. What about involving some friendly clients as well?
The second workshop develops the details of the strategy (ie put ‘flesh on the bones’) and addresses any feedback given.
Start the second workshop with this question: ‘In what ways is it important for us to be better than our competitors, whilst building on our strengths?’
Answers can be collected on post-its and clustered to see the themes. Project team members vote of their preferred responses. Then brainstorm creative approaches for putting these projects into action.
The following topics should probably be on the shortlist for larger firms:
- How to be more innovative,
- How to build closer client relationships,
- How to get more international referrals,
- How to stay ahead of the curve on technology etc
Champions would be sought to develop ideas. Tell them to select someone outside the project group to partner with. Champions to be given two weeks to provide more detailed and costed plans. Ideally the plans should include how to get quick wins.
Individual partners and senior associates should draft their personal business plans which need to be aligned with the overall plan. Progress against these objectives should be monitored and reviewed as part of the appraisal process.
If this process looks too onerous, you have two choices:
- Do nothing and let your competitors get ahead with an effective business strategy
- Appoint a good facilitator to guide you through it…I know a few!