Last year, the Harvard Business Review published a blog post entitled, "3 Myths That Kill Strategic Planning." Like most content that comes out of Harvard and other business schools, the focus is on the application of planning principles to more routine corporations--not professional service firms such as law firms. This post is a translation of those myths for solo and small firms like yours.
Before discussing each myth, the author, Nick Tasler, reminds readers that the essence of strategic planning is as much about planning what *not* to do, as to deciding what to do. He even quotes Napoleon, who evidently once said:
In order to concentrate superior strength in one place, economy of force must be exercised in other places.
What does that mean for law firms? Simply, don't bite off more than you can chew. When you identify the firm's biggest three-to-four challenges, stop right there. Resist the temptation to tackle more.
This particular myth is so true when it comes to lawyers. For many, their idea of strategic planning is to "work harder." Occasionally they'll even throw in "work smarter." But, when asked what that means, they pause and then remark, "You know, work harder."
For law firms, increased productivity usually means setting higher billable hour targets. However, strategic planning is about getting the right things done well. Or as Tasler puts it, "Producing volume is not the same as producing excellence."
In the law firm setting, getting the right things done could mean eliminating a practice area that is minimally profitable or jump starting marketing efforts for those practice areas that are the most profitable.
At a certain level, all projects seem important. According to Tasler, "[S]trategic leaders must consciously table some 'important' projects or ignore some 'important" opportunities."
Here again, less is more. Sure, create the wish list. They are all "important." Strategic thinkers then "must decide where to focus."
For instance, you may be considering adding another practice area to your firm to diversify its revenue. Everyone can certainly agree that the issue is "important." But if, as a leader, you don't first focus on the fact that the firm's managing partner and biggest rainmaker is 65 and the words "succession plan" are two words that no one mentions, there may not be a firm in three years to diversify.
Planning is not a "thought experiment." It's about making the "call about what the team will and will NOT focus on." Or, as Napoleon once remarked,
Nothing is more difficult, and therefore, more precious, than to be able to decide.
Solo and small firm lawyers need to use the strategic planning process to proactively decide what *to do *about the firm's future.
Bottom line. Strategic planning is more than just "planning." Law firms must decide where to focus its actions, and just as important, where not to focus.