Blog/Podcast: Thinking About Strategic Planning at Your Firm? Best Practices to Keep You on Track

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The strategic planning process can be challenging, mystifying and discouraging—but if done correctly, it can propel your firm forward.

Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer Kate Pearch led a successful strategic planning process at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, an Atlanta-based AmLaw 200 firm. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, where she spoke about how she got buy-in from firm leaders, how the process unified the firm and what other firms should know before they dive in.

How to address resistance from firm leaders

Kate had to campaign for a new strategic planning process for three years before she got approval. The firm had gone through an expensive and time-intensive strategic planning process before, and at the end, firm leaders felt like they didn’t get any tools they could work with. Kate had to completely reframe what a strategic planning process could achieve in order to get buy-in from the rest of the firm.

Luckily, Kate was able to talk to management and other staff who were involved in the first strategic plan to find out what went wrong. After doing extensive research, she gave a 45-minute presentation educating management on what a strategic plan could and should be, and how it could help. She compared numbers from the old plan to numbers from a decade later, showing firm leaders where they fell short in meeting their goals and how a strategic plan might have helped.

Finally, it all came down to finding the right people to drive the process. Kate worked with partners who volunteered to help get more support from the partners committee and, beyond that, everyone else in the firm. Kate also carefully selected a consultant who could provide an unbiased, outside perspective and a global view of the legal market.

How Kate’s firm benefited

Altogether, the strategic planning process was very unifying. During one session, everyone was asked to write down where they wanted the firm to be in five years. When it was time to share with the group, almost everyone had written down similar goals. It helped the firm realize that, even if the tactics were different, everyone wanted to go in the same direction and preserve Morris, Manning & Martin’s (MMM) culture.

How the firm continues to use the strategic plan

No matter how illuminating a strategic planning process is, the real challenge comes when the consultants go home and the whiteboards get put away. To avoid simply putting the strategic plan in a drawer and forgetting about it, Kate and her team broke big goals down into small, achievable chunks to focus on in the first year. That didn’t mean forgetting about other goals; it just meant putting more energy into two or three priorities. In its second year, MMM has chosen [this would be best if changed to “In its second year, MMM chose….” or “For its second year, MMM has chosen….”]new priorities in a variety of areas, including head count growth, client growth and firm governance.

To keep everyone motivated and up-to-date, the firm’s monthly internal newsletter includes a page on strategic planning goals. The management committee also reviews progress during its monthly meeting. Finally, the committee checks in every quarter to see how they’re progressing against smaller, yearly goals. The strategic plan is a living, breathing document that has become the fabric of the management process.

Advice for other firms thinking about strategic planning

If you want to initiate a strategic planning process at your firm, Kate suggests starting by identifying the specific problems the firm is facing and demonstrating how a process like this can help solve those problems. For a firm to be successful externally in areas such as client development and branding, it must be strong internally, first. If you can demonstrate this to firm leadership, it will be much easier for them to commit to a strategic planning process.

Don’t just target managing partners when trying to get buy-in, either. Non-billable employees are in a great position to help firms get stronger and tackle these tough issues. It’s important to partner with other administrative leaders, such as the CFO, the Chief Technology Officer and recruitment staff, who can all offer a unique perspective on where the firm should go.

Finally, the most important piece of advice Kate offers is not to give up easily. Major initiatives like this take time to show progress, so it’s easy to get discouraged by the slow pace. Track your progress so you can look back and see that you have made improvements, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Click here to download/subscribe to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast.

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