But perpetuating confusion between the two serves the objective of neither. Marketing is not the same as sales. Many knowledgeable observers believe a recession is inevitable; some are predicting a severe slow-down as early as spring , based on certain indicators. If it occurs, law firms and other professional service providers that are not doing the strategic planning today to prepare for whatever happens in the market over the next six to twelve to twenty-four months are likely to find themselves reliving the dark days of , and following.
Roger Hayse , a colleague and consultant to law firms in transition — particularly those dealing with crisis — just authored a terrific piece on this topic. With his article as a jumping-off point, here are two ways firms can become proactive with business development efforts today, and be better prepared for whatever the market at large has in store. Your best clients are constantly looking at projections for the coming months. And second, you should assume someone is having this conversation with them. There are a number of outstanding professionals who can help you construct a client feedback program that will do 3 things:.
Unless you are a unicorn, the core of your practice lands on your desk either by virtue of a direct or indirect relationship — those who know and trust you, or those connected to those who know you. We refer to these as allied professionals. One of the most valuable assets for business development professionals is a robust pipeline of these allies.
Consider the example of an estate planning consultant who, rather than waiting for families in need of his specific brand of counsel, proactively built relationships with CPAs, bank trust officers and others directly connected to those who would benefit from his practice.
By becoming a valued and indispensable resource to the professionals serving his target market in related ways, the estate planning advisor built a pipeline of relationships that, overtime, delivered a steady flow of the work he sought. There are certainly other important and productive ways in which your business development efforts should be intentional, and proactive.
The firms and service providers that elect to count on the flow of work historically enjoyed from sources that have been there for years will find themselves making decisions about who and where to cut, when and how to maintain stability, and how to survive what appears inevitable. Firms who muster what it takes to become proactive in a strategic way have a much better shot at being prepared for recession when it rears its head. This is an update to a March article originally published on Forbes. The role of leadership in any enterprise is fraught with a number of legitimately urgent distractions — especially in a volatile marketplace.
A single projection missed, one team assignment blown, a silver bullet misfired can wind up costing precious resources. To be clear, the issues that cause commotion can have a measurable impact. So this is not to diminish in any way the task of managing daily operations. And one is not better than the other. But in great organizations, responding to issues related to personnel, processes and systems is the purview of a strong management team. Admittedly, in some organizations — especially small businesses or those possessing an entrepreneurial nature — one or two members or a small team must both manage and lead.
The difference is leaders have the ability to see through the commotion that can potentially characterize every day, and recognize the signs of what might disrupt and threaten an organization. When the response to disrupting factors is born solely in the experiences of daily commotion, the outcome is likely to be less than satisfactory.
Organizations that mistake even the most effective daily management for the core responsibility of leadership are likely to miss impending fundamental change until it is too late. The contemporary marketplace offers vivid examples of the dangers that accompany the absence of leaders who are able to recognize disruption. Consider the consequences inside once stable industries like film Eastman Kodak , print production typesetters , home video Blockbuster and public transportation taxi cabs. Where management is mistaken for leadership, and success has historically been gauged by monitoring daily, monthly or quarterly metrics, there is an increased risk of missing severe disruptions.
For example, within the professional services industry — accounting, consulting and law firms in particular — innovators are reshaping go-to-market realities. Certain services that were once only available via hourly rate or retainer fees are increasingly using technology and infrastructure shifts to redefine the way in which clients determine value. To be sure, there is comfort in black-and-white benchmarks.
Progress or position can seem clear. Value seems easy to define. Established benchmarks provide a necessary roadmap for managers. Miss a benchmark, deviate from the charted course or take too long along the way and something must be awry. The challenge comes when a reliance on these management tools comes at the expense of or is mistaken for spotting issues no less real, but much less black and white.
In , speaking of the essential nature of a focus on the future when considering a space program and other issues of the day, President John F. Reportedly, Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a specific tree on his property.
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The gardener noted that the tree would not reach maturity for years. There are no processes or project maps…no org charts or committees…no reading of metric tea leaves that will secure the the future. Great organizations acknowledge this and cultivate leadership that sees beyond daily commotion, looking toward a spot on the horizon that beckons. Wherever there is a lot of talk, but very little action…when progress is painfully slow without regard to how essential we say it is it is almost always due to one thing.
From inside your firm, to global seats of power…from personal living rooms to centers of social, academic and religious establishments…we prioritize what we care about most. There are a number of ways to distract or mislead. And most of us learn how to talk a good game. My website may display eloquent proclamations on client service. Or a carefully crafted mission statement might frame purpose in the context of critical conversations — the value of diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, and work-place collegiality, for example.
Who we reward and what we support tells a big part of the story. The real measure of our priorities is where we invest our most precious resource.
Most of us come to the realization that we will eventually run short of time. Where and how we spend our hours says everything about our priorities. In a given context and to varying degrees depending on who you talk to , these are measures worth keeping. We measure what we count as valuable. If it has either captured the imagination or has direct impact on the pocketbook , we find multiple ways to take its measure — from a favorite sport to the machinations of economic indicators.
And, by the way, to measure begrudgingly does not signal priority…especially when the response is to ignore what the measurement tells us. Translation: actions speak louder than words. Or website copy. Or mission statements. Or the speeches rolled out at annual meetings. In firms where progress is made in challenging areas, it is because a critical issue has risen to priority status. If your firm is puzzling over conversations like inclusion, mental health in the work place, succession, stability or any aspect of how to grow, take it as a warning sign: critical areas of your organization may not be aligned.
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Indeed, any one calls for the best a leader or leadership team can bring to the table. Until these elements are put in place, the pressure on firm productivity, profitability and stability is likely to intensify. In a recent post we suggested 5 areas of every firm where the identification of guiding principles provides the basis for institutional alignment. These areas are:. Without established guiding principles, it is difficult to manage day-to-day operations and opportunities, never mind navigate the issues related to leading in a competitive, changing market.
In a July article for American Lawyer, Blaine Prescott notes findings that in the corporate world 70 percent or more of mergers meet with questionable success; and the numbers are similar for law firms.
The articulation of basic values and shared aspirations in the five areas noted above provides a kind of manifesto — a set of Guiding Principles that are born of the vision partners have for the firm. Leadership is able to use these Principles to vet opportunities, analyze possible responses to challenges, facilitate better conversations and streamline the administrative process. Given this framework, opportunities can be purposefully measured — from where and how to grow, to the ideal client profile; from what constitutes an appropriate investment in office space, to how much and where to focus marketing resources; from the comparative value of a million-dollar conference facility, to a client-driven technology capability.
When it comes to decisions that matter, success is often about asking the right questions. The presence of Guiding Principles makes this infinitely more clear-cut. For example, in our growth example above, Guiding Principles might lead to a series of questions like:. Is the expansion consistent with the footprint we envisioned in our strategic plan? Do current key clients benefit from this expansion?
Are the demands caused by the acquisition consistent with the way we view the role of the platform, and our guidelines for investing in it? Does the expansion demand new technology? How does this expansion impact our diversity and inclusion goals? Do the cultures mesh, or collide? How long will integration take? Each of the five interrelated areas named above will have multiple areas that should be considered.
Guiding principles should be identified in each. See Fig 1, below. There is no right or wrong answer here. The objective is to identify the few basics your partnership feels strongly about — a set of principles agains which critical decisions will be tested. As noted, each of the five functional areas has a similar set of issues and questions that will yield a complete set of Guiding Principles. And yours may evolve over time. Sure — in some firms conversations around alignment and vision are met with an obligatory wink-and-nod.
Sure…everyone says we should have one. It will make nice filler for the website; but we all know what the real vision is — a larger profit-pie this year. W hen push-comes-to-shove, wherever revenue is in question we all know what the guiding principle is gong to be. There are multiple benefits to the alignment that results from the identification of a set of Guiding Principles. Most can be summed up in two categories and not necessarily in this order :.
And it showed that high-achieving organizations are also better than others at turning their visions into viable strategies that guide operational planning— something many business leaders may believe they already do well, but which often proves difficult in practice. As such, they provide an outline for how to begin to strategically address the issues, challenges and opportunities that present themselves today.
For every firm wrestling with direction, under performance, growth, market position, diversity and inclusion, compensation systems, how to address succession planning…and the list goes on…there is good news. The downside is that institutional alignment is often the last thing anyone focuses on. These conversations have little to do with the actual practice of your profession. To accept this position is to ignore volumes of organizational development research and case studies over the past twenty-plus years underscoring the fact that institutional alignment is a critical component in highly functioning organizations.
Data repeatedly indicates that purpose, direction, mission, and vision are inexorably linked to high productivity, stability, and yes, increased profitability. The result is an organization that can focus less on deciding what to do—and more on simply doing. This alone should be reason to reassess, and at least test the waters of alignment. I have yet to visit with a law firm leadership group whose goal is to spend more time in meetings. Nautin contends that in the aligned organization, decision making is streamlined because decision making parameters are known, and understood.
Put another way, in the aligned firm there exists a set of core values and guiding principles. Name the question. The place where efficient decision-making begins is in the context of alignment. Which decision and what direction are aligned with core values, guiding principles and firm vision? There are at least five areas where the identification of guiding principles will serve to create an aligned firm.
The uniqueness of some partnerships may call for a greater focus in one or two additional areas; but the firm that is willing to have the often difficult conversations around the identification of vision and guiding principles in these five areas is well on its way to being able to articulate much more than a generic website mission statement. The payoff to an aligned vision is that it provides a framework for strategic execution.
Figure 1 above offers a graphic presentation of the Aligned Firm. Does your firm regularly wrestle with measuring return when it comes to business development efforts? At least one reason is that for many firms, the pursuit of new business is not aligned with any overall, longer-than-this-year strategic plan — one that is guided by a set of core principles, and establishes the basis for strategic growth.
There are exceptions, of course; but for the most part, law firms grow by adding lawyers — one or two at a time, through the addition of a group, or by combining with another firm. In some instances, this approach to growth is in response to a specific need or opportunity. However, much of the time it is linked to the idea that the addition of partners who possess an existing book of business will serve to increase overall revenue. In fact, adding professionals and hoping business comes along:.
And for all the headlines made by merger announcements, combinations are costly, dilute profitability at least in the short run, and are often fragile. Meanwhile, efforts to codify the growth of the pie as the responsibility of every lawyer has barely moved the needle.
From key client or industry teams and cross selling initiatives to talk of hunting in packs and outright sales coaching, firms continue to search for and invest in an approach that will deliver organic growth. Yet, in spite of significant investment, many firms actually sabotage their efforts from the word go. For many the investments produce negligible return, year after year. The growth of a solid practice does not hinge on finding a silver bullet or learning manipulative techniques. Every real rainmaker I know will tell you the best business — the work most sought after — comes by way of an existing relationship or a referral.
Business development is a long game — an investment in the future. Every time the pursuit of new business is launched with the need and expectation of near-term return, the potential of the effort is compromised from the outset. Every time the decision to scrap a month plan is made based on perceived results at the month mark, it is a decision based on faulty data analysis. Effective business development is rooted in clear goals, market intelligence, considered strategy, and a commitment to stay the pursuit.
There is an important reality here. Not everyone possesses the basic skills attendant to rainmaking. An effective and realistic firm or group strategy recognizes this fact.
This is not to suggest that certain partners should be able to opt out. In the healthiest partnership everyone has a role in the growth strategy. However, expecting that every single partner will be equally gifted in every area of responsibility is to set many of your partners up to fail.
This warrants lengthy exploration; however, for example, successful initiatives include research, analysis, and a variety of critical tasks. Partners, it would seem, would strive to construct pursuits in a way that leverages every skill set available.
When an emphasis on development is associated only with under-performance, you may as well be saying that a business development assignment is the penalty one will pay missing a mark. In more instances than I can count, a forced focus on development activities is linked to missing an hourly benchmark or a declining or anemic book of business. Get them a coach to set them on the right path. Bring in a consultant to work with groups that are stagnant.
Or adopt the current solution-of-the-month to fix across the board deficiencies. As a result, meetings of the Marketing Committee were tense and unproductive. Whether an initiative is perceived as punitive will almost always be determined by who opts out. Strong partnerships collaborate on critical solutions, including challenges and opportunities associated with the development of new business. Inside most law firms there is no question about the need to measure time. It is at the heart of how value is calculated. Alternative billing methodology notwithstanding, to a significant degree productivity is defined in terms of hours worked on billable matters , and the dollar figure attributable to each.
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