By Jessica Lim National Director Practice Management – Commercial Litigation & Construction at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG)
This article sets out key actions to successfully complete the analysis stage of strategic planning; where firms gather, synthesize and consider information that helps them to gain a thorough understanding of trends and where they are now to ultimately support the formulation stage.
As stated in the first article in this series, the strategic planning process as defined here includes four stages:
These concepts are transferrable to firm, function, practice and client team planning.
Understand the key issues and expectations
Before you dive in, get the lay of the land. Sameer Dhargalkar, VP Business Development & Marketing at HH Angus summarized this step well when he said, “you need to understand what the leadership want, whether there’s anything that’s broken, the culture of the firm and the tolerance for change.”
Map out what you need to know
Setting out what your strategy team needs to know to formulate strategy is more important and challenging than it may sound.
Evaluate the textbook tools and where your firm is at
A classic first step is the PESTEL model that includes political, economic, social, technology, environmental and legal categories of data. This could be followed by analysis against Porter’s Five Forces followed by client and internal analysis. You could then conclude with a SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats –that pulls it all together.
However, in a law firm environment you run a risk of your audience dismissing all that information and effort because they already know all of that anyway. This result will not help with credibility, engagement and buy-in.
Some or all of those tools may be the way to go. Before you commit, consider to what extent your firm is ready for this information. If your firm has never created a strategic plan or has only gone through this process once or twice in past, you may be best to scale back.
As Julia Hayhoe put it “Sometimes a firm has never had a written strategy. For them, it’s too much to do a full-blown strategic review. You have to meet the client (law firm) where they’re at. You can’t force a generic framework on them.”
Include elements of competitive advantage
To narrow down the information that’s most relevant to your strategy, start with categories that drive value or differentiation and price such as some or all of the following:
Services – Where is there forecast demand and profit? Does this change by sector or region?
Clients – Why have your clients chosen your firm? Why do they remain with your firm? Would they recommend your firm? What needs to change for them to recommend your firm? Where is 80% of your business coming from? How many are large v small, profitable v large, institutional v one-off?
Legal Service Talent – What is your pipeline by year, book of business, alignment to forecast service demand? What attracted them to your firm? Why do they stay? What do they perceive the brand and values to be?
Brand – What’s your promise vs perception in the market?
Culture – What are the values and norms that impact performance, engagement and effort? What role does this play in attracting and retaining the right talent?
Process – What is your end-to-end client service experience or jobs-to-be-done v trends in client expectations and technology?
Quality – What are your training programs, controls and technologies to help consistently deliver on the brand promise?
Price – If you’re competing on price, where can you drive costs down? If you’re not competing on price, are your prices and expenses aligned with a message to the market that you’re competing on quality?
Analyze internally and externally
For each category you choose to analyze, consistently gather
Internal data that sets out the firm’s current state
External data that addresses both what relevant competitors are doing and market trends.
Know your competitors
To do the above successfully, make sure your strategy team is aligned as to who your competitors are and who you want to benchmark your firm against. Do your research by looking at
Rankings – Which firms are close to yours and which are where your firm wants to be?
Pitches – Which firms have you lost to or won against when it’s down to only a few?
Regions – Do competitors vary by region?
Practice – Do your answers change when you look at different practice areas?
Network – Is word-on-the-street that any particular firms are changing their approach and on track for getting or staying ahead?
Decide on traditional v agile process
The approach to reviewing findings will impact engagement and buy in. The traditional approach involves managing the process to deliver on the mapped-out categories, minimizing scope changes then providing one large package with all findings, conclusions and recommendations. This can be an efficient and well-managed project and there is value in one holistic package of information, but it risks engagement and buy-in along the way.
A more agile approach, which I typically recommend, starts with mapping out the above but allows for adjustments as needed. It also involves addressing each category separately, in smaller, easier to absorb packages, presentations and discussions. This constant dialogue can lead to changes in scope and extend time and cost of the project but can increase engagement, collaboration and quality of decisions.
Sameer also opts for the agile approach and commented, “having gone through this process several times, there is a lot of revisiting early assumptions based on new data in the various stages. It’s never a linear process. It’s often circular with added introspection and dialogue with stakeholders, typically leading to better outcomes.”
Enlist internal & external support
If you’ve retained a consultant you should lean on them for support at this stage but do expect some of your internal colleagues to allocate a significant amount of time as well. Michael Parent, Deloitte Consulting, National Professional Services Industry Leader, advises “you should be 50/50 internal and consultant. Internally, it’s best to enlist the participation of the subject matter experts who you will want to be engaged in execution.” If someone will be key to execution post-strategy development, include them in the process.
When you embark on the analysis stage, make sure you understand the key issues and expectations of leadership, map out what you need to know, make a mindful decision about your process and enlist the support of subject matter experts internally and externally. And, as always, enjoy the process. It’s a great learning experience!