Three more plan tips


There are indeed a lot of cunning planners out there.  So for you, and having written or reviewed a lot of these docs (the good, bad and the ugly), here are three more guide points to help make them work to the max.  This is important.  Well-written ones get read and have a far better chance of being acted upon.  Bad and ugly ones get condemned to the (digital) closet.

SWOTs that (again)?  Last time, I looked at how distilling key issues from SWOT content is crucial (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  But what if the content itself is less than perfect, ambiguous, or even confusing?  Ever read one in which the same issue or factor appears more than once e.g. it is both a Strength and i) a Weakness or even ii) an Opportunity?

For i), you must make a judgement call – decide which it is on the weight of evidence and impact and stick with it.  In ii), the most frequent reason for such a mix-up is unclear understanding of the differences between SW and OT.  SWs are intrinsic issues that fall largely under your or the firm’s control or ability to influence; OTs are extrinsic issues largely beyond your control/influence.

SFA your options   Once the plan has generated a number of real strategic options, choosing which is best to pursue becomes critical. The one that seems to deliver most financial ‘bang’? Or that you are personally most vested in? Here, the three classic strategic SFA option criteria* and appropriate analysis tools for them need to be used:

  • Suitability (would it work?): whether a strategy addresses the key issues identified in the plan
  • Feasibility (can it be made to work?): whether the resources required to implement the strategy successfully can be made available, developed or obtained.  These include funding, people, time and information.
  • Acceptability (will they work it?): whether the expectations of the various stakeholders will be met so that they buy in and better ensure success.

Monitor, review and update  I have jested about plans never seeing the light of day because they are too long.  But even if they are OK as a ‘product’, they can still not be used once formal acceptance has occurred: so into the dark recesses of the cupboard they also go.  This tends to occur in organisations where there is no real buy-in to the need for planning and thus no real importance attaches to its achievement.  It is just a “paper exercise”.

Good firms ensure such importance by adopting the maxim: “what gets measured and rewarded gets done”.  Performance against plan is tracked and monitored rigorously by senior management; partners and teams are held directly accountable for what happens (or does not happen) and what is (not) achieved.  As a result, funnily enough, plans tend to get reviewed and updated regularly by their originators and users.

* ‘Exploring Strategy: Text & Cases’ (2013) Johnson, Whittington & Scholes

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.



Three tips to help your plans work


It seems that everybody is doing it now: from big ol’ firm, departmental or sector business plans all the way to personal business development ones.  More or less formal planning has become popular with professionals.

But, as the saying goes, popularity does not equal success.

Getting your plan right – by avoiding the major pitfalls – can make all the difference between achievement and under-performance.  From experience, here are three things that can help.

Beware the missing – or illusion of – choice.   Having analysed thoroughly, a good plan needs to properly assess more than one way to achieve its aims.  Many do not.

Either such options are absent altogether – having started from a desired end-point (“that is what I/we must do”) and worked backwards – or they are perfunctory inclusions to create the illusion of choice.  Almost inevitably, the result compromises the quality of what will happen because these end-point assumptions remain un-examined.

SWOTs that?  SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are a staple of nearly every planning process.  They are meant to be the encapsulated result of all your hard-grafted digging and examining.

But there are a number of things that can lessen the value of doing them.  One being that the analysis presented is simply a long, not very useful listing of factors – and nothing else.  Effective SWOTs must also identify the (maximum six) key issues that your plan has to address. This sets up what follows clearly and purposefully.

Big is not beautiful – aka plans that are measured by the pound or kilo.  Much as though you may have enjoyed detailing and crafting your beautiful vision of what should happen, sadly, not everyone who has to read the multi-page tome that results will necessarily share your delight.

Of course, there has to be evidence for the chosen direction, but the essence of a good plan is something readable in no more than two pages…..presented at the beginning.  The rest is what appendices are for.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.


Business Development Resolutions Part 1

Another year…and another set of business development challenges. It may be increasingly a ‘given’ that BD is important to everyone, but there are still common gaps between aspiration and reality that have to be bridged. Individuals at all levels can benefit from some simple actions that will contribute significantly to their proficiency and achievement. We’ve identified three below from our experience. There are more – so next time we’ll offer up three more for your consideration.

Get the picture(s)
There are a number of pictures here. The big picture is a firm’s overall direction and strategy: if they don’t exist then nobody should be surprised if professionals (and other ‘actors’) are heading in all manner of unproductive pathways and dead-ends. If they do, then individuals need to ask themselves “are my efforts being targeted properly?” – and it is the responsibility of the firm’s practice and other leaders to ensure that this alignment is happening by engaging with their people.

At more micro levels, professionals can struggle to get their business development activities in perspective. Sometimes, this is because they have no specific goals to achieve. Elsewhere or in addition, they underestimate the size of the active contact base and legwork that is required to achieve new client or customer wins. It doesn’t happen without consistent effort. In all this and more, they often need help…..

Get a mentor
This is “It can be a lonely business part 1”. Quite a number of professionals we meet do not feel they are “natural” business developers: they didn’t get where they are today by doing it, it wasn’t what they signed up for etc. For them, it can feel like a pretty solitary place to be. But it’s what you do about this that is the key.

Certain individuals we know have actively sought out (the firm’s) good BD professionals and asked for their help or advice. That often works. Recognising the need, some firms set up and run their own mentoring or coaching programmes that formalise and organise such activity; others invest in specialist outside help to achieve the same goal. Both of these can work too. But whichever method you choose, if there is a clearly-recognised demand, the biggest crime is to do nothing.

Get a buddy
And here is “It can be a lonely business part 2”. On a day-to-day level, we have observed a more productive and enjoyable time to be had when going about their business development activities (networking, conferences, seminars etc.) for professionals – particularly less experienced ones – who team up. That doesn’t mean that they hang out together rather than get the BD work done. It does means that they use each other for assistance, advice, support, and learning on the job. If they get on, it can work very well. And it makes the task much less of a lonely one.

Mitigating merger mania

The ‘M’ word is currently all the rage – especially in professional services (and the law in particular) as firms respond to the new competitive market place for ownership in the UK and a continuing low growth economy. According to a recent survey, 50% of law firms questioned have either put in or plan to put in place a new structure to allow non-lawyer ownership. In a traditionally ultra- conservative sector, that smacks of dynamism.

But it is best not to get carried away, so here are some observations from experience on some of the pitfalls of mergers and how to avoid them. They apply not just to lawyers but all businesses contemplating the big M move.

There’s no such thing as a merger
In professional service circles, firms ‘merge’ almost 100% of the time. Nobody ever gets ‘taken over’ or ‘acquired’. In most cases this is a sop to the feelings of partners. From experience, in nearly every ‘merger’ game – at the end – one side invariably emerges from the deal changing room wearing the trousers (so to speak).

When big’uns acquire (sorry merge with) little’uns, those in the minority firm should never fool themselves (but some DO) that things will remain the same as before. They won’t. Nor should anyone else if you aren’t on the winning side.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast
One of Peter Drucker’s pithier comments has a particular resonance for mergers. Firms spend much expense and many hours of due diligence coming up with valuations, assessing financial and resource (mis)match-ups, systems compatibilities, client base analyses and making other assessments and decisions that fulfil the strategic imperative – quite often based around numbers.

I wonder how many mergers really put serious effort into assessing the most important intangible for Mr Drucker – the cultural fit (I think we know the answer to this)? Yes, it is difficult to pin down but there are methodologies out there for making a detailed comparison…if you decide to use them.

What about the morning after?
Yes, and as we’re speaking about all that effort that goes into analysing, deciding and doing the deal – how much grunt goes into the bit that follows, the waking up together on the first day of a new marriage and (hopefully) the next 50 metaphorical years? If you’ve seen most of the focus go on the ‘before’ – leaving the ‘after’ to be “sorted out later” (presumably by someone else) – then you’re not alone.

There isn’t a pill to take. Instead, there is a detailed post-merger plan with clear activities, responsibilities, time frames, budgets, resource and buy-in….and an awful lot of hard work to make it happen.