As featured in Forbes on July 13, 2020.
Professional service firms generally produce a strategic plan every three to five years. And many had just completed new ones as 2019 came to a close. Who would have expected that those documents, just recently spell-checked and newly polished, would be tossed away once Covid-19 hit in the first quarter of the year?
The bad news is the pandemic has changed many things. The good news is that your strategic plans — if designed thoughtfully with consideration of key competitors, practice strengths and talent appraisal — will still be a road map for your firm, albeit a different one. How does that work?
1. Review the plan with an eye toward what has changed. Those three practice areas that your management team agreed were going to be your core strengths may still be, even though the industries or economics may be in flux. There may be growth in some areas, dishevelment in others, but it’s important to still look at these areas, see what has been altered and appropriately alter your plans. The business world is in constant motion, and this is the time to be agile.
2. Look at evolving industries. In a recent talk to law firm leaders, I spoke about the two waves of business that are coming. The first is the immediate response to the crisis. For law firms, that means bankruptcy, real estate financing issues and insurance coverage battles. These will be the immediate legal matters that come from the aftershock of the pandemic. The second wave of business will be different. It will not simply involve those busy practice areas; instead, business will come from the industries that are now developing and morphing into new chapters. Areas such as telemedicine, logistics and telecommunications will likely undergo enormous changes. And changes mean opportunities.
3. Create a coverage program. Reaching out to people in times of stress, simply to say “Hello. How are you doing?” can be more important than one would have thought. Having those conversations where one doesn’t discuss business at all, but rather shows compassion and humanity, can help solidify a relationship. Frankly, those calls generally leave both sides of the conversation in better spirits. Calling someone just to check in on their well-being is one of those things that people are likely to remember forever.
4. Consider new key performance indicators (KPIs). If your lawyers and their potential clients are working from home, developing new business can be tricky. Still, to encourage professionals to market, consider looking at activity versus revenue. Reward those who, in the past week, made five new business calls or had three conversations with alumni. While your firm will still be focused on revenue, keep up morale by tracking and rewarding the behaviors that you want to encourage.
5. Make it easier for professionals to market at home. There are still many tools at a professional’s disposal. Telephones still work, letters can be written, work anniversary gifts can be gifted. And now, a more newly utilized tool, videoconferencing, allows firms to reach out via webinars without having to leave their office. Coaching in the area of business development is now more important than ever. Fortunately, most coaches have adapted their programs so that they can be delivered online via interactive videoconferences.
6. Expand your salesforce. I’m seeing many firms realize that they have untapped power. With leverage at most firms, there are many more associates than partners. Associates often want to know more about how the business operates and they want to be a part of helping to make a difference at their firms. Management is starting to see that by providing this training, they help morale and provide important tools.
A strategy is a road map, not an instruction manual. The difference is that a strategy allows a firm to use a variety of paths and adjust its tactics, especially during a crisis, in order to reach a destination.