Spring is sprung, the grass is riz... and it's time for law firms to roll out a new strategy.
My eyes were drawn to a story in "The Lawyer" entitled "FFW protects new strategy moniker". The main thrust of the article is that Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP have announced a new three-year strategy and have trademarked their name for that strategy (and since it is trademarked and I have no permission to use the term, I won't. That is presumably what they wanted to happen by trademarking it...?)
I wondered how the new plan would fit with their last published strategy "2012" (I don't think they can have trademarked that one, surely...), or whether it replaced it given that it was adopted the other side of a financial meltdown. The online article was very brief, so I had a look at FFW's web site, but could find no mention of it. I have no real problem with that - it is much more important that every one inside the organisation knows the detail of the strategy and how it fits with (or replaces) other stated plans. There might even be a benefit to the firm in keeping aspects of the strategy secret.
FFW are not the only law firm talking strategy at the moment. I've spoken with a number of lawyers recently all of whom talked (off the record, on the qt, and very hush hush) about changes to strategy or strategic reviews taking place. I'm sure, too, that the legal press will see a good few announcements concerning new strategies over the next few weeks.
I have two simple points I'd like to make. The first is that a strategy which is reviewed too regularly or frequently (and annually is too often) is not a strategy - it's at best a plan. The second is that more effort should be expended (in every firm) in putting the strategy into action.
Three to five year strategies will, of course, be reviewed. It is vital, however, that the long term remains the focus and that tactical planning changes are made with the overall strategy in mind. The firm must know itself and its environment very well - and must have a thorough understanding of its own strategy and of how that fits into its context. Without that overview, the danger is that the firm will lurch from plan to plan, all the while thinking it is acting strategically. Without the overview, it is entirely possible that each new "strategy" is pulling in a different direction which simply serves to confuse the firm and waste resources. Much of what is referred to in law firms as strategy is in fact operational excellence (i.e. operational issues which can be readily copied rather than considered thinking offering the firm an advantage in the medium to long term).
Having done the analysis and spent some time achieving a real strategy, firms must ensure that time is spent actually putting the plan into action. I have seen too many firms adopt a strategy with a great fanfare after which everyone in the firm returns to their desk and business-as-usual. A three year strategy must be worked on consistently throughout the three years - not to change it, but to ensure that a strategic shift has actually happened and that people are actually performing the strategy.
I'm not suggesting that FFW is in this "all show and no action" category at all - they have achieved solid and consistent growth (as per strategy) over the last few years. Every firm, however, should be aware that setting and announcing the strategy are actually the easy bits - putting it into action is where the great firms are separated from the rest.