It was somewhat of a coming of age event for a firm started four years ago as a solo. Practice areas have changed, people have come and gone, two children have been born – and now four lawyers and five staff were sitting around a table discussing strengths, goals and the path ahead. It was a particularly unique event for us as we are a virtual firm and many of our paralegal staff work remotely. It’s interesting how you can get to know someone very well via phone and email, and then feel like you are meeting a relatively new acquaintance when you finally see them in person.
After speed reading David Maister’s Managing the Professional Services Firm, I decided to use his framework for planning and implementing a fast-track strategy by focusing on client satisfaction, skill building, productivity and getting better business. Maister mentions that most strategy processes are often too complex for small companies to follow but the fast-track strategy process is simple enough for even very small firms.
It worked out pretty well for us. We did a morning session with the lawyers, initially answering the question: what do you want to be famous for? Then we drilled down into what that looked like professionally and how to go get the business to match it. In the afternoon session, we invited the staff (who had spa appointments in the am) and did sessions on professional development, billing and client service. These sessions were turned into concrete steps for us to follow over the next year.
One really interesting thing Allison did was a strengths finding exercise for all the staff. We did the Strengths Finder 2.0 online test and were all categorized into five different areas. It was notable to see how perfectly the strengths of a few of the staff reflected their personalities.
One thing that I learned is how unique one of our top performing lawyers is. She is highly achievement oriented, focused and entrepreneurial and has managed to be very successful in a management culture to date which can best be described as passive. What I have come to realize is that to bring out the best in the majority of staff, a good manager needs to be a good coach by working together with each person to set clear benchmarks for success and following up at regular intervals on progress.
To date, I have enjoyed the vision and creation part of a new venture and setting up firm systems. To realize success in the next phase of the firm, I will need to learn how to be a good leader and coach of other people, which will force me to move out of my comfort zone. I’m sure it won’t be a smooth path, but I am looking forward to the journey.