Moving a Strategic Plan off the Shelf and into Action
The partners of a 125 lawyer IP firm headquartered in the Northeast with two additional offices.
The partners were unable to move a stalled growth strategy forward after having paid a consulting firm to develop a growth and branding strategy that sat on a shelf gathering dust. Core leadership asked Letterman White Consulting to diagnose the obstruction and provide a solution.
We immediately recognized a common psychological obstacle to strategy implementation - not sufficiently involving the people who will be affected by the strategy and asked to implement parts of it in the planning and design phase. Using face-to-face partner interviews and a written survey to collect data, diagnostic model, and an off-site retreat, key partners were about to discuss the “elephant in the room,’ the fracture along autonomous practice of partners’ interests and concerns.There was no consensus decision among partners about many aspects of strategic growth.
The partners went through several rounds of discussing the meaning and implementation steps of various growth strategies before concluding that the best solutions was for three groups of partners to leave the firm. One group started a firm with a very different business model. Two other groups joined other firms, one joined a much larger international firm, while the other joined a smaller regional firm. The remaining partners were united and able to move the strategy forward.
Less is More - Improving Communication
The de facto managing partner of a firm that was managed on a day-to-day basis by an MBA COO and lead by a three-partner committee.
Our client was overwhelmed and frustrated by the frequency of requests for information about the business of the firm and partners reported that they were frustrated by lack of information. Superimposed on this situation, were complaints that weekly partner lunches were essentially social gatherings instead of business meetings and back-channel communication that was out of control and exhausting to those involved.
Network mapping through the use of software that allows visualization of who is taking to whom about what and how often and identifies the “information brokers,” revealed fragmented network structures (groups of people who were unconnected to their parters) and a specific information bottleneck. Thanks to that data, we ID'ed network subgroups corresponding to firm factions, partners in “broker” positions to use for information distribution, and a plan to circumvent the bottleneck and open up new, robust channels for communication.
Interviews with partners lead to the identification of 5 factions and their respective leaders. Our solution was to create a temporary leadership structure with these five people and task them with deciding on pressing business issues for discussion at a partner offsite. Further, interviews also revealed that partners did not want to assume permanent leadership roles were missing basic management skills, like planning and running business meetings. We provided leadership and management coaching to this temporary leadership team, who were able to immediately practice new skills by leading (with facilitation) their team meeting and planning and leading the offsite.
The bottleneck problem was resolved. Complaints decreased. Since retreat preparation required discussing the business of the firm, information about the firm was taken back to informal groups, relieving the information bottleneck. The new team also provided updates during weekly all-partner lunches about the planning for the offsite, which spurred business-related discussions during these lunches. They planned the offsite and each partner led one of the five sections of the offsite. Feedback on the offsite was that it was the first true business meeting in years.
Talent Engagement and Advancement
The owner of a rapidly growing small firm that was quickly losing top talent.
The Challenge Part I
The firm was experiencing growing pains when it tuned to us. Two associates had recently left the firm for other opportunities and another valuable, senior associate had given notice because of a family move to a city 500 miles away. Remaining associates didn’t know why others were leaving and wondered if they were next. The owner was concerned about talent retention and how the firm’s current situation would affect the ability to hire other associates.
By asking the right questions, the owner was coached through an analysis of problems and to identify solutions for the talent recruitment and retention problems. Ultimately, the owner explained the departures of other associates, reassured remaining associates that the business was actually thriving, and decided to open another office in a new city, promote the departing associate to non-equity partner, and hand over the day-to-day control of the remote office. We also helped by developing a new compensation model and job descriptions.
The Results Part I
The new, second office began to thrive. The new non-equity partner reported feeling valued and invested in the success of the office and the entire firm. The remaining associates said they were relieved by the outcome and what it meant for their future with the firm. Two years later, another associate expressed an intention to move 3000 miles away and the owner decided to open a new office to accommodate the lawyer.
Over time, attorneys reported that their sense of organizational cohesion had weakened. They said they felt that the physical distance separating the three offices and their fellow attorneys had affected firm-wide, internal interactions.
The Solution Part II
At our suggestion, annual retreats in the home office city brought everyone together for two evenings of socializing and a day focused on the business of the firm. Planning for the retreats began three months in advance and engaged all attorneys in shared goals.
The Results Part II
Since we started working with this firm, it has continued to grow, maintain cohesion, and be able to recruit and retain top talent.
The director of a century-old law association, who was responsible for the day-to-day management of the organization.
The director struggled to manage the competing stakeholder interests of elected leadership, long-term staff, and association membership. At times, groups of stakeholders’ interests and concerns conflicted with each other. How could the director make sure people felt heard and at the same time actually get things accomplished?
We facilitated a group conversation among stakeholder group leaders to surface and discuss the conflicting interests and concerns. The meeting began with us proposing group discussion norms for discussion, which were best practices for group discussion and decision-making. We also coached the director on listening and giving feedback skills.
The frustration of competing interests subsided, complaints about not feeling heard fell, and the association was able to create an agenda for the year and plan and highly effective and well-received annual leadership conference. Our client reported an increase in confidence and ability to manage inherent conflicts and leverage the benefits of the diversity of the organization.
Managing and Developing People
The managing partner of a small West Coast firm.
Our client turned to us for advice about how to encourage technically solid associates to develop skills and spent time on business development.
Interviews with the associates created the data for discussion and firm-wide, experiential training in strategic communication provided the tools for a robust discussion about respective interests and concerns of everyone involved and the obstacles facing associates and possible solutions. After a facilitated discussion, the firm created client and industry teams for associates to join. Each team was asked to identify relevant marketing and business development opportunities and then collaboratively design and implement strategies to achieve them, when they completed by the end of the day. The team members were offered mentoring, coaching, and formal training.
The level of commitment to business development varied. A few lawyers realized and admitted that they didn't want to market and develop new business and they opted to leave. Many of the other associates reported feeling more fully engaged and committed to the developmental process. They said they better understood the interrelationship between their business development, professional development, compensation, and the well-being of the firm.