Bill Barron
Lawmark Consulting
Bastrop, TX

While most professional service firms – including business valuation practices – would acknowledge the value of a strategic plan, few are using one to effectively support their growth, development and success.  Though circumstances vary from firm to firm, there are some common impediments to developing and following a strategic plan.

Perhaps the single most formidable, yet silent, obstacle is inertia. To the extent the process of strategic planning looks to the future, it can be seen as a threat to the present or status quo. There is no avoiding this. Strategic planning is essentially a change process. And people, being creatures of habit, tend to resist – or even fear – change.

Two ingredients are imperative: leadership and consensus. Top leadership must take a strong stand for the strategic planning process itself. Consensus of all partners is key to formulating and implementing a successful plan. Given the horizontal structure of most professional service firms, consensus can be a tedious and time consuming process. However, the extent to which all partners participate in and contribute to the process increases the likelihood of its success.

Paradoxically, once the process begins, some firms sabotage themselves by creating a plan that is far too ambitious, complex and detailed. A plan should typically look 3-5 years ahead and cover aspects such as areas of practice, client base, size and location. However, for most firms not accustomed to the strategic planning process, the initial phase should generally not encompass more than 2-4 initiatives to be implemented over the first year. Each initiative should include a description of general purpose, specific quantifiable results intended, strategies and tactics, and identification of resources needed for its accomplishment.

Finally, even the most carefully crafted plan growing out of a fair, consensus building process can fail because it doesn’t address implementation issues. Too often firms underestimate the need for creating support and accountability structures required to assure success. I often suggest to clients that they establish an implementation and oversight group whose sole purpose is to support and hold accountable the individual initiative teams and leaders. As distasteful as it can seem to some, regular, agenda driven meetings of both the oversight as well as individual initiative groups are critical. Communicating successes and retaining the flexibility to make appropriate adjustments along the way are two other important ingredients.

Tackling a strategic plan for your firm can seem a bit daunting. The good news, however, is that those firms who take the time to formulate and implement an ongoing strategic planning process, relying on specific quantifiable goals, consistently perform at a higher level.

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Bill Barron