Out of Chaos Comes Change

By David Favor

For the last 19 years, we have served as mentors to law firms and other professional practices, transferring knowledge based on current and relevant best business practices. We believe our clients should create a strong vision for themselves both personally and professionally and design a firm that supports that vision. We develop a strong personal relationship with our clients because we want them to be successful. We are about telling our clients the truth and finding ways to create a life they want to live.

Over those years, we learned a lot about the practical application of what we were teaching, which gradually changed our teaching moments. The principles were the same, but the reality of the execution of these principles gradually changed. We recognized that common sense in making decisions to develop plans, coupled with best business practices, was making a difference in the growth and development of our clients. We also learned that most clients would fail if they failed to implement the plan.

We have added some strategic partners to help us in areas we feel are better served by their expertise. We then got together with one of our strategic partners (Dr. Shawn Noble), who does problem-solving and ideation techniques, helping us examine where we want Catalyst to go and how we can fit it in with our vision. We are in the process of reviewing all our seminars, forms, and intellectual property to design a way to let our clients get access to this wealth of information.

The biggest lesson we have learned is while we want to create an effective strategic plan, our clients are often looking for problem-solving when we first meet. In other words, they are searching for a way out of a chaotic situation (or so they think). Once we can get the main issues under control, they are then willing to work with us on a long-term vision with a short-term business plan that allows them to grow. Initially, our clients never think about defining their work and their practice based on values to support decision making. Most of the time there is not a clear set of values or a vision in place. Sometimes there is not even a mission statement in place, just some vague idea of making money. They have a general idea of what “might make them happy” but no clear-cut vision of the future. Most of the time we scramble to fill in the blanks and reach back to find their values, vision, mission, and expectations. Our goal is to help our clients understand that to be successful they need a roadmap.

A good strategy will identify your starting point, consider internal and external factors, estimate investment costs and returns. It must be understandable. It’s got to be realistic, reflecting and anticipating changes in the market. It must describe who’s going to do what by when, and to what effect. It takes time and resources to develop a good strategy.

So how do you develop a first-class strategy? Strategic planning is a process used to define your strategy or direction and make decisions on allocating your resources to pursue this strategy, including capital and people. A good strategy describes how your firm or business can be successful. It’s not a Vision – that’s what describes what you want to become, how you want to look and feel. And it’s not a Mission Statement – that’s what explains why your firm or business exists. A good strategy is that road map you need. First, be clear on where you want to get to and what you want to be. Develop the strategy with your team – use their knowledge and skills and achieve their buy-in. Do your research to understand your market and understand your clients. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. And keep it simple. A well-written strategy will be the basis of all key business decisions. As you go through the strategic planning process, you will define problems that need to be addressed. You will get information from your business analysis, define some conflicts with your values, or identify new skills needed.

Now that you have a better definition of the problems you want to resolve you can start looking at all the methodologies available. Over the years, we have used storyboarding, brainstorming, ideation, root cause analysis, and a few others. Each of these methods has some advantages, but the key to the choice is knowing what the problem is.

Over the remainder of this year, you will find us writing blogs that will give you hints on how to define your life, your business and drive a return on your investment. After all, “What part of profit don’t you get?”

Today’s law firms are more than ever in need of firm management coupled with defined expectations and accountability. Best business practices control profit. You can’t be successful and “wing it”. If your strength is not management and business accountability, then find the right person to work with you.

One of our clients is not big enough to pay for the CEO approach and has used us for oversight. We meet regularly and have a plan for which we hold him accountable. It has been interesting to watch him grow and make his firm stable by learning all the best business practices coupled with the high-performance work culture. It took a strong plan plus commitment on his part to make the firm into what he wants…not what others want.

We are always interested in hearing what our clients or readers want to know. If you have questions, send them to us or tell us what is important to you or where your problem areas are. We have started a monthly newsletter that has free advice, sources, and information. Make sure you go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. (www.catalystway.com or www.lawfirmcoach.com)

The bottom line is, the practice of law is so different than the business management of a law firm. If you are doing both, then you have our deep admiration because this road requires focus and due diligence.

Catalyst Group is a national mentoring company that works with professional practices and small businesses in designing common-sense plans that incorporate profitable business practices with a balanced work life. Contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com for more information.