When we talk to professional services firms of all sizes, we are always obsessed with understanding their strategy. To be able to develop first class solutions we need the management team to have a clear vision for where they want their firm to go as this will enable us to help them learn more about how to execute a strategic plan. After all, theGrogroups proposition is to help the leaders of professional services firms achieve their objectives….as effectively as possible.
We know that firms invest a lot of time in thinking about, validating and communicating strategic plans and objectives. But this isn’t necessarily effective.
Firstly, the definition of strategy is very different to what people think it is. It is certainly not a periodic and mainly academic project (think a two-day offsite for senior partners ‘creating’ a new way forward, often through gut-feel). It is instead an ever-shifting and fluid appraisal of a how a firm should position itself to best meet the challenges it faces and take advantage of the opportunities. And secondly, more time and energy is spent on the creating and planning process than the most important element… execution!
A sound strategic planning process has three dimensions:
1 Creation: the thinking process required to create strategic direction
2 Practicality: the development of a roadmap in pursuit of strategy
3 Execution: following through on the actions
In our experience, business classes, books and training courses mainly focus on the tools and theories to drive strategic thinking. This means that not only are too many ‘vague’ strategic objectives created which are not understood by the firm, but there is no process in place to ensure that plans are executed.
Our strategic planning advice is
Starting with the doing it quickly point, we talked to one accounting firm who wanted a bespoke business development programme to help drive their new market strategy. The plan had been designed 18 months previously and had not been revisited. The subsequent BD push was based on a toolkit of tax products for clients and prospects in a particular sector. Sadly, within 3 months of the end of the programme, more than 50% of the toolkit was ‘binned’ because legislation had since changed and the window of opportunity had been missed because actions had not progressed quickly enough.
Breaking objectives down into aligned actions
These means ensuring that every person in the firm is clear on what the firm’s strategy means to them on a daily basis. Focusing them on what they can and need to do to contribute.
For example, let’s say a firm has created the following strategic objective:
‘to become the professional adviser of choice in the medical marketplace within 24 months’
Ok….But how? What does this mean to everybody in the firm? Just how can they impact on this?
A sensible first step would be spend time breaking the objective down into sensible, practical steps. We call this creating ‘how’ goals. For example:
We then advise a brainstorm session to define all the possible activities that would have a positive impact in pursuing these ‘how’ goals.
Create a process of accountability
Getting people to do things differently, over a period of time (which creates habitual behaviour) is tremendously difficult. The ‘whirlwind’ of the day job, the culture and organisational and individual working habits mean that those identified actions towards the ‘how’ goals, that achieve the strategic objectives, just don’t happen.
The only way to succeed to ensure that working on those actions becomes a fundamental core part of the day job. A simple way of making individuals accountable is to have regular meetings with them to discuss performance and results against set actions and objectives. And even better is for teams to do this together. A discipline of regular meetings of 20-30 minutes, where members hold each other accountable for producing results and setting new action plans is extremely powerful.
And this approach becomes even more effective when performance, reward and talent management systems are aligned. The focus of people at all levels is on the actions and behaviours to achieve the strategic objectives. Quite simply… a focus on strategy execution.
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