Someone wise once said (author unknown) “Promise only what you can deliver. Then deliver more than you promise.“ Your plans are promises for the future..but all the planning in the world will not assist you to turn those promises into achievements if you are not taking active steps to implement your goals.
To implement your plans, you need to do several things. One, effectively communicate your vision; two, lead the change process and three, outline the steps to be taken to take you – and your firm – to your goals. If you want change, you are the one that has to make it happen.
Making it all happen is dependent on bringing people into the process (communication), breaking down the goal(s) into discrete, manageable and measurable tasks (planning) and then creating the team environment that brings everyone along to reach the goals (leading). We think this process is started by having a written statement of your goals, the timeline for their expected attainment, the breakdown of each goal into discrete parts and the delegation of the parts among your team members.
Your business plan is the best example of the goals for your firm, but there are many (smaller) examples of such documents. Your personal or firm marketing plan, your office’s technological plan and your firm’s office policy and procedure manual are all examples of planning documents that are implemented for the benefit of the firm.
Another (growing) example of a planning document that is increasingly being implemented by lawyers and practice groups is a file plan that is jointly developed with the client. This document not only describes the goals of the client for the file (what is success?) but also establishes a budget and a resource allocation (staff, finances etc) and associated timeline for the file. This document demonstrates that the lawyer understands the needs of the client and is leading the file and has thought about how the work required will be implemented by the firm. It helps make the intangible work of the lawyer real to the client and communicates the value the lawyer is bringing to the file.
We all know that it is necessary to send consistent messages to the client; however, firms consistently trip over this by making unrealistic promises to the client – perhaps out of a desire to please the client or lose the file.
For example, these promises could be:
- when a file could be completed (unrealistic timelines),
- how much it will cost (unrealistic budgeting),
- what results could be obtained (unrealistic expectations), and
- that the lawyer will keep the client in the loop (unrealistic expectations on returning telephone calls and emails).
However, we all know that sending inconsistent messages to the client creates dissonance – the client gets a sense that the lawyer fails to ‘walk the talk’ – there is a breakdown in the lawyer’s performance in the areas of planning, leading, communicating and implementing. It would be much preferred if the lawyer sets forth a set of realistic expectations at the outset that are confirmed in the written retainer and reinforced in subsequent communications and dealings with the firm.
Now: If bad news happens – take steps to share this with the client forthwith combined with a plan of how to deal with the bad news in the context of the file. Being on top shows leadership and as we all know, when news is bad, the client is looking for hope.
Lastly when it comes time to implementation, let your work speak the loudest – show that you do great work and communicate this to the client – in other words, overdeliver on your promises. By continually meeting your client’s expectations and fulfilling the plans that you set together for their file, as well as gradually implementing your overall plans for the firm, you will be taking discrete steps that will take you to your goals.