These are tough times for law firm leaders. Many firms have had one or more rounds of layoffs. Attorneys are pressured to bill more hours and bring in more work. Staff are being asked to do more work with fewer resources. Attorneys and staff alike wonder if they'll still have a job next week, month or year. Anxiety is high, even in the best of firms. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, some wonder if it is a freight train.
Managing partners and firm leaders have a lot to think about now, including changing client expectations, fee pressures and increased convergence, not to mention internal issues of compensation, talent management and profitability.
Casting vision is probably one of the last things they are thinking about. Sure, in good times, communicating a compelling vision of the future for an ever growing firm is standard, but today it seems risky, even fool-hardy.
But attorneys and staff need vision more now than ever before. People want to know how they are going to get out of this mess. They want to know that the firm has a plan and is working hard on it. They want to know how they can individually contribute to make the vision a reality. They want to be part of creating the future of the firm. They want to be part of the solution and have confidence that their contribution will be recognized, appreciated and remembered.
Lawyer leaders need to articulate a clear and compelling vision of the future. They need to describe, with confidence, what the firm will look like next year and beyond. They need communicate how the firm will be different from others and why they will have a competitive advantage. They need to outline the specific steps the firm will take to get there and the specific contributions and actions needed by every individual to realize the vision. They need to identify the key metrics the firm will measure to track their progress, and promise to share them with the firm as they move forward. The vision needs to forward-looking, positive and compelling, yet practical and realistic.
Survival is not a compelling vision. Nor is maintaining status quo till the market gets better.
A compelling vision is one that gives people a reason to come to work early on Monday morning and creates hope in the hallways. A compelling vision inspires innovation and creativity. A compelling vision motivates and doesn't discourage. A compelling vision is transparent, open, honest and trustworthy.
Vision casting is a lot like fly casting - you have to cast over and over and over again before you get a bite. Constantly communicating your vision and connecting individual and group contributions to the vision is critical for people to 'get it'. Lawyer leaders need to continually connect the firm's vision to the firm's activities, goals and metrics.
As you enter this season of annual review and strategic planning, consider how you will communicate your compelling vision.