How Law Firms Can Make Plans and Stick to Them

So, we’re most of the way through January now. How are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you? You decided it was time to lose weight, spend more time in the gym, spend less time in the pub, spend more time with the kids, spend less time in the office or read more books. Whatever it is you decided to change about yourself you are GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.planning-strategy-small-law-firms-uk

Time for a straw poll: hands up all of you who have made such a resolution – either this year or some time in the past? Now – and you have to be honest with yourself here – keep them up if you’ve stuck with that resolution (or expect to continue to if it’s a current resolution) for more than a week? More than a month? Three months..?

Well, according to Professor Robert MacIntosh of Heriot Watt University, only 20% of you should still have your hands aloft.

In his inaugural lecture (press play below) last month, Professor MacIntosh explored the nature and definition of strategy, how it is applied and how it evolves in an organisation.


Play Video



Although thoroughly worth viewing in its entirety, at 53 minutes long I appreciate that some of you may not have time to enjoy it all. I’ve selected, then, 3 bite-sized extracts I’d like to bring your attention to:

  • 05.55 to 06.36 – 80% failure rate of strategy implementation
  • 16.12 to 17.17 – 12 interlocking choices of strategy (these have been reproduced at the end of this blog with the kind permission of Professor MacIntosh)
  • 45.04 to 47.26 – The strategy cycle

Having looked at the first clip, you’ll notice that I’ve been a wee bit poetic in my application of the 80% failure rate to New Year’s resolutions. But the principle applies.

Even strategies that have been carefully crafted to realise an organisational intent – including those that have addressed the 12 interlocking choices – “Gang aft agley” according to Messrs Burns and MacIntosh.

So whether it is a large organisation like Microsoft attempting to find a new place for itself in the ever-shifting technology sector; or a small legal practice trying to grow within a well established marketplace; or simply an individual wanting to change bad habits – when such a plan hits the cold light of reality it also quite often hits the proverbial brick wall.

But this is to be expected, that is OK, says Professor MacIntosh. Rather than sitting back and accepting that your strategy has failed, it is better to view this as a stage in the strategy cycle where you start to prod where and why the strategic plan hasn’t worked and possible ways of making it work.

And all this means making sense of your operating environment – taking measurements, re-evaluating targets, examining KPIs – and assessing what that means to your business and where it wants to be. (I previously investigated the joys of business measurement in a previous blog and suggested ways in which our software could help in this processes.)

This sense-making, then, should provide feedback into your plan which should then be adjusted to reflect the cold dose of reality. This reassessment loop continues until your strategy both meets your aspirations and is aligned with the real world.

I hate to end on a negative, but Professor MacIntosh also suggests (again, with my poetic interpretation) that New Year resolutions are not good reasons for attempting to change your lifestyle (24.20 to 25.46).

Maybe best to ditch this year’s now and wait until such times that you have a plan and are prepared to cycle through a period of reassessment until it resolves into one of your better habits?


Interlocking choices of strategy:

choices of strategy


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