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“We had a meeting,” a colleague explained. “We worked through our long-term vision, our goals, our values, and our mission statement.” Her team had spent a day and a half at a resort. A consultant helped them discuss the issues.
“It was awesome,” she said. “We have a strong culture here. The work at our retreat cemented our bond.” It sounded like they had an emotional, productive discussion.
The mission statement was hung on the wall in the breakroom. The values were printed on posters with motivating images. The vision and goals were circulated to everyone.
The retreat was eight and a half months ago. I wonder how much the team members remembered about what they decided. I wonder whether today’s decisions were consistent with the values and mission. I’m curious whether the team is taking action to move the firm toward those long-term goals and vision.
Ask the Big Question
Do the things you’re doing right now lead toward your vision? Or are you doing whatever is expedient to solve this moment’s crisis?
You already know how this turns out. You may have been through it with your team. It doesn’t take eight months for the enthusiasm to fade. In many firms, it’s more like eight minutes.
Is the vision alive? Are decisions consistent with the firm’s values? Is each member of the team serving the objective?
Go ahead. Ask them.
Ask “What’s our objective?” Push for an answer. “What’s the vision? Where are we going? How will we get there? What are we trying to accomplish?”
The Vision Retreated Right After the Retreat
When you ask questions like those, you probably get a mix of “Here’s what I need to get done right now” and blank stares.
The posters on the walls have become part of the wall. No one knows the words. Most don’t remember the original exercise that produced the ideas. It’s possible that some of your team wasn’t part of your firm eight months ago when you created the goals and the plan.
Don’t feel stressed by the realization that you wasted your time and energy on the exercise. In fact, some of that time was likely well spent as your team members drew closer and their working relationships improved.
The reality is that in most firms, the work being done right now is disconnected from the overall objectives. That’s hard to avoid when most of the team has lost sight of the objective and has no idea about the overall direction of the business.
You are not alone if your team is flying solo, doing only what’s waiting to be done so that everyone makes it through the day.
Here’s How to Resuscitate the Vision and Grow Again
How do you align everyone? How do you get everyone communicating? How do you start the team moving in the same direction toward the objectives?
Here’s what you do…
1. Keep the Vision Alive
Your vision is competing with the baby crying, the father dying, and the washer/dryer flooding the laundry room. Your vision is competing with the car breaking down, the tooth that just cracked, and the birthday party for 12 toddlers scheduled for Saturday morning.
When your law firm’s vision competes against practically anything, the practically anything wins every time. The vision fades quickly. It’s on life support as soon as you create it. It needs love, care, and attention to keep it breathing.
You need to ENERGIZE it. You need to breathe life into it. You need to keep it front and center, in focus, and discussed.
You keep the vision alive by talking about it, acting upon it, and celebrating progress toward it. You’ll need themes, discussions, debates, competitions, and celebrations. The pieces need to be explained. The big picture needs to be projected. The vision requires a constant stream of energy.
2. Break It Down
Knowing your destination is essential to getting there. But the long-term vision (whether it’s one year, three years, or longer) is too much for your team members to incorporate into their day-to-day. They need smaller pieces they can achieve to move toward the desired result.
The pieces must be assembled, explained, and implemented as a coordinated effort. Keep the vision alive for the team. Keep seeing it yourself and showing it to them. But also narrow your focus to the vision’s components.
Your team needs to understand how today’s activity relates to the future objectives. Explain how today’s effort forms a vital piece of the overall goal. Show them how the brick being placed now will support the finished structure.
Together, break the vision into smaller pieces. Turn a three-year plan into three one-year plans. Then break those plans into quarterly plans, then monthly, weekly and daily plans. Discuss, execute, complete, and celebrate everything together. That’s how you get to your destination.
3. Create a Meeting Rhythm
It’s fantastic that you’ve committed time to setting a plan with the team. That’s huge. Most firms don’t bother, so you’re ahead of the curve.
Now, take it to the next level to get the full impact of your effort.
Implement a communication plan that reinforces the daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly objectives. Use that communication to keep the big picture top of mind. Schedule frequent meetings, in-person, online, or whatever suits your culture. Regular discussions dramatically increase the likelihood of achieving the objective.
Personally, I compare a law firm to a crew team. The coxswain steers the boat, monitors the rowers’ pace, and motivates them to take faster strokes, all to keep the team moving toward the objective. That’s what you need to do in your meetings.
You might not need a meeting for each “stroke” toward your goal. But frequent discussions about actions help your team work together and row in unison (and get results sooner).
4. Overcommunicate the Objectives
Say it, say it again, and say it some more. If you’re not sick of saying it, then you’re not saying it enough. The messenger (of an effective message) is always tired of saying it.
Lawyers expect to be heard. We expect our words to connect. We usually expect too much.
Our words get heard, misunderstood, and forgotten. Or they don’t get heard in the first place. There’s no certainty that the things we say register with our audience or that they create action.
In fact, it’s likely that our words fail to create change the first, second, or third time we utter them. Welcome to reality.
Big picture ideas require constant, never-ending, persistent reminding. The big picture and the steps to achieve it should be repeated daily in a variety of formats. Say it out loud, say it in group discussion, say it in private meetings, say it via email and over Slack, say it in performance reviews, and say it at firm events. Say it over, over, and over again.
5. Acknowledge and Reward Progress
“Look at what we did!” should be something you say frequently. “There was nothing, and now there is something.” Remind your team and yourself of the progress you’re making. Show everyone how you’re moving toward the vision.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what needs to be done and overlooking what has been done. Don’t let that happen.
Celebrate with parties, events, gifts, and praise. Focus on what’s been accomplished, what’s next, and how much each team member has contributed. Always see the way forward, but acknowledge everyone’s contribution so far.
Investing time in celebrating accelerates the progress toward the vision. Use the celebrations to keep the vision alive and as an opportunity to keep talking.
The Trick Is to Just Keep Saying It
It’s all about communication. It can’t stop because the struggle is challenging. The challenge is normal. You’re building something. You’re starting with not much, adding elements, shaping them, and creating something that didn’t exist a short time ago.
You’re taking an idea and turning it into a real thing. Communication with other people is how it gets done. You’ve got to see it and help them see it. It will become real when everyone can see it.
The communicating never stops.
- It’s required even when you’re stuck in court for four days and can’t swing by the office.
- It’s required even when you’re on vacation for a week.
- It’s required even when revenue is down and you’re panicked about meeting payroll.
- It’s required even when a key employee quits unexpectedly.
- It’s required even when you have to fire someone for gross misconduct.
- It’s required even when you’re disgusted with everyone and ready to hang it up.
- It’s required even when you’re having a bad day, a bad week, and/or a bad month.
Creating the vision, breaking it into goals, generating buy-in from the team, and bringing everyone together around the plan is important and drives you toward achieving your objectives. But doing it without follow-up, without management, and without persistent communication is pointless.
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