I think we can safely say, it is retreat season for many Firms.
After the year that was 2020, setting the new direction and strategy for 2021 is on the top of the agenda for many Managing Partners. There is undoubtedly still some uncertainty regarding the global economic forecast, however the Australian market is stable enough for Firms to reassess and set new goals for their business recovery or growth with some confidence.
Whilst there is no ideal structure or magic bullet for the perfect retreat, I have spoken with several incredible law firm and professional services specialists on what an ideal retreat entails. There are generally three pillars to consider: Our People, Our Clients and Our Financial Performance.
Individual firms may have a stronger focus on one or other of these pillars, yet there is absolutely merit in considering the full picture, as one impacts upon the next. Before undertaking your Firm retreat, I would encourage you to consider:
1. What do we want to achieve from this exercise?
2. Who needs to be in attendance – Partners only or the entire leadership team?
It is important to for the discussion to be transparent and realistic, so depending on the comfort levels of partners, it may or may not be appropriate to include the leadership team. Bearing in mind, it is often that team who will be implementing potential changes and are the specialists in the individual pillars.
3. Are we prepared to put the time and resources into the preparation to achieve our objective for this retreat?
4. Who internally can/should facilitate this, or would we benefit from a third-party facilitator?
I raised the topic of an agenda with David Goener, professional services leader and Partner of Beaton, a professional services research and consulting Firm. David counselled that there are several key points to cover within each pillar. This ensures that the Firm is considering the situation from all angles.
A retreat agenda could include:
1. Consider ‘where are we today’?
There are individual aspects to each of People, Clients and Financials that should be reviewed:
• How is the firm’s culture? – Have we asked our people?
• Do we have the right people? – Have we considered the roles we are likely to need in a COVID-normal landscape?
• Can we attract and retain talent?
• Is a succession plan in place?
• What skill development is required within our current people?
• Do we have the right clients?
• What options for revenue growth are available from current clients? – Often the easiest place to start when looking for increased revenue.
• How do we attract new clients? – What is our marketing plan?
• Cash Flow
• Capital expenditure requirement
2. Discuss what needs to be done moving forward (start / stop / do differently)?
This should focus on outlining the short, medium or long term goals of the proposed changes. These changes should either support growth or mitigate risks to your Firm.
3. Strategies to achieve the outcomes of the changes agreed.
This should include greater detail around who, what, how and how much (time and $).
4. Confirm how stakeholders will be held accountable.
This should become a broader ongoing discussion beyond the day, avoiding apathy that can set in once the retreat concludes.
5. Agree how the outcomes of the day will be communicated to the broader Firm.
Don’t underestimate the importance and power of communicating a sanitised version of the outcomes to your people.
Often there is also an agreement on skills that will be required on the day. This may include incorporating an external consultant to support collaboration around client engagement strategies, strategies to retain key staff, or input on metrics to consider for optimum financial stability in a COVID-normal era.
David’s key pieces of advice for maximising investment:
“Do sufficient preparatory work so everyone is fully briefed and able to contribute from the start.”
“Take the meeting offsite to remove distractions.”
My 2cents worth in addition to those:
“Focus on the accountability measures and don’t leave until agreed.”
“Don’t leave it 12 months until the next review. As a minimum, consider a 6-month mini-retreat to review and reset, keeping your Partners and Leadership team on track and focused on purposeful activity.”