So, why did Wise Law Office decide to have a retreat? And why should your firm have one too?
Every law firm has burning questions about how to make the firm better at something, more focused, more profitable, more efficient… While such questions may come up from time to time, they mostly linger in the background to be dealt with another day, a day that may or may not ever come around. This may sound like procrastination, but it’s considerably more complex. To really do justice to these higher level questions about a law firm’s future, you need to be in the right frame of mind, have allocated sufficient time to fully explore the issues and already be at the table with all the right people. A retreat gives you that opportunity to get away from the day-to-day operations of the firm, physically and mentally, and really consider the firm’s future within the context of the bigger picture, including significant trends in your business environment.
So, clearly there’s a business case for retreats. But then again there are retreats and there are retreats… and the difference isn’t the setting or the meals (although there’s a lot to be said for Wise Law’s choice to have a friendly backyard BBQ). So, if you do decide to take the plunge and have a retreat for your law firm, how can you make the most of it?
- A retreat isn’t about what’s wrong with the firm. It’s about making what already works even better. This is probably the most commonly misunderstood aspect of strategic planning. Strengthening your strength – not overcoming your weakness – will take your firm to the next level. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t also be discussion about areas that need improvement. But they shouldn’t be the focus of the retreat.
- Don’t wait for the perfect plan. Just begin where you are. While it may be tempting to begin the process with high expectations fed from the pent up desire for growth, if they’re too high they can thwart rather than maximize your efforts by demotivating participants. So, instead maintain that results oriented mindset and, if perfectionism sets in, move ahead based on where you are. Experiencing success with any planning at all will inject the firm with momentum for the, as of yet undefined, steps ahead.
- Participation, motivation and ownership is key to ensuring that your resulting action plan doesn’t just sit on the shelf collecting dust. Small firms can invite everyone to the retreat. Mid-sized firms can involve everyone in the process by way of departmental ‘pre’ and ‘post’ retreat meetings. Welcoming everyone’s participation in the development (not just the operation) of the firm ensures that their highest level, critical thinking will be focused on how to do what they already do even better. And when that action plan is ready to go, who’s going to want to implement it? The people that were involved.
- Work with a professional to make your retreat a good use of everyone’s time. Aside from location and meals, booking your key people for the day makes a retreat an expensive venture. A consultant experienced with the process and your sector can make the process laser focused on your goals. Here’s a little window into our approach, at Bekhor Management. Before the retreat even begins, we sort through your objectives, who should be involved and how, what needs to be covered in pre-retreat meetings, what should be on the agenda and how to share individual input. At the retreat, we play the role of objective facilitator, ensuring that everyone else stays in the role of participant. We keep the meeting open and on track, observing changes in alignment and gaps as they occur and using that understanding to continuously adjust and drive the process forward.
- Don’t drop the ball. Getting the most out of your retreat isn’t just about what what happens before or during the event. After counts too. There’s little value in having a really great retreat and getting everyone excited about it just to drop the ball when you get back to the office. In some ways the follow up meetings can be even more important than the retreat itself because they set the stage for a commitment to ongoing improvement, a commitment to your goals and a commitment to yourselves.
- Revisit your objectives and acknowledge what’s been accomplished. Ever notice how we tend to notice when things don’t get done but not as much when they do? The trouble with that default setting in our brains is that you get what you focus on. My clients that take the time to revisit objectives after a retreat or other planning initiative often find that they accomplished most, if not all, the objectives that they had set out. That’s pretty nice accomplishment and, if acknowledged, can motivate people to jump right back into the process.
Think ahead to next year, the following year and the year after that. Do you know where you want your law firm to be? Are you headed there now? What needs to change so that you don’t look back three years from now, wondering where the time went and why you’re still dealing with the same issues three years later.
Instead of waiting for the right time, which may or may not ever arrive. Book your retreat this year and start seeing immediate progress on those burning issues. They may represent a sea change for your law firm.
You won’t know until you get started.
Thank you to Garry J. Wise for the action photography!