Strategy ~ The SatNav phenomenon

Getting to your destination is easy. The SatNav has seen to that.

And I imagine there are fewer arguments between couples. Maps were never very helpful.

Up to 2008 many firms had switched on their SatNav to navigate a way to increased growth and profitability. But in doing so they lost the ability to (meaningfully) take a strategic view.

Point and press.

Firms didn’t have to come up with anything remarkable. They could take their lead from larger firms.

I also bear witness to the excesses in my local market with a number of firms relocating to out of town locations and all chasing the same sort of work. How many regret this strategy?

With the recession came downsizing, but not amongst the partner cohort who have remained largely untouched. Costs became the priority, but this slash and burn policy has a limited life-span. Firms have to start thinking how they will grow the top line.

Unfortunately, there is no obvious path for a lot of firms. Mergers or acquisitions might be the only way ahead. But this process is time consuming, expensive and the client experience is rarely improved, at least in the short term.

To reengineer a business is overwhelming hard, but trying to overcome the cultural barriers of any profession, especially one as traditional as law, must feel, to those in charge, like trying to run the 3 minute mile.

Intrinsically, no one wants to change particularly if they have worked according to set of rules that have, up to now, produced a steady and predictable return.

Wake up.

This won’t help going forward. The SatNav of predictable outcomes has crashed.

Back to basics sounds far too clichéd. And, ultimately, what does it mean when it comes to setting your strategic direction? You can serve your clients brilliantly but if you have picked the wrong sector then it won’t count for much. It is a bit like climbing the ladder of (financial) success only to find that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Should you go niche?

Should you off load unprofitable departments and put all your eggs in fewer baskets?

Should you rebrand?

Should you downsize?

Should you focus on your prices?

Should you focus on your service levels?

Should you incorporate?

Should you look for external investment?

Is your location suitable?

Do you even need a physical base?

The list is endless.

Strategy is not a science. You cannot plug in a number of factual scenarios to a super-computer and out pops the answer. No, you have to trust to your gut. You might take comfort from other firms who have done something similar but their success is no guarantee of your success. The people dimension will see to that.

Accept that there are no certainties and you will make mistakes.

If you are finding it hard to focus at work – let’s face it there are so many distractions that make strategic thinking difficult – then take yourself away. Getting away from the office, if the location is right, can be immensely powerful.

Go prepared. Have a clear goal. Something like we will write our entire strategy for the next 20 years! Yes, you hear right. Not 18 months but 20 years. That way it will force you to consider how different the profession might look, and start preparing for it now. You may decide that in 20 years all work will be done by computers. If that is the case, where will you fit into the process, assuming you haven’t retired? You then need to bring the plan back to something more manageable like 5 years but make sure your plan has some clear KPIs and a timeline when you expect things to happen.

Don’t focus all your attention on work types. Yes you need to think about where there might be growth in the market but you also need to weigh up that certain sectors may become much more price sensitive and your business entity may be a limiting factor.

The process will need to be reworked again and again. Once a year should be the minimum. And if you need to revisit it sooner then do it.

If you have decided that you are going to be the very best of something, then you need to consider how you will close the gap between where you are now and where you need to be. This is exactly what IBM did to grow its business.

But don’t delay. You haven’t got long to make up your mind.

Don’t put yourself in a position where you are reacting to the market in the same way that the recession necessitated change. Lead the process. Don’t just follow the market.

Ultimately it is your call, but just make sure you drive the bus somewhere.

~ JS ~

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