This post is inspired by a recent interaction with a former colleague that has done very well with her career. 15 years ago, she was an entry level law firm HR professional that was smart, had lots of energy and a passion for excellent work. She has advanced through a variety of positions in the law firm management arena and recently accepted a position which includes primary responsibility for developing and managing strategic initiatives. Following a call asking for my thoughts and perspectives related to the topic, I created the following discussion outline and am  sharing it.

1. Identify strategic initiatives
a. Strategic initiatives are those things that if accomplished will make the greatest difference in advancing the firm towards its destination. This obviously assumes the firm has done work to define its desired future.
b. Implement a vetting process that allows constructive debate as to what is and what is not a strategic initiative. Sponsorship by an influential partner alone should not be the defining mechanism.

2. Estimate cost of each initiative.
a. Prepare a budget for accomplishing each strategic initiative, allocating cost to the budget periods the costs are expected to be incurred.

3. Determine funds available for discretionary spending.
a. Law firms spend money in two broad areas – mandatory and discretionary spending. Mandatory spending includes items for which there is no choice in the near term, examples include taxes, rent, salaries and benefits to existing personnel and other contractual obligations. Discretionary spending is everything else, examples include marketing, CLE, business development, growth, seminars, contributions etc.

4. Allocate funds to strategic initiatives.
a. If funding requirements for all strategic initiatives exceed the discretionary funds available, choices have to be made. Ideally, funds would first be allocated to the initiatives perceived to have the greatest long-term value. Practically, other factors will influence the allocation of resources including the firm’s need to accommodate influential partners or other political realities. To the extent these non-strategic influences are minimized the stronger the firm’s future.

5. Assign responsibility for each strategic imitative with milestones and associated dates.
a. In order to achieve accountability, one person must be named as the person with responsibility for the initiative’s timely completion on budget. The assignment of responsibility should be made in a highly visible manner. Critically, in addition to a responsible person, each initiative should have clear milestones and dates associated with them against which progress can be monitored.

6. Monitor progress to milestones in a transparent fashion.
a. There is a high degree of correlation between initiative success and the visible accountability for progress towards initiative milestones. Regular monitoring and transparent reporting will drive ever-increasing levels performance.

7. Celebrate successes.
a. Success drives success. Finding opportunities to celebrate the completion of an initiative or possibly even milestones will drive more success. The recognition of the success and those involved in it reinforces strategic activity.

Identifying and effectively managing the most critical strategic initiatives can have a profound impact on a law firm’s success.