For firms that operate on a calendar fiscal year, 2020 is done. Over. Finished. The uniqueness of 2020 presented challenges not anticipated as last year started, but remarkably most firms adjusted and endured. As they now take a deep breath and prepare for the merry-go-round of 2021, firm leaders can apply some lessons from the past year as they move forward.
Among the lessons learned, leaders discovered how to manage with new work-from-home flexibility, activating or acquiring systems to establish efficient remote platforms, communicating with banks, landlords and vendors to get through the crisis, and in some cases aiding liquidity through PPP loans. In many instances law firms achieved results never thought possible given the challenges faced. As planning for the next year takes place, knowing which experiences to draw on is an important key to a successful 2021.
With that in mind, here are four thoughts about assessing 2020 as you plan for 2021.
Don’t Be Fooled by the Non-repeatable. Being hoodwinked about the future because year-end numbers were good is not a good thing. Take a careful look at the “why” instead of just the “what.” Some things that contributed to the 2020 performance may not happen again. Obvious candidates would include one-time concessions from vendors or landlords, unanticipated work for clients as they attempted to navigate the unknown pandemic world, and PPP loans that may or may not be available in the future.
Successful Changes with Long-term Promise Should be Kept. It was a whole new way of doing business this past year, and in some cases the changes implemented proved to be eye-openers. Many of the changes demanded by the situation were intended to be short-term ones to be discarded as normalcy returned. A good exercise for 2021 and beyond is to review each change that expediency required and test it to see if it has long-term promise. If so, it could represent a new way of doing business that should be kept.
Listen to Your People and Clients. Adjustments made in 2020 may have been vital to survival or perhaps revelatory as you look back. Their implementation may have been acceptable to your people and clients then because “we are all in this together.” But as firms begin to return to the routine, attitudes towards the necessary of 2020 may become less accepting. As you see the opportunity for some daylight, engage your people and clients to learn how they feel about last year’s changes and their support for their continuance.
Consider Where You Fell Short. Even if you closed the year with a sense of a job well done, you might have been able to do better. Just because you survived an existential crisis you should not become complacent. A post-mortem will allow you to consider your mistakes as well as the best practices of industry leaders and take those lessons forward into 2021.
Planning for 2021 presents unique challenges. Will 2021 be like or different from 2020, or a little mixed? Listening to the lessons learned without being drowned out by the noise is as important as ever. As the new year dawns, will you look back as you look forward?