Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Strategic Planning without Strategies

Adam Smith, Esq. is one of the blogs I read regularly as its author, Bruce McKewen is one of the most insightful thinkers (and writers) regarding law firm management that I’ve read.   Besides his target market of law firm leaders (I’m guessing that his intended audience), it’s basic reading for anyone supporting lawyers as well.  As a former director of a law firm library, I learned more about the business of law from him than any other source.   I found his recent post on “Strategic Planning’s Encounter with Reality” very interesting as he describes what’s right and what’s wrong with strategic planning. 

He includes statistics in “How to Improve Strategic Planning” from The Mckinsey Quarterly (another favorite of mine where the writers think the big thoughts and back them up with statistics) that show that the payback on the strategic planning process is much less than satisfactory in the corporate world.  While he talks about the need for better engagement and follow-through, the one mistake organizations make not that he didn’t mentioned is that many organizations think they need to define strategies when developing a strategic plan.  It could be that there is a confusion between objective and strategy. 

As a former member of the AALL Board of Directors (please note, I am not speaking for AALL here – this is a description of my own experience in the process), I was fortunate to be part of the most recent strategic planning the organization did and even more fortunate to chair the sub-committee that drafted the document that resulted from the plan.  What we learned during the process was, as board members, it was our responsibility to develop the objectives and goals but not the strategies.  We needed to leave that to our members.   This was difficult for me as I had led the development of strategic plans in the past and the type of document we were creating fell into an entirely different model than I was used to.

What we drafted was a document, AALL Strategic Directions, with 5 parts:  Our Vision; the Framework for Strategic Direction (we didn’t call it a plan), the Strategic Directions (a one page document); the AALL Board Strategic Planning Process, and finally a bibliography (it seems librarians have a compulsion to include there sources).  The most important part was the one page of Objectives and Goals.  That was very difficult to do – a one page strategic “plan” with no strategies. 

We, as the drafters, were not the only ones uncomfortable with one page and no details.  When we first introduced it, we had irate members who railed against such a document.   The message to members was to “make it happen”.   That was followed by asking committees to draft actions plans based on the objectives and goals outline in the Strategic Direction document and report on the action plans at year end so the follow-through mentioned by Bruce was planned. 

Having been through that process, I am now a firm believer in the model we used.   Leaders of an organization have an obligation to define the future based on input from members but asking members to make that future so engages them in the process further.  It isn’t that the leaders are disengaged in the implementation, but they are relying on input from their members more than in the past.

I don’t know if any law firm is using this model.  I think it could be used in law firms or in law firm departments where the strategic plan is being created to support the firm’s objectives.  The real challenge in this type of planning is for the organization to be able to trust its members to make good decisions in developing the strategies.  The problem that could occur is the leadership micro managing the process to the point that it disengages the members.


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