For every firm wrestling with direction, under performance, growth, market position, diversity and inclusion, compensation systems, how to address succession planning…and the list goes on…there is good news

The shortest distance between today’s challenges and meaningful progress could be as close as organizational alignment.

The downside is that institutional alignment is often the last thing anyone focuses on. When the day-in-day-out realities of running a firm already demand more time than is available, “soft” discussions around aligning work with purpose, mission and vision become low on the priority list.  These conversations have little to do with the actual practice of your profession. What’s more, experience suggests that time spent here rarely produces any immediate results.

Research Begs To Differ

To accept this position is to ignore volumes of organizational development research and case studies over the past twenty-plus years underscoring the fact that institutional alignment is a critical component in highly functioning organizations. Data repeatedly indicates that purpose, direction, mission, and vision are inexorably linked to high productivity, stability, and yes, increased profitability.

In The Aligned Organization, an article for McKinsey & Co.,  Thierry Nautin suggests: “Achieving real alignment, where strategy, goals, and meaningful purpose reinforce one another, gives an organization a major advantage because it has a clearer sense of what to do at any given time, and it can trust people to move in the right direction. The result is an organization that can focus less on deciding what to do—and more on simply doing.”

Less Time Deciding (Translation: Less Time in Meetings)

This alone should be reason to reassess, and at least test the waters of alignment. I have yet to visit with a law firm leadership group whose goal is to spend more time in meetings.

Nautin contends that in the aligned organization, decision making is streamlined because decision making parameters are known, and understood.

Put another way, in the aligned firm there exists a set of core values and guiding principles. These “knowns” provide the basis for a clear vision for what the firm aspires to become.

  • Should we open a new office?
  • Is a merger the way to go?
  • What about lateral pursuits — what should the model look like?
  • What should our policy be on pro bono involvement?
  • Does our comp system need an overhaul?

Name the question. The place where efficient decision-making begins is in the context of alignment. Which decision and what direction are aligned with core values, guiding principles and firm vision?

More Time Doing 

If you’re prepared to invest time on alignment with the goal being a more agile, productive and profitable organization, where do you begin?

There are at least five areas where the identification of guiding principles will serve to create an aligned firm. These areas are:

  • Nature of the Practice
  • Nature of the Platform
  • Compensation System
  • Governance and Succession
  • Work/Life Issues

The uniqueness of some partnerships may call for a greater focus in one or two additional areas; but the firm that is willing to have the (often difficult) conversations around the identification of vision and guiding principles in these five areas is well on its way to being able to articulate much more than a generic website mission statement.

The payoff to an aligned vision is that it provides a framework for strategic execution. It is in this framework that every functional area of a firm realizes its practical connection to the firm’s vision. In this environment silos can be broken down, new leverage realized, and every member of the organization owns a clear connection to the firm’s purpose and future pursuits.

Fig. 1 – The Aligned Firm

Figure 1 above offers a graphic presentation of the Aligned Firm. In our next post we’ll begin to dive deeper, with a discussion of some of the factors that impact the identification of Guiding Principles.