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Burn Your Annual Goals Into The Ground

It’s the day before your summer vacation. You have work that just has to get done before you leave and you are laser-beamed focused on getting them done. You refuse to allow any outside interruptions or distractions; you refuse to take unscheduled phone calls, respond to email or check your social media. You work like your pants are on fire, you crank out work and by 5:00 p.m., it’s amazing how much you got done.

Talk about a productive workday—you just kicked ass and took prisoners! Now, you can leave for your vacation knowing that you did those ultra-important tasks that had to be done and you’ve got peace of mind while you’re sitting on the beach.

Why Isn’t Every Day Like This?

Why do you wait until the day before your vacation to be ultra-productive and focused on your work? It’s simple, on the last day before your vacation you have a firm deadline—at 5:00 p.m., you have to leave with your family for your vacation and there are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. You can’t make any excuses or stay longer in the office. You are focused and highly motivated and your vacation is your reward for getting work done at the office.

“Top performers are great, not because their ideas are better, but because their execution disciplines are better.”

The 12 Week Year, Brian P. Moran

But why isn’t every workday like your last day before vacation? You know goal setting is important for your law practice, so you create annual goals in December and every so often you remind yourself what you need to accomplish before the end of the year. But let’s face it, even in August, you still have five months to accomplish your goals, so you can always focus on other things and your annual goals take a backseat…over and over again. It’s easy to put off the work for your annual goals because you’ve still got the rest of the year to do them—the work can wait until after your next round of golf.

Trash Your Annual Goals

That’s right, playing golf and watching the Yankees’ game take priority over your annual goals. It’s no wonder you look at your annual goals in December and can’t believe how few of them were accomplished. But you’re not alone—annual goals are often vague, abstract and just too far in the future to focus on. It’s tough to get focused on annual goals—this is why we don’t get them done (maybe this includes dropping ten pounds from your waistline).

What if you took your 12 month goals and boiled them down to 12 weeks? Impossible, you say? You begin by setting 12 week goals—that’s right, list them right now, just three of five goals will do. These are the goals for your “A” cases—the ones that have the biggest injuries, best liability and will make the most money for your firm.

Live in the Moment and Think Short Term

Let’s say the Jones case has a settlement value of $1 million and you want desperately to get the case to trial. It’s a race to get this case to trial because you know this is the case that will pay your overhead for the next 6 months. You know treating the Jones case just like any ole’ file in your office is a mistake and you’re committed to focusing on this case.

What can you do in the next 12 weeks to accomplish this? Break down the goals and tactics that you will need to do over the next 12 weeks to get a trial date for the Jones case. It’s critical that you have a goal for each of the 12 weeks with specific tactics listed for each of the weekly goals.

“The weekly plan is a powerful tool that translates the 12 week plan into daily and weekly action.”

The 12 Week Year, Brian P. Moran

In Week #1, you make sure all discovery demands and responses have been served on the defense. This is a start, but you need to identify exactly which member of your team will do each task—these are the tactics that are crucial to the success of your 12 Week Plan. You create specific goals for each week with your team and assign a task for each team member—that’s right, everyone knows what they’re expected to do.

By Week #12, you have goals and tactics for each week and the end result is a trial date. Amazingly, you just got your best “A” case to trial in only 12 weeks! I know what you’re thinking—fat chance of getting a case to trial in just 12 weeks. But just think, you’ve had cases that seem to breeze through discovery with few adjournments or delays (yes, sometimes defense lawyers cooperate). And isn’t this at least possible for all of your “A” cases?

And here’s the beauty of the 12 Week plan, everyone on your team will know what everyone else is going do to and where they stand on a week-by-week basis against the key goals. It’s a thing of beauty when everyone is working toward the same goal.

Your Scorecard for Success

But just setting weekly plans and tactics isn’t enough—you have to keep score. You should have a 20-minute weekly accountability meeting—yes, a meeting every Friday that is strictly limited to 20 minutes where each member of your team reports on her progress. Did she meet her goal for that week and if not, why?

“It’s nothing more than going around the table and asking every person at the meeting to report on the three primary activities on their plate for the week.”

Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni

Now, you know what everyone is doing (or not doing) on a weekly basis and whether you’re on track to reach your 12 Week goals. But don’t stop there, give a grade for each of your team members. Have your assistant keep a log of every person’s weekly scorecard and keep the grades for each week of the 12 week plan. The Weekly Scorecard is a great way to keep track of the progress of each of your team members and if there’s a breakdown, you will know when and why it happens.

It’s Time for a Big Kick in the Ass

Now, I know what you’re thinking: the 12 week plan is great in theory, but it won’t work for you. You’re ultra-busy with paperwork, depositions and trials and you don’t have time to plan for the strategic success of your “A” cases. Okay, but you don’t have to conquer the world quite yet.

“By working from a weekly plan and following your model week, you are setting yourself up for success.”

The 12 Week Year, Brian P. Moran

You can begin the 12 week plan with just two or three of your “A” cases. Sit down with your staff and list the specific goals and tactics for each week over the next 12 weeks for just a few of your best cases. And hey, no one ever said all cases are created equal—it’s smart to focus on your highest value “A” cases, even if you have to neglect the lower value “B” and “C” cases. And if this doesn’t improve your execution, speed and progress, scrap the 12 week plan and go back to your old way of doing things.

The Most Famous Meeting Ever

It seems easy to scrap the 12 week plan and keeping doing things the same ole’ way you’ve always done them. But consider this: Walmart went from a single discount store in remote Arkansas to the biggest retailer in the world by doing one thing consistently: weekly meetings on Saturday mornings with all of their employees in every store.

At the Saturday morning meeting, Walmart’s store managers asked their employees what was selling and asked for their opinions what to put on sale. These Saturday meetings gave the managers crucial feedback from the workers in the field and this allowed Walmart’s managers to make quick changes to feature the most profitable products at the front of the store. That’s right, Walmart out-hustled the small mom-and-pop stores and drove them out of business.

No, not exactly cool and many of us (me included) long for the good ole’ days of small mom-and-pop family businesses, but this is an important lesson to all of us: Walmart crushed its competition through the power of a weekly meeting. Now if Walmart can conquer the world of discount retailers with a formula of weekly Saturday meetings, don’t you think just maybe it’s time for you to give the 12 week plan a try?

photo credit: A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark. Dante Alighieri via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.