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The decisions you make today about what you want to accomplish this year will inform and shape every other decision you make.

Conversely, without clear, measurable goals, every business development investment decision you make has no validity because it's not anchored by anything. You're rudderless, subject to the whim of changing winds. That means your plan is to be extremely lucky; nobody is that lucky. You're going to struggle and be very frustrated.

Many lawyers are dissuaded from even trying to plan because they think the process is too cumbersome, complicated, or time consuming. It doesn't have to be. The hardest part is deciding on your goal. Lawyers hate goal-setting, perhaps because according to Dr. Larry Richard they typically score low on resilience, which makes them "thin-skinned and defensive, and more vulnerable to prolonged negative emotional responses to setbacks." 

Setting a goal means establishing a measuring stick, and subjecting yourself to the risk that you'll come up short. Lawyers resist any activity that they're not immediately good at. During the Golden Age of law firms that ended in 2008, lawyers never had to do much planning, so they intuitively know they're unlikely to be good at it, at least at first.

Perhaps the best way to minimize the goal-setting risk is to establish a really ambitious goal, one that you'd really have to stretch yourself to reach. I know that seems counter-intuitive, almost begging for failure. Here's why it's not.

Let's say you have $300,000 in annual origination now. Set a goal of a half-million. Why? Because you'll have to ramp up your activity level, and you'll have to be really smart about how you spend your time. Both of those are necessary for sustained success. Let's say that you do both those things really, really well, and at the end of the year you've generated $420,000. In the narrowest sense, you've failed; you fell short by $80,000. But, who cares? You've increased your business by 40% and put an additional $120,000 in cash in your practice. Most of us will take that "failure" any day.

Conversely, if, as most lawyers do, you set a conservative, incremental goal, say 10%, which would mean $330,000, you won't feel the need to change your approach very much, or the urgency to get on with it right away. If you come up short on that modest goal, you'll really feel like a failure because you would have fully expected yourself to reach it. IMO, setting incremental goals guarantees failure because it facilitates complacency.

Be bold. Establish a goal that scares you but, if reached, will make you feel better than you've ever felt (professionally, at least) and, if you miss it, will still represent a huge gain and a formidable accomplishment. The point is that bold goals force us to accept that our previous method and approach is not likely to be sufficient. It's the re-thinking of the whole thing that's going to make an immediate difference.

Not too long ago, as part of a client team effort at one of my law firm clients, the team debated its goal and mission. The predictable suggestions included "strengthen the client relationship," "increase business by 10%" and a handful of other ho-hum offerings. The energy level in the room was awful. Nobody could make themselves care about such tepid ambitions.

When I suggested that we aim much higher, and set a truly bold goal, things changed. I suggested that we set out to help every contact in that client get the greatest annual review in the company's history. As the lawyers began to process that idea, the sheer audacity of the mission created electricity in the room and, I suspect, the lawyers felt protected against the risk of failure by that audacity.

When word of what this team set out to do got around the firm, 40 people opted in to contribute. Nobody cares about going across the street to the 7-11, but going to the moon? Oh, yeah, count me in.

So, where is your practice going this year? To the moon, or to the 7-11?

Mike O'Horo

RainmakerVT offers you a practical, step-by-step planning process that begins with goals that are meaningful to you, and walks you through the plan, all the way down to the dialog and messaging level. Click here to learn more about it, and how to get unlimited access for ten days for about what you'd spend at Starbucks in the same period.