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‘In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible.’ – Dwight D. Eisenhower

For a law firm to succeed it needs a good business plan and SMART objectives. Completing a sequence of tasks will get you so far but you have to know what you – and the firm as a whole – are trying to achieve. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you’ve got there? And, more importantly, how do you know what difference your work has made to the firm?

Blurred lines

At ObjectiveManager, we regularly see lawyers blur the line between tasks and objectives. All too often we find they jump straight into task mode: ‘I want to improve my LinkedIn profile’ or ‘I want to organise four client events for the employment practice this year’.

These are definitely good tasks, but they’re not objectives. In the simplest form, an objective is what you ultimately want to achieve. It’s about the end result. A task, on the other hand, is how you will achieve it. Tasks are the steps you will take to move forward. The difference between tasks and objectives is the difference between tactics and strategy.

Task or objective?

We know it can sometimes be hard to tell whether you’ve set a task or objective. We’ve had partners come to us with a list of more than thirty objectives that they want to achieve, when in fact the majority of them are tasks that can be grouped under common objectives.

The easiest way to define an objective instead of a task is to ask yourself what you want to achieve from an action. Why do you want to improve your LinkedIn profile? What will you get from organising four client events this year? If you do this, what is the benefit to the firm?

Let’s say, for example, that you want to set up a lunch with the General Counsel at British Airways. This is a good action, but what is the desired outcome? On a granular level, it will give you the opportunity to position yourself for work from British Airways when the time comes, which fundamentally boils down to revenue generation. That is your objective.

  • Objective:
    • Increase employment law related revenue with British Airways from £100,000 to £500,000 this year.
  • Tasks:
    • Work with our BD team to map opportunities for pitching experience from existing work streams to other employment clients.
    • Engage our marketing team to organise a seminar for all of our existing FTSE 100 clients on recent changes to the TUPE regulations.
    • Set up lunch with the GC at British Airways to talk about their existing and future legal needs.

It is important to take the time to set out your objective before diving into the tasks. Sure, it’s good to tick off lots of to-do’s along the way, but if you don’t know what these tasks are ultimately helping you to achieve then it’s easy to spend a lot of time and resources on activities that don’t necessarily add up to an achievement of any real value.

Objectives are as much about helping you to focus on the tasks worth ticking off as they are about the end result, which is why it’s crucial to set your objectives first and then break them out into smaller tasks.

Making excellence a habit

‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit,’ wrote Aristotle. When we repeat smart tasks, we embed the right activity and behaviour. If done well, this will yield positive results in the long run, in areas like thought leadership, developing sector knowledge and networking. All of this, in turn, helps us to pursue our broader objectives.

Or as Peter Drucker commented: ‘Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,’. Applying this logic here, tasks are doing things right and objectives are doing the right thing. Small wins are fine, but law firms looking for success need small wins that add up to big victories, and you will only achieve those by setting the right objectives first.

For advice on using continuous feedback to complement achieving SMART objectives, download our free guide to better performance reviews for law firms.

About ObjectiveManager

At ObjectiveManager, we have developed goal-setting software to help professional services firms and their people define strategy and improve performance through continuous feedback to power growth.

By simplifying the way firms conduct the entirety of their strategic planning from Sector/Client programmes to Partner Remuneration, we help them improve collaboration and optimise conditions for growth. Our innovative software turns individual gains into big business impact by making individual and firm-wide objectives visible, constant and actionable.

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