By Patrick J. McKenna
Setting incremental goals fails to bring out the best in law firms or their partners. "Make no small goals," the old saw goes, "for they lack the power to stir our souls."
Subscribe to radical goals. Imagine what might occur if you declared to your partners that you want to achieve a 35 percent growth in revenues per partner over the next two years. And if you then asked them to come forward with ideas for how you could make that happen.
In one firm, the managing partner decided she wanted to survey every member of the executive committee prior to an important meeting. Using a questionnaire, she asked each of them for their views of what might constitute a reasonable expectation for the firm's future growth prospects. In the questionnaire, she told partners this: "Our profits-per-partner have increased during the past five years at an average rate of around 6.2 percent per year. What do you believe is an acceptable annual rate of growth in profitability over the next five years?"
What she did not disclose was that 6.2 percent was not the real number—and, in fact, the 6.2 percent quoted was somewhat less than the actual results achieved. Quite predictably, based on the information this managing partner provided, nearly all of her partners responded that they would be quite happy to realize a level of 6 percent to 7 percent growth over the next five years.
Be warned. The evidence is irrefutable. No organization ever outperforms its aspirations. Our beliefs set the upper limit on what is possible.