Let me ask you three questions about your firm. But before you and others in your firm answer, let’s set some ground rules. One is that the answer to each question, in writing, can be no longer than a paragraph. Two, once you have composed your answers, please sleep on it, and see if you want to make any changes. Most importantly, think in terms of the big “firm” picture when answering the following three questions.

1. What does the compensation system, including partners’ buyouts, encourage and promote?
2. What are the short-term and long-term strategic goals of the firm and how are they interwoven into its operation, including accountability?
3. Describe the perceived firm culture both in terms of firm members and clients?

There is one more ground rule and step to this exercise. Bring interested firm members together to review and discuss the various answers. This should be done with the assistance of a professional facilitator or, at the least, a trusted outsider who can act as a facilitator. The reason for this is, no one in the firm can perform that function, and that is especially true for the managing partner. Not because the managing partner is part of the problem. In fact, the managing partner’s leadership will help in making any changes to the firm if they are needed. The reason is because of the managing partner’s position, it is really impossible for him or her to independently facilitate this all-important discussion.

The more I observe firms, the more I believe that the compensation structure, strategic planning and implementation, and the right culture are the most common factors in successful firms. That’s why I think these three questions are so important, and that firm members should periodically take the time to answer and discuss them.

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