By Philip J. Kavesh, J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), CFP®, ChFC, California State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law
I’ve found that the best way to ensure a successful new year is to start off with a big stride in the right direction, by holding a firm “kick-off” meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to establish clearly defined goals for the year, outline the implementation process and get everyone on board, excited and motivated! It also provides an action checklist that you and your firm can periodically refer back to during the year, so you stay on track toward actually achieving your goals.
Here are the steps that I follow to put together the Firm Kick-Off Meeting.
Step #1: Schedule the Firm Kick-Off Meeting ASAP
This kick-off meeting should be scheduled as early in the year as possible. I typically hold it on the first Monday following January 1st, when everyone has returned from their holiday vacations. I block a full two hours, including the lunch hour. For example, you could go from 11am to 1pm or 12pm to 2pm, which is what I prefer. The plan is to go no more than 90 minutes with the meeting; however, you want to have some “buffer time” in case some questions or discussions run over or you wind up starting late. No appointments are allowed to be made during this two-hour block of time and the telephones are placed on an away message so that everyone can attend.
It is important to get this kick-off meeting onto your calendar right now and make sure that everyone in your firm understands that it is mandatory to attend – – attorneys, staff and even part-time or outside consultants that work with you on a regular basis. And yes, you should hold this meeting even if your firm only currently consists of you and one or two others!
This kick-off meeting is typically held on-site, at the law office, utilizing the conference room. It is best not to go off-site, like a hotel or another location, unless it is absolutely necessary (due to space). This ends up wasting a lot of time and the environment may not be perfectly conducive to the type of focus that you may want. Plus there may be additional cost and set up time involved in going off-site.
Step #2: Start Planning the Firm Kick-Off Meeting Details NOW
As I mentioned in the previous newsletter article, I like to utilize employee surveys toward the end of the year and have these returned prior to people going on their December holiday vacations. The survey results can be instrumental in putting together your thoughts for your kick-off meeting presentation. You will want to utilize the outline of the PowerPoint slides (which I will supply to you below) when formulating your presentation. Once you have a first draft of your thoughts or the PowerPoint slides, I recommend that you meet with your key staff/managers to review your plans and get their input. This will not only help you make sure that you are all in sync when you do the kick-off meeting presentation, but also place them in a better position to support you when any questions or issues are raised by other employees, whether at the meeting or afterwards. It is not necessary to discuss the presentation with all of your attorneys or paralegals prior to your presentation. This presentation should be your view “from the top”, as the leader of the firm. You do not want it to devolve into an out of control group brainstorming session. There will be an opportunity during the kick-off meeting for feedback from members of the firm, but this will occur only in a brief, positive form. It is better to handle any critical or negative feedback afterwards at individual meetings you will hold with each member of the firm.
On the day of a kick-off meeting, we typically bring in a nice meal from a local restaurant. This is coordinated by the office manager and staff is encouraged to find a restaurant, distribute the menu throughout the firm, have people make their order and have it delivered about ten minutes before the start of the meeting. On the day of the kick-off meeting, I usually give everyone about 15 to 20 minutes to eat and socialize amongst one another. This also gives those who might arrive late a chance to get seated before I begin the presentation, such as an attorney who may have had a client meeting run over a little bit.
Then, the presentation is done utilizing PowerPoint slides and a projector and it is intended to go about 30-45 minutes. A short Q&A or discussion period is built into the presentation, as you will see.
Step #3: Prepare an Outline of Your Firm Kick-Off Meeting Presentation
I am providing a “template” of PowerPoint slides that you may use to help you prepare for your kick-off meeting. Click here to view this template that I have successfully used, year after year. (Note: At the end of the article, you will have the opportunity to be e-mailed a copy of the PowerPoint slides so that you can actually modify and use the slides for your firm.)
Below is a general guide about what is covered, which will track the template provided to you.
First, I start off by welcoming everyone to the special firm kick-off meeting and establishing the purpose for the meeting. The purpose is to acquaint (or refresh) everyone with what we do at our firm, how we got here (a quick firm history), and where we are headed in 2014.
I then go over the detailed agenda for the meeting. This typically includes a review of our Mission Statement first. (NOTE: If you don’t have a Mission Statement for your firm, you may wish to use the one we have included along with the presentation template as a model for establishing one for your firm. This should be done in a separate employee/staff-only meeting without you present so that they can come up with their own draft, which you can then modify as you feel appropriate and present in a future firm meeting.) The agenda also includes a quick history of the firm, what we do (or “sell”), who are our customers, how we market ourselves, why people buy from us and how we do our work.
Furthermore, the agenda will include a review of the past year, the goals for 2014, each person’s role, the rewards for attaining our goals and a wrap-up, covering what each of us has learned at the meeting.
I next address the handouts. Typically, we will only provide a few handouts, such as the mentioned Mission Statement, a marketing piece that best describes who we are and why people should choose to work with us (our “Questions You Should Ask When Choosing Your Estate Planner” flyer), and our firm’s “Guiding Rules”, which is a flyer that describes the way that we work individually and as a firm that sets us apart. (NOTE: Again, if you do not have these particular items, you can utilize what we have provided with the presentation template for creating your own.) When discussing the handouts, I make note of the fact that we do not provide an outline or a copy of the slides, but that note-taking is highly encouraged. In fact, at this point, we will also make sure that everyone in the room has a pad of paper and pen to take notes. The reason that I don’t provide a lot of handouts is because I want everyone’s attention to the front, rather than their heads down reading or skipping ahead. I also don’t want the specific material on all of the slides to be distributed outside of the firm, since it is confidential and proprietary information.
Next, I go over the “Ground Rules” for the presentation. I emphasize that no cell phones will be allowed in the room and that no interruptions will be allowed (including the firm’s telephones, which have an “Away” or “Out of Office” recording for the duration of the meeting). I indicate that questions are okay during the meeting, but I may cut off questions if I feel that we need to stay on track or move through the material, since there is an open Q&A session scheduled at the end of the presentation. I also indicate whether there will be any breaks during the talk. Often times, we may take a 5 minute break right then and there for people since they just ate lunch. Most of the time, I do not hold a break until the very end of the talk. I also emphasize that there will be both lecture and interactive portions of the talk and that the presentation is not intended to be a one-sided “info dump”.
Next, I begin the interactive portion by going around the room and having everyone introduce themselves and tell a little bit about their background, how long they have been with us, what their specific role is in the firm and a little “fun fact” about themselves. I also ask that each person address what they would like to get out of the presentation today. This slide will stay up on the screen so each person can be directed to answer each of these six particular items and stay on track.
Once I’ve gone around the room with introductions, then I present the firm’s Mission Statement as a reminder of why we even do what we do. In other words, what they call in Star Trek our “prime directive”.
Next, I talk briefly about our firm’s history, or how we got to where we are today. I advise that you speak a little bit about your pre-firm history first, by addressing a few little things about you that others may not know and what you set out to do when you established your firm. Then you can get into more detail about your firm history, in terms of how you’ve grown and what you have accomplished.
At this point, I then like to recap what we’re all about. First, what do we “sell”? Is it estate planning documents? It is “peace of mind”? And how do we do it? The answer is peace of mind through excellent customer service and making sure that people have a good personal experience when working with us. I address who do we sell to, the demographics of our best target clients. Then we talk a little bit about how we market ourselves, emphasizing that marketing is also everything that each one of us does at each point of contact with a prospect or clients. I next address why people buy from us and what sets us apart. This is where I review our flyer that sums it up well, “Questions You Should Ask When Choosing Your Estate Planner”. I then talk about how we do our work, again emphasizing what sets us apart from other firms. Here I like to walk through the piece entitled, “Our Guiding Rules”, which explains what sets our internal corporate culture apart from others. These items help everyone see the “big picture” of who we are and how they fit into it, as well as emphasize customer service as an unstated priority on each person’s duties list. Note that each of these handout items are reviewed every single year in our kick-off meeting, even though many people have heard these same things several times before. It is important, right at the beginning of the new year, to refocus people about what we are all about. It’s kind of like Vince Lombardi starting off training camp each year with the basics by stating to the players, “This is a football.”!
Now we get into the nitty-gritty details. First, we review the past year, addressing in some detail all of these items: 1) our areas of practice/products; 2) marketing; 3) personnel; 4) systems; 5) office space/locations/equipment; 6) number of clients and/or revenue; and, 7) employee rewards (such as bonuses, retirement contributions or trips). The reason that I like to mention number of clients and/or annual revenue is because these are very definable items that can be used to create specific goals for the coming year.
From here, we now define our goals for the coming year. We go over the same bulleted items that we just did in reviewing the past year, noting what we intend to change or improve upon.
At this point, I go into what each person’s role will be in achieving these goals, emphasizing that each person plays an important part. I start off by going over each attorney’s role in achieving the firm’s goals. This is important to do in front of the entire group so that staff understands what the attorneys do and can do better support them to meet firm goals. Then I flip to the staff’s role. Again, many times the attorneys don’t clearly understand what the staff does and I may list specific “to do” items for certain individual staff members which may be discussed. However, I tend to keep this particular portion short since everyone already introduced themselves and explained their role in the firm at the beginning of the presentation. The only exception is if certain staff members have roles that may be changing in the new year. You can look at the PowerPoint template for some examples of how I discuss the attorney and staff roles discussed during the meeting.
I then sum up by emphasizing that everyone’s job #1 is excellent customer service. We want clients to always walk away happy so that they will stay with the firm, repeat purchase and refer others to us.
I then open up for a discussion. However, I want this discussion to be very directed and as brief and positive as possible. I ask the group, “What else do you think that we can do better and how?” and I make it clear that I only wantconstructive ideas. I keep the discussion to about fifteen minutes. Further discussion can be deferred to the next monthly firm or staff meeting, or to the individual meetings that you will hold as a follow-up to this kick-off meeting (as I will discuss below).
We have now come to the closing portion of the presentation and this is where it is very important to get yourself and others energized and motivated as they leave the meeting. First off, I indicate that my pledge to everyone and our pledge to each other is that we’re going to get things done this year. Too many times people sit in these kinds of meeting and we “talk the talk” (which sounds great!), but then once the meeting is over, we don’t “walk the walk”. I make clear that we’re going to review the status of each goal that we have set out for the new year at our future monthly firm meetings. (We hold a monthly firm meeting the first Monday of each month, bringing in a lunch.) I stress that we will do what is necessary (and correct what is necessary) to move us toward our goals.
I then want to add a little motivation by discussing how we will reward everyone’s work in meeting our goals. One is the potential for job promotions, but the other and perhaps more immediate and defined reward is bonuses. I am a big proponent of paying out bonuses tied to individual results and also to group results. Bonus formulas and structures are way beyond the scope of this article, however, at this point I set out very specific monthly gross revenue goals for the firm which will result in staff bonuses, and in a follow up group attorney meeting or in the individual meetings with the attorneys, I will set their specific bonuses based on individual monthly production goals.
Finally, I ask everyone in attendance to respond to the question, “What did you learn today?” and then I go around the table to make sure that everyone answers. This is very important to have each person express what they have learned so that they will have a clear focus and “buy-in”. After everyone has addressed this, I sum up the meeting with a very positive, “Let’s have a very successful 2014!”. (And, “Now, let’s get to work!” and the meeting is adjourned.)
Step #4: Follow-Up After the Firm Kick-Off Meeting
I usually hold my individual attorney and staff annual performance review meetings shortly after the kick-off meeting. Here, we review the goals that each person had last year and what they accomplished (or still need to accomplish) and any new goals we set for the coming year. This is where I take a lot of the general information that was discussed at the kick-off meeting and go much deeper and narrower into that person’s individual role into helping the firm achieve its goals.
In conclusion, when you start the year by making a clear target for your firm and for the individuals within your firm, encouraging them to participate, both individually and as a group, and aiming their focus and energy toward that target, you will find your firm remarkably reaching your highest goals!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Attorney Philip J. Kavesh is the principal of one of the largest estate planning firms in California – – Kavesh, Minor and Otis – – now in its 33rd year of business. He is also the President of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., which provides a variety of training, marketing and practice-building products and services for estate planning professionals. If you would like more information or have a question for him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-866-754-6477.