YOUR FIRM RETREAT PLANS EXAMINED
No doubt you hold regular firm owner meetings. Sole owners most likely hold management meetings with managers while partnerships also include partner meetings in the pursuit of better firm communication and management.
In this the first of three articles on Firm Retreats we will explore some of the benefits and reasons to devote time, preferably, off site to examine those aspects of business management that require closer examination. The firm leader will almost certainly have a catnip of areas where action is necessary.
YOUR LAST RETREAT
When was your last Firm Retreat? Notwithstanding the necessity to comply with government Covid directives, this is a meeting that cannot be set aside – even if it is likely to be held virtually. I recently conducted an online Firm Retreat and the feedback was very positive. Attendees reported high levels of energy, fresh impetus and a sense that everyone was pulling in the same direction. There were a number of reasons for this. In particular I arranged for six separate sessions each led by a different partner. They were given a variety of options to keep the meeting on track and strategies for those partners that specialise in distracting the direction or throwing in what I call hand grenades into the meeting.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU HOLD A FIRM RETREAT?
My recommendation is annually and NOT when it becomes clear to some people that “we need a Retreat.”
TYPES OF RETREAT
Retreats can be topic specific. For example some firms hold a Marketing Retreat, some a Technology Retreat, some a ‘bill what we are worth and collect what we bill’ (Reducing lock up) retreat. Larger firms with multiple offices often hold “service line retreats” where leaders of the service lines meet to discuss matters such as technical developments, best practice, marketing, case studies and data sharing. Some firms have conducted a Covid Retreat to take a long hard look at lessons learned, actions to be taken and how to best communicate. This was the case with a number of my clients who established a Rapid Retreat to discuss Covid. These meetings could be characterised at the outset as operating in panic mode. Eventually, we were holding two meetings a week (including one at the weekend) developing an evolving plan and ensuring that communication was clear, or as clear as it could be.
Then there is the ‘annual’ retreat with an agenda that is determined, in advance by the partner team. I attended a number of those online meetings. Then there is the Rapid Reaction Retreat – this may well be held onsite and will address a hot topic – are there others? Yes, I am sure there are but this does, in my view, cover the main bases.
HOW LONG SHOULD A RETREAT LAST?
My recommend is that a Firm Retreat can last from half a day (minimum) to two, maybe three days. The ‘norm’ based on my experience is a day for firms with up to maybe 10 partners and maybe a day and a half to two days for those with more firm owners or perhaps where there are two or three trading locations and the additional time is beneficial for social interactions.
Key observation: I encourage you to set aside longer than you might think necessary. Retreats have a habit of taking far longer than envisaged. Allowing more time will hopefully minimise those attendees who incline toward providing negative feedback (some call this criticism) on the decisions being too rushed and not adequately researched. Although in larger firms there is often someone who plays the role of the “arsonist”!
WHEN TO HOLD A YOUR FIRM RETREAT
There is no right or wrong answer to this. Accepting that you, the reader, will have a clear view permit me to add in a few guidelines:
Meetings three or four months before your year end
These meetings will tend to focus on budgets, cash flow, billing targets, staff and maybe even job management. Other topics will undoubtedly include salaries, recruitment, bonuses, profit sharing.
The Summer Retreat
This type of Retreat better allows for some leisure time, maybe a round of golf or an outing. Some firms invite spouses/significant others to an evening dinner. Some firms extend this to having a spouse/significant other social programme. One advantage of a Summer programme is that everyone can enjoy the warmer weather – even if that is from the inside of a room! Maybe lunch outdoors? The other advantage of a Summer Retreat is that the days are longer. I don’t think it is much fun to start and end the day in the dark.
When not to hold a retreat
- In the first three or four months of the new financial year
- Anytime close to busy season – or just after when recovery and catch up is under way
WHERE TO HOLD A RETREAT
Disadvantages of an onsite meeting:
- Attendees may well turn up late – that is disrespectful to those who arrive on time
- There is always the possibility of an ‘urgent’ interruption
- It may well feel like a regular partner meeting and so some will treat this the way they do partner meetings
- I will add in one apparent advantage and that is that it will cost less. Yes, but consider the above disadvantages – is it really going to cost less?
Advantages of meeting offsite
- It will feel special and attendees will respond to a different environment
- A change of scenery will encourage people to think differently
- Meeting offsite affords opportunities that are not necessarily close to hand at the office – different meeting room, refreshments and the evening meal
- If the Retreat is for a day, why not meet the evening before and have dinner? Maybe the next morning some attendees will enjoy a visit to the gym, a swim and a different breakfast – an opportunity to socialise.
- You can choose a superior venue
I am not going to disagree if the retreat is half a day and maybe includes department heads, managers or firm specialists. Even here you may well have a happier and more motivated team in having them meet offsite.
ATTENDANCE RULE – ANNOUNCING DATES IN ADVANCE
First, this meeting is compulsory – no excuses, ifs or buts for non attendance. So, the key here is announcing the date in advance. The best time to announce the next retreat is at the conclusion of the one you are currently holding. Make sure it is in the firm calendar. Communicate that taking time out while the Retreat is in progress is not acceptable.
INVOLVING THE RETREAT ATTENDEES IN PLANNING
The firm leader will probably have a few recurring matters that need to be discussed at the Retreat. But, why not ask attendees for their suggestions maybe 3-4 months prior to the Retreat? Encouraging ownership and participation is important.
Key Recommend: One approach to gaining maximum participation is to require partners to complete a short pre Retreat questionnaire asking for their view in a few areas and identifying agenda points. In my next article I will share a high impact strategy for addressing the various points raised – understanding that some of these might not be on the Retreat Leader’s radar.
REASONS RETREATS ARE NOT AS SUCCESSFUL AS HOPED FOR
You will have your own ideas based on your experiences. One recurring reason I have identified having interviewed a few hundred partners is that previous retreats have not resulted in the action and implementation agreed. In other words, “Why bother when no one follows up or takes the agreed action?” Translation of this type of feedback – “Some attendees might not have executed the plans as I thought was appropriate. Which is why I did not either!” And yes, that is what one partner said to me to justify his opting out.
Coming up in the second Firm Retreat article:
- How to gain maximum participation from all attendees
- How to overcome the perpetual interrupter
- Ideas for your agenda
- And other key Retreat pointers