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Simone Hughes

Analysis paralysis is lethal for your career

It is true that even a mediocre plan, well executed, can have more impact than a brilliant plan poorly implemented.

This month’s column moves forward with the next step in the marketing strategic approach: implementation.

Let me begin with a couple of scenarios:

1)    You promised to get your biography written for your web site and you’ve created something acceptable. But — you also want your biography to be the hit of Bay Street and have e-mails pouring in congratulating you on its brilliance. It sits around for months while your colleagues are already getting inquiries and business.

2)    You listened to your marketing staff person and created a comprehensive plan to strengthen your online identity but are stymied by the thought of creating a LinkedIn profile that isn’t initially complete. You are also unsure of being so Internet-exposed and getting more messages.

The above two scenarios are fairly typical and how to solve them is to just get to it. Many people will hear me say, “Start slow and grow.” While I do strongly believe in creating a vision and a plan, I also strongly believe in getting out there and trying things out. It’s about balance.

Going back to my many years working in financial institutions, you are trained to constantly test and evolve. I used to run a “rapid-cycle laboratory” which I named “creative client solutions.” I was given seed money to take ideas and get them out to the market faster.

Research in banking products is traditionally a long, arduous, heavily analysis-driven process that could take years to get a new idea out. What I helped kick-start was small-market, real-time testing that got clients’ hands on things quickly. They gave us feedback so the new product or service could be rapidly improved for a broader-scale, more predictively successful introduction — again, a healthy balance of planning and implementation.

Credit card companies have known this for decades. We would have a “test cell” in almost every outreaching initiative. If we were sending an offer or invitation out, a number of recipients would get a different headline, or creative, or envelope, etc. We could compare the response results of the bulk of the recipients to the test cell and see if the new ideas would work better the next time around.

The culture was constantly to plan and continuously test to improve for the next time around. Law firms can do this too. Isn’t it funny the stress you might be putting on your marketing staff to do everything perfectly the first time when in fact marketers are trained to test and evolve? How many people have you discounted or tossed out of your firm for actually doing things in the manner for which they were trained? Failure is actually an investment in learning. (Although repeating the same failure, i.e. not learning, is career limiting!)

What I really learned from my years in financial institutions is an approach for success. It is extremely rare to have an idea that immediately becomes a smash success. Success comes from iterative learning. Did we learn to speak immediately? No. Our guardians constantly corrected us. Did you learn your legal skills immediately? No. You went to school and then articled and apprenticed for many years. Why do we think that we should be able to have success after one attempt at things — even if we planned it for years?

Funny. Some days I feel there is a greater pressure when you have attained a certain stature that we can’t be inquisitive, vulnerable, or be able to learn anymore. That’s a lot of bunk. Does your firm judge people and things too quickly? The result can actually be putting a damper on success. Success comes from trial, observance, feedback, and retrial. Banks spent millions of dollars training their people on continuous improvement and lifelong learning in the early 1990s! Something the legal market is just discovering and calling process improvement. It’s about time.

Calling all law firms to loosen up a bit, be brave, test, and evolve.

But now back to your biography and LinkedIn profile scenarios. What’s the answer? Going back to my previous articles you have to do some research, some planning, and then get out there and test and evolve.

Put your “acceptable’” biography out there and keep correcting it. It’s actually good for the search engines to have new content. Go and post an incomplete LinkedIn profile. It will never be complete anyway because they keep adding new options. Just get out there, get some feedback on your materials, and keep improving them . . . as long as they are always in the big scheme of things, aligned to your long-term vision.

Excellent execution really means iterative learning. Excellent execution is about having a plan, getting it out there, getting feedback, and continuously improving it. Excellent execution is not sitting back once you’ve done something. We live in turbulent, quick-changing, Internet times. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of things, be adaptable and flexible. Have a plan, but as Nike said so right, so long ago, just do it.