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Setting 2021 Goals, with Booz Allen Hamilton CLO, Nancy J. Laben

December 2020
By Debbie Epstein Henry*

As budgets contract, workloads expand, and the world continues to grapple with a global pandemic and systemic racism, planning for 2021 is more challenging than ever. Amidst this uncertainty, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy J. Laben, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Booz Allen Hamilton, on November 11th, and we explored the topic Setting 2021 Goals While Managing Increased Workloads and Smaller Budgets. Ironically, the first event we did together back in 2015 was titled Risk Taking: It's Time to Jump in the Pool. Given how apropos risk-taking is today, we revisited that topic and delved into lots of others. Nancy shared thoughtful, actionable ideas. Here are takeaways that can help you and your organization as you plan for 2021:

Organizational Action Steps:

  • Start with the end in mind. As with any goal, determine what success looks like from the outset. Know how you and others will define success. Be able to demonstrate it.
  • Gain clarity about your priorities. In a crisis, it’s critical to develop leadership consensus on your priorities and communicate them. Align all changes around key strategic needs.
  • Understand your threshold for pain. Ask the hard questions. What cost-cutting will be necessary? What hiring changes will be necessary?
  • Balance the risk and reward. Think about all changes over a near-, mid-, and long-term timeframe.
  • Focus on common sense. “Being a lawyer is not necessarily what you know; it’s how you apply it. It’s about that judgment.” Provide differentiated training to junior lawyers so they can still learn that judgment in a virtual workplace.

Individual Action Steps:

  • Take smart risks to propel your career. It’s easier to take risks when you set goals, get commitments from colleagues who have your back, and gain support on the home front.
  • Be a continuous learner. Adjust and adapt to the evolving needs of the business, the clients, and the market. Look for ways technology can help.  
  • Tailor your message. Check in, and tell your clients you are thinking of them. Better understand their needs. Customize your messaging around how you may be able to help.
  • Be a convener. Invest long-term in your relationships. Be the problem-solver and make introductions, regardless of whether it immediately results in a monetary return.
  • Demonstrate agility. The lawyers who stand out in the current environment demonstrate “agility, agility, agility.” These are the lawyers who respond with, “Whatever you need me to do.” Agility is also how these lawyers grow their careers. “Find a problem that is not being addressed, no matter where it is, address it, bring it forward, and then move on.”
  • Develop grit. As Angela Duckworth teaches, we need grit to see through any of the goals that we set. The key to success is pursuing your goals with passion, dedication, focus, and perseverance, and you can’t do any of these things without grit.

Of all the inspiring words that Nancy shared, the message that resonated the most for me was the two cardinal sins that she explained govern at Booz Allen: 1. Not to ask for help when you need it; and 2. Not to give help when asked. Nancy underscored the Booz Allen philosophy is simply this: “What can I do for you?” In the current climate, I can’t think of a better message to end with than to be kind, generous, and helpful. Your family, friends, and colleagues need it now more than ever.

If you missed it, I hope you’ll watch the webinar recording of my conversation with Nancy to hear more about setting new goals and prioritizing your and your team’s work in the year ahead.

HubSpot Video


*Debbie Epstein Henry is an expert, consultant, best-selling author, and public speaker on careers, workplaces, women, and law. In February 2020, she joined Axiom as an Executive Consultant after Axiom acquired Bliss Lawyers, the company Debbie co-founded. In October 2020, she launched a podcast called Inspiration Loves Company, where she uncovers how to do better and be better at life, work, and everything in between.

Posted by Debbie Epstein Henry*