2016 trends in Professional Service Firms

2016 trends in Professional Service Firms


Having met with a number of clients and prospects throughout December and the first few days of the new year, the topic of conversation has been focused on plans for 2016 and, more importantly, the successful execution of everything they have set out to achieve. There have been some common threads in all of these discussions so we wanted to share our insights into where firms are focusing the development of their people and their practices:


Strategy and internal communication – when working with firms we always start with strategy. Where is the firm going? What’s the vision? Is this communicated, understood and embedded in the business? Every business should have a vision that is clear to everyone, with a plan to achieve it. This shouldn’t be rolled out every 1, 3 and 5 years at budget time or conference season, but should be a live working document! The firms we are seeing that do this really well, are now embracing technology to help with the communication; a two-way process which is helping people and teams to see the part they can play.


Engagement & culture –  a frequent topic of conversation has centered around employee engagement and the interconnection with a firm’s culture, which we are seeing as a priority for lots of organisations; especially those that have been through recent mergers. Culture is the operationalisation of the values, the ‘how’ of the organisation. The key is creating a culture that empowers people to challenge, to achieve, and to take responsibility for their own growth and development. Historically there has been more of a focus on process and structure to “get the ship in order”,  however we are starting to see a shift to attention and investment in developing the human side of a business.


Working as one – this has been THE topic of conversation across all businesses, from small OMBs to top 10 firms, in the professional services sector to large public organisations. The department and reporting line structures of many organisations help with role definition and accountability, but can promote behaviours that encourage silo mentality and create artificial barriers to business success. We are helping a number of firms with knowledge share and collaboration, particularly in the Business Development area (see below). Already we are seeing some changes around how they are organising people to encourage conversation and cross service line working and problem solving.


Sales and Business Development – 2015 saw a continued shift to much more of an advisory led route to market for lots of firms and we see this continuing in 2016 and beyond. The means a focus on developing the necessary skills and behaviours of people at all levels to build strong, trusting client relationships, understand the broader service line offering of the firms and create a strong internal network across teams, locations and different service lines.


Leadership – identifying, retaining and developing talent continues to be a hot topic and we are starting to see a change in the way firms are promoting people into leadership roles. There is a significant shift away from ‘years served’ philosophy, to a focus on a valid succession plan, ensuring the right people take on leadership responsibility. This is based on their ability to empower and inspire people to drive a team and firm forward. We are seeing further investment in leadership programmes to help future leaders develop the behaviours, confidence and experiences needed to perform in the role – linked to transparent career pathways.


Coaching & mentoring – firms are recognising that the best way to develop their people is through experience acceleration and releasing potential – through mentoring and coaching programmes. We have seen an increase in the number of workshops across all levels, not only to provide basic training but helping organisations develop their own coaching and mentoring culture. Some firms have been actively coaching externally with clients, helping to identify issues and develop actions.


Consolidation – we believe consolidation in the sector will continue. There were a number of mergers and acquisitions in 2015, including Moore Stephens and Chantery Vellacot in the accounting sector, and legal firms Shakespeares and SGH Martineau. And a top 40 accounting firm in the South West has announced one already this year.

However the challenge for all firms, whatever the size, will continue to be on attracting and retaining talent, at all levels.


Performance reviews and their reinvention was one of the hottest HR hot topics in 2015, where we saw the likes of Deloitte, Adobe and Accenture scrapping the traditional annual appraisal and ranking process. We have a client who has followed suit and it will be interesting to see how they, and others, manage the transition to more formal and informal ‘real time’ performance conversations and other alternative approaches. The important thing is that firms are starting to question what they are really achieving from the process, looking at the best use of the time involved and seeing where they can make any improvements. We are also starting to see an improvement in objective setting, with much more fluidity involved and alignment between individual, team and firm wide goals.


Commerciality – historically firms we’ve worked for, and with, have had a real focus on top line fee income, often to the detriment of the commercial success of the business from a profit and cash flow perspective. We have seen examples of firms moving away from awarding performance related bonuses based on fee income, to a scheme calculated on profitability and cash received, thereby encouraging behaviours which will improve the commercial success of the firm.



Wishing you every success in the execution of your firms and personal goals in 2016, and we look forward to seeing what successes and challenges the new year brings.


theGrogroup specialise in helping Professional Service Firms grow business results by optimising: strategy, talent, business performance and business development.


If you would like to discuss any aspect of individual and business performance, and possible solutions please contact us on 01892 610060.