Improved performance in professional services firms – 10 key drivers

Our usual approach when working with clients is to invest appropriate time in developing a deep understanding of the firm, its challenges, and pain points, and diagnosing the root causes of their challenges. Based on our experience we have devised a list of 10 things that we know have a real impact on performance.

None of these will be new to you and most of them are standard best business practices so firms know they need to act but many points on this list are in the ‘just too hard box’ or ‘not quite ready to do that yet’ drawer. The world is changing around us faster than ever before and so many firms are seeing the impact of waiting to act. So, here are 10 key drivers to push performance and effectiveness across your firm. Ignore these at your peril!

10 Key drivers

1. Vision

(Re)create a clear vision for the firm and unite the organisation behind it:

  • Where is the firm going?
  • How will it make a real difference to clients, the community, and the world?
  • What will the journey look and feel like?
  • Why are we different? What makes us special?

2. Strategic objectives:

Create (and communicate) 3 to 5 simple strategic objectives to drive the firm towards your vision.

3. Performance:

Critically assess how the firm is currently performing against the ‘components’ of performance. For example:

  • Client service (quality of delivery of the tangible service).
  • Client experience (quality of your client information delivery and intangible service).
  • Leadership and management (how effectively are leaders and managers impacting on teams and driving performance?).
  • Financials (pricing, profitability, working capital management, financial accountability).
  • Marketing and business development (winning and retaining profitable work).
  • Building and sharing knowledge and expertise (collaboration, social learning, developing unique solutions and sector expertise).
  • Innovation and thought leadership (continual improvement, developing new services in line with client needs).
  • Alignment of teams and individuals with strategy (ensuring everyone is pushing in the right direction).

4. Future steps:

Spend time thinking about how the firm can take steps to drive progress in three areas that will have a real impact on performance:

  • Developing a real ADVISORY approach to clients – this means shifting the focus from providing services to clients, to understanding their wider business challenges and designing solutions and support mechanisms to help them.
  • Changing the pricing model from cost plus (and worrying about the competition) to pricing based on the real value created from helping with client problems (see above).
  • Creating clear niches and ‘expert’ sectors where proven and unique solutions can be developed, and credibility and brand can be built.

5. Culture:

Become obsessed with it!
Spend time assessing the formal expectations of culture (the ‘packaging’), the brand, the website messaging, and the values – and what is really ‘inside the package’. How the business is really behaving, who are the heroes and role models, what behaviours are rewarded and punished, how decisions are really made and what customers and suppliers really see and feel in their interactions.

  • What is the gap?
  • Is the culture ‘right’ to deliver the strategy and vision?
  • If we are changing anything about who we are, where we are going and what we will be focusing on – then what part of the how (our culture) do we need to redefine and embed?

6. Individual performance:

Focus on how you can help your people improve their individual performance. For example:

  • Clear performance targets, desired behaviours, objectives and KPIs aligned with 1-5 above, the vision, the strategic objectives, business performance components, required change and required culture.
  • Helping them build skills and knowledge (collaboration, coaching, supporting them in ‘failing’, giving them personal learning time, providing push and pull learning opportunities).
  • Providing adequate resources and toolkits to drive performance.
  • Ensuring clear and transparent measurement of performance and constructive feedback systems.

7. Individual responsibility:

  • Empower individuals to take responsibility for their own outcomes and results.
  • Clearly defining expectations, providing performance support, encouraging learning from failing.
  • Demonstrating real trust will help pass ‘ownership’ of performance over to individuals.

8. KPIs:

Switch the focus on your business KPIs away from internal measures to external measures. If you truly want to become trusted advisers and business partners to your clients then there needs to be a move away from utilisation, recovery, chargeability, and productivity lag targets toward client-defined, lead KPIs. For example:

  • The number of valuable strategic client conversations/meetings.
  • The number of ideas that have impacted positively on the client’s top and bottom line.
  • The number of experts introduced to clients.
  • Client scores ‘out of 10 how have we helped you to solve your business pain’, etc.
  • Quantifiable value is created for clients.
  • Revenue as a % of the value created for your clients.
  • Annual growth in revenue from existing clients

9. Timesheets:

Oh… and this may mean… dropping TIMESHEETS!

10. Communication:

Communicate, communicate, and communicate…constantly, repeatedly:

  • About where you are going and who you are (vision).
  • About the first steps to get there (strategy).
  • About how you go about things (culture).
  • About performance expectations across the firm
  • To share knowledge, successes and lessons learned.

How can we help you?

We are experts in advising organisations on how best to improve performance by effectively executing and embedding required change. We do this through our proven approach:

  • clarifying strategy and change needs.
  • enabling people through experiences and resources to develop the skills, behaviours, and mindsets to drive performance.
  • creating the systems, processes, and infrastructure to lock in change as the new normal. 

If you would like to discuss how we could help you in improving business performance, and individual and collective people performance, please email Kate or call us on 0333 7722 061 to arrange a meeting with one of our expert consultants. No charge, just coffee will be fine!