Leaders forum – looking ahead

2021: confidence / fees / people

The quick poll of business leaders gave the following results:

  • Change in confidence in the economic outlook for 2021: 64% the same, 18% less confident, 18% more confident
  • Movement in fees expected in 2021: 73% a small rise of 5% or more, 27% about the same, no one expected a fall in fees
  • Movement in employee numbers anticipated in 2021: 11% significant increase, 78% small increase, 11% stay more or less the same and no one expected a drop in employee numbers

The poll findings gave rise to the following discussion points:

Productivity – there is an awareness that people have been working hard, but there hasn’t always been the expected impact on the timesheet, with a gap between hours and chargeability. Members have mixed experiences but in general feel they are struggling to proactively manage the new hybrid work flows and individual performance

Fees –  when government furlough support ends, it was felt that people were ready for inevitable ‘belt tightening’ and are prepared for scoping discussions and fee negotiation.

 

2020 highlights

Great things have happened in 2020 that we need to hold onto and keep doing in 2021 as we move back to a more “normal” way of working:

  • A real genuine focus on staff well-being and mental health
  • Integration with staff – more frequent communication
  • Marketing and BD events with clients on-line – some real success here
  • Change and innovation being at the top of the agenda. This year has forced huge changes and disruptions to operating models, and it has proven that firms are capable of innovating and adapting successfully. Dissenting voices to change and innovation have been quietened as all have been pleasantly surprised by the ‘wins’ do far so are more open to it.
  • Flexible working, a significant change in its acceptance and people trusting more. The challenge going forward is going to be ensuring that remote workers are still part of the organisation ‘physically’ and culturally. Some have noticed a real desire for people to want to get back to the office so it is important to maintain a focus in the people who are not there and providing inclusivity and support programmes.
  • Collaboration and team spirit as virtual communication has helped to break office and regional silos. Teams have communicated more regularly and freely.
  • Some firms have spent more time over 2020 looking internally, thinking about their models, people and clients

Priority action for 2021

Critical pinch points / challenge that need to be addressed in 2021:

  • Business decision making: One member felt that decision making in the firm had historically been a struggle with the need for decisions drifting and matters not being actioned. This has improved recently given the speed of change and that there isn’t the usual period of time to think, but it is an intended benefit to focus on in 2021. Partners averse to change had experienced the benefits of change and were now less resistant.
  • It was felt that some decisions / actions may have been delayed as there is still no clear ‘end horizon’ for end of furlough etc.
  • Investing in people: this year has really highlighted how there is not a one size fits all – managers need to really understand their people and what they need to be engaged and perform.
  • Managers need to be better supported through training to enable them to deal with the challenges of remote working and hybrid teams (physical / there and virtual / not there).
  • Maturity of processes: systems and processes need to keep up with the development and ambitions of the firm
  • Building a truly sustainable firm: press ahead in 2021 in becoming carbon neutral.
  • Ensuring that scope creep is identified early and fees adjusted so that profits are not eroded – especially when on fixed fees
  • A key priority is a real focus on client service and ensuring their experience is first class
  • Recruitment – being more flexible as regards location given virtual working but balancing this against the need to build a real sense of team and encouraging physical interaction when it is possible. It was noted that it is a difficult challenge to provide the training and mentoring to trainees if they are mainly remote. Firms still refining this aspect of people and skill management
  • Some trainees brought in with some clear Golden Rules – certain days in the office to experience culture, collaborate etc. again this is a new structure which needs communication throughout the organisation
  • One challenge that was raised was that no one wants to leave. Much as ‘new blood’ may be needed and recruitment is a priority, natural attrition has been affected by Covid with people fearful of moving employment. This is not sustainable position over medium term.

Offices of the future

  • The point was raised that offices need to be different from just a row of desks and a place to work – because staff have this at home. It needs to provide a good reason for coming in – an interactive space which encourages collaboration and relationship building and embeds culture
  • A Drop-in-Hub where people book to attend – again with the primary purpose of weaving the thread of culture and technical learning.
  • The challenge of maintaining the culture and fabric of a firm was discussed if much of the workforce is remote. How can people feel the same about working for a firm when they are not closely connected to it?
  • Ensuring that the cross-office collaboration and culture that has been built during 2020 is maintained in 2021 when more office working occurs.

Forums in 2021

Our forums with leaders from accounting, law and other professional service firms take place monthly and are hosted in partnership with Foulger Underwood, they will continue in 2021 – our next call is on 29 January at 13.00 – please email paul@thegrogroup.com to join.