We’re always interested in what actions create winning performance professional services firms. Having recently attended a professional services summer ball, it was a great opportunity to catch up with former colleagues and close contacts. So after catching up on family and our sporting teams, the main topic of conversation inevitably moved onto talking about business.
‘So how are things then?’ I asked. The responses – ‘yeah…pretty good’ and ‘not bad at all’. Now clearly their firms must be ‘good’ as they provide high quality services for clients, remain profitable and have employed large teams for many years. But, could they be ‘better’ than good?
From working extensively with professional service firms over the last twenty years or so we have consistently identified some common areas that we believe are preventing firms from being ‘better’.
For people to be focused and engaged, to make better and quicker decisions, to be able to assess their performance and contribution and to feel more ‘engaged with the firm’ they need to know the essentials. Where is the business going? How will it get there? What values and behaviours will drive it? And why does it deserve to achieve? i.e. how does it add value to its clients and people?
Specialisms and service line structures ensure access to very ‘deep’ wells of knowledge to help clients with particular issues. However this has led to teams and departments often operating in isolation, resulting in a lack of collaboration and ‘breadth’ of service to clients.
As a direct result of the above, many people in the business are unaware of everything that the firm can do to help its clients and prospects. Not just what service lines / functions do, but the benefits of those services. We recently tested fee earner knowledge about service line offers with two clients, asking questions about their own firms and how they work and the average score was below 25%! Think of the missed opportunities for clients in that 75%…
We have spoken to many firms who just don’t know where their future managers and partners are coming from. This is often due to a lack of definition of talent within that firm in the context of the strengths, knowledge, skills and behaviours required to drive the business strategy. Or due to the absence of an effective performance management and appraisal system. If talent is clearly identified then firms find it incredibly difficult to keep them and develop short and long term people plans.
Many professionals are very comfortable in asking questions and providing opinions within their area of specialism. But the key to becoming invaluable for clients, is moving from technical specialist to trusted advisor. This means being comfortable in having wider business conversation with clients around their goals, operations and environments. Being able to ask great questions and actively listen in order to really discover what clients may ‘need’ as well as what they may ‘want’. This is all about being totally client focused.
Wouldn’t it be great to have everybody taking responsibility for actively marketing the firm and looking to generate new business? Why doesn’t it happen? A lack of incentives is often mentioned. But its also down to: a lack of skills and knowledge of what to do for some, confidence for more and a lack of process/execution for most. The whirlwind of work and activity gets in the way and targets are often so large and vague that they create paralysis.
A four dimensional approach?
PSFs benefit from analysing their business and performance based on 4 key dimensions:
Strategy: This underpins everything. What is the vision? What are the values? What is the strategy? Are all of these communicated, understood and embedded in the business? Is performance and reward aligned with the strategy?
Business performance: How well do people understand all aspects of the business? Can everyone talk about the services and value that it offers to clients? How much collaboration and knowledge share occurs regularly? Do people understand how they impact on the bottom line and key performance measures?
Business development: How effective are your processes? Is there anyone driving accountability? How clear are the key marketing messages? How confident are you? How focused is the business on lead as opposed to lag measures? How are you addressing the barriers to cross-selling?
Talent Management: Is there a people strategy aligned to the business plan? What skills and behaviours are needed in your people to drive this? How are you developing and investing in these? Is there a top-down succession plan? Have you defined potential? What do you do to retain talent?
We believe that continually focusing on these areas and challenging current practices and approaches will have a positive impact of performance. And maybe even put you up on the podium in a winning position.
theGrogroup specialise in helping Professional Service Firms grow business results by optimising the four dimensions.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of your business or people development then please contact us on 01892 610060. We would be delighted to talk to you.