Identifying your firm’s focus is critical to long-term growth. The most successful firms are clear about who they are, whom they serve, and what value they deliver.
An example of leadership, ingenuity, and selfless collaboration
In the movie Apollo 13, after the crew has survived several harrowing events, the team must adjust its angle to Earth to set the proper trajectory for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Too flat an angle bounces the capsule back into space and too steep an angle incinerates the ship. As bad luck would have it, the crew does not have enough battery power to fire up the computer guidance system. The crew determines that the “old-fashioned” way to accomplish the same task is to identify a fixed point in space through one of the capsule’s windows. Earth becomes their fixed point. By keeping Earth in the window as the rockets fire, the crew is able to manually set course. The scene is intense as it shows the crew stalwartly setting the ship on the correct course.
I love this scene because of its intensity, clarity, and ingenuity. As I watched the movie for the 10th time, the scene reminded me of how I often see professional services firms trying to make strategic decisions. While their decisions and actions are neither life-threatening nor historic, they are relevant to the success of firm missions.
The most successful firms are able to look out their proverbial windows, spot their fixed objects in space, fire their engines and head for home. They achieve this by being very clear about who they are, whom they serve and what value they deliver. Most importantly, they work together, regardless of what circumstances they must overcome to complete their missions.
Less successful firms cannot locate their focal points. As a result, they bounce off into outer space or burn up. They do this by either trying to be all things to all people or becoming self-centered and self-serving, thereby neglecting the broader well being of the firm. Infighting, greed, self-righteousness, irresolution, indecision and leadership gaps are just a few of the causes. For whatever reason, in the end, the inability to set a clear vision and make strategic choices leads to mission failure (slower growth, low profitability, obsolescence, higher turnover, firm collapse, etc.)
It seems like common sense that members of the firm would all work together for the well being of the firm and its clients. Unfortunately, dysfunctional cultures and misaligned performance measurement systems can create just the opposite behaviors. In order to make it successfully home, leaders must identify that fixed object in space before hitting the thrusters. You don’t need perfection. Like Houston said, “That’s close enough, Jim. Good work.” On the other hand, failing to do so may lead to a very undesirable outcome.
Founder & CEO
Jeff’s teams and strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.
My wife says that I tilt at windmills when I try to convince the professional services world that Marketing is strategic and more than making things pretty. Alliance partners and business leaders say they have the “strategic stuff” covered. My marketing peers wonder why I expend so much energy and political capital fighting an undefeatable foe. After all, it’s easier to just ride a horse in the direction it is going.
In the immortal words of John McClane in the movie Die Hard, “Yipee ki yay,…!”
In my last post on the 10 Questions Prudent Firms Ask Themselves, I addressed Question 2 What are our goals? I outlined a continuum of 3 types of organizations and how a firm’s worldview shapes whom it serves, why, and how. Does the firm serve Shareholders, a broader...
By the end of my first decade in professional services, I had reached a point where I was able to delineate between serious business people and time wasters. As a result, I had developed a mantra when working with practice leaders, partners, and peers, “I don’t beg; I...