Making a Professional Services Culture Work

Overcome the dysfunctional cultural roadblocks to your firm’s growth and legacy

The importance of professional services culture in accelerating growth and building a firm’s legacy

In 20 years and across some of the top firms in the industry, I have worked with many of the smartest, most ambitious, kind, and generous people I will ever know. The firms exposed me to audacious business problems and cutting-edge thinking. The cultures in those firms taught me how to lead, follow, create, and serve. I have witnessed the absolute best that the world of professional services has had to offer.

Unfortunately, I have also seen the absolute worst of the industry: political battles,  power struggles, ethical lapses, pettiness, bullying, “human sacrifices,” reorganizations, retrenchments, and selloffs. These are the behaviors that accompany the “It’s just business.” mindset.

I disdain the expression, “It’s just business.” It expresses greed, selfishness, and cowardice. “It’s just business” dehumanizes others. “It’s just business” is the language of a dysfunctional culture’s pursuit of growth and “success” at any cost.

I understand that growth in professional services is essential. Growth provides scale, opportunity, strategic options, and wealth. But to pursue growth for the sake of growth is the mindset of a cancer cell.  If growth is not managed properly, it can cost a firm its soul.

That is why have written The BS of PS: Overcoming the Dysfunctional Roadblocks to Growth and Legacy.
This article is the culmination of 20+ years in pro services leadership roles and management consulting. I outline:

  • Why firms do not achieve their growth
  • How firms fall into a dysfunctional cultural mindset.
  • Why firm leaders neither recognize nor address the fundamental issue limiting their growth.
  • Most importantly, how to overcome the negative attributes that accompany the many positives of professional services life.

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The BS of PS: Overcoming the Dysfunctional Roadblocks to Growth and Legacy in Professional Services eBook

THE ISSUE: You Don’t Have a Marketing Problem

In 2002 Rajat Gupta, then managing director of McKinsey, pushed the firm’s head of marketing and public affairs, Javier Perez, out of the firm. The reason: multiple partners had shared their dissatisfaction with the firm with writer John Byrne in a wide-ranging feature in BusinessWeek.

Gupta had spent his tenure refocusing the firm on growth. He put a halt to what he considered money-wasting research, implemented what was known as “100 percent cubed”—bringing 100 percent of the firm, 100 percent of the time to 100 percent of the world. The firm had grown from 58 offices to 81 and from 3,300 consultants to 7,700, and it had nearly doubled its revenues from $1.2 billion to $3.4 billion. After achieving its results, McKinsey’s directors had begun to worry if the focus on growth had cost the firm its soul.

Do you believe that Gupta’s firing of Perez had any impact on the quality of the press coverage the firm was getting? Do you think the firing appeased the dissatisfaction of the McKinsey managing directors?  Do you think that bringing in another marketer subsequently changed the trajectory of Gupta’s vision?

Marketing is a visible and easy scapegoat for problems that the leadership of a firm may be unwilling to address.  Firms’ actions swing like pendulums as they try to drive growth and get marketing “right.” They hire “doers” and then they hire “thinkers.” They fire “thinkers” to hire “doers.” They centralize and then they decentralize marketing. They align marketing with geography, and then they swing to lines of business. Firms buy technologies, hire cold-callers, add budget, and take budget away. The pendulum swings back and forth in a desperate search of a solution to “marketing” problems. The presence of these activities and co-morbid destabilization in a firm offer telltale signs that the firm is not focused on the right “problem.” These behaviors are symptoms of a much larger issue lurking in offices and cubicles. 

What is the BS of PS?

I spent the first decade of my career outside of professional services in software sales, IT, operations, and purchasing. I joined Andersen as a family business consultant/business developer after completing my MBA. After 20 subsequent years of immersion in accounting, HR, financial advisory, and consulting firms, I have seen firms fly high and I have watched firms crash and burn. All of the firms had highly educated people, great client relationships, and money coming in the door, but so many of them never reached and/or sustained their potential—financially or reputationally.

Why?

 

Growth in professional service firms is hard.

 

The trust-based relationships, intangible, fungible nature of solutions, matrix structures, billable hours, contradictory performance measures, competitive landscapes, and high-performance cultures make professional services firms unique.

Professional services firms attract some of the best minds in business. The firms are savvy, global, and progressive. In many ways, they’re the models for the modern knowledge-driven organization.  The real issue is that, while professional firms provide a great model for the modern organization, they are plagued with organizational dysfunction. I call this imperfection “BS of PS.” Until firms attack the right problem, they will always be underachieving. If not addressed strategically, these qualities lead to sub-optimal growth and can cost a firm its soul.

I have come to recognize that people, like all growth opportunities, come and go. Brand relevance ebbs and flows. Competencies grow and die. The one thing that never changes is a firm’s culture.

But, the idea that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is not new.  Peter Drucker said that more than 50 years ago. Simon Sinek recently rode a popular wave of culture euphoria by asking the profound question, “What’s your Why”? It is a mandatory question for firms to not only ask themselves but to honestly answer. David Maister detailed “One-Firm Firms” qualities in Managing the Professional Services Firm. I have worked in and consulted with firms that subscribe to these mindsets. Yet, they were still plagued by disengaged workforces, client churn, brand weakness, and collapse.

A client recently asked me why I use the word “dysfunction” in a public statement that a potential client would consume. He asked, “Why not use inefficient, ineffective or underperforming?” He believes that calling a firm “dysfunctional” is akin to telling new parents that their baby is ugly. You simply don’t do it. It’s impolite, negative, confrontational, and unnecessary. This client is also a friend, so he knows me pretty well. He believes that “dysfunctional” is a perilous, if not suicidal, choice of words. He, like others who have bristled over my using “prudent” in my firm’s name, was trying to be helpful. Many people believe that “dysfunctional” is reserved solely for abusive or alcoholic family systems. My choice of the word “dysfunctional,” like “prudent,” is very deliberate.

 

Webster defines dysfunction as:

  1. impaired or abnormal functioning
  2. abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group.

 

The word refers to other systems and describes underdeveloped interpersonal behavior that is exacerbated by group dynamics. Every organization has some dysfunction—not just professional services firms. Professional services firms just have their own particular abnormalities.

I know this because every firm I visit has its particular moniker for the dysfunction. Some referred to it as “a culture of optionality,” “a caste system” or “dog eat dog.” A popular and socially acceptable name is “up-or-out.” If you prefer a few with a little more testosterone, how about “survival of the fittest” or “We eat our young”? One of my favorites is “Grin F- -king,” an expression that describes the moment when someone is smiled at as he leaves the room in anticipation of being stabbed in the back. There are many others. I coined the “BS of PS.” Dysfunction is the elephant in the meeting rooms of most professional services firms and, if not acknowledge and addressed, it slows growth and damages a firm’s, morale, reputation, and legacy.

 

RELATED: Prudent Decision Making

THE CAUSE: What creates the BS of PS?

No matter the reason, the cause is clear and the result is the same. The cause is firm culture and the result is sub-optimal performance.

 

The BS comes from a combination of attributes—structural and human.

At the heart of firms are smart people who act, well, like people. They exhibit ambition, fear, laziness, intransigence, self-righteousness and a host of other human behaviors. All this humanness plays out daily as people try to protect their jobs, get on the partner track, and look good in front of clients. Any attribute by itself probably would go unnoticed, but when it’s combined with an organizational structure that muddies responsibilities, rewards individual sales performance, and worships utilization the combination gets messy.

 

Structural Attributes

Daily life in professional services firms is pretty predictable: serving clients, finding new clients, sitting through some continuing education, recording time, hearing a lecture on the “flavor of the month.” Like a meandering river cutting the soft soil of its outer banks on its circuitous route to the ocean, firms follow the natural path of least resistance toward the traditional practice-centric life.

 

  • Matrix Structures: There exists no more powerful and dangerous organizational structure. Properly managed, it unleashes innovation, collaboration, client-centricity, and high-performance teamwork. Mismanaged, it is the sand–pebbles, rocks, and boulders–in the gears of the machine.
  • Billable Hours: There are only so many hours in a day and utilization sets the priority of the day. No other single measure creates such a high level of dysfunctional behavior than the billable hour.
  • Inefficient resource allocation: Resources are usually allocated by line of business size or partner power, instead of strategic growth potential.
  • Focus on the practice P&L: Collaboration is an ethereal concept in a matrixed world. When you are a “boss” with no real authority, it is easier, less risky and requires less political capital to just let others do their own thing.
  • Practice-centric outcomes: Tunnel vision on practice revenue, utilization, profitability, and perhaps, client satisfaction.  What gets rewarded gets done.
  • PartnershipEquity, autonomy, tenure, policy making, income, status. Partners achieve partnership through ambition, talent, hard work, and political savvy. They pay their dues, demand the benefits forthcoming, don’t intend on losing them, and are rewarded to behave accordingly.
  • P&L ownership swings between matrices and centralized/decentralized control—New managing partner, new philosophy/structure. Geographic responsibility gets us more client-focused, practice allows us to manage people, industry drives thought leadership. (It reminds me of the practice of bloodletting.)
  • Path of least resistance—Firms are extremely political and partners like to keep their powder dry. Most often growth initiatives take the path of least resistance and focus on “activities” that can be controlled by individual producers with bogey responsibilities.

 

Confusion often reigns in professional firms about who makes decisions that affect a firm’s growth. Is it the leadership team, practices, geographies, individual partners, business development or marketing? Lack of clarity creates sub-optimal growth, organizational confusion, and needless emotional upheaval.

Several years ago, there was a popular Harvard Business Review article making its way around offices entitled, Who Has the D? How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance” by Paul Rogers and Marcia W. Blenko. The excellent post focused on decision-making, the “D,” within healthy organizations. It posited that every success, mishap, opportunity seized or missed was the result of a decision that someone made or failed to make.

 

RELATED: Is Failing to Make Growth Decisions Causing You Firm to Fail?

 

After 20 years in consulting, accounting and IT leadership roles, I can attest to the confusion of the “D” in making growth-related decisions. For example, if I asked someone in your firm one of the following questions, what answer would I get?

 

  • Who owns the client relationship?
  • Who owns the voice of the client: practice, business development or marketing?
  • Who makes the decision when a product or service has met its apogee and needs to be retired or cut from marketing and sales emphasis?
  • Who makes the decision about which people serve a key account: account owner or practice leader or geography leader?
  • Who owns a client’s data?
  • Who decides whether to enter a new market? pursue a proposal? end a client relationship?

 

In most firms, leaders wholeheartedly believe that the decision is so obviously theirs or has absolutely nothing to do with their role. Of course, this is normally a function of ego, revenue potential, client relationships or political risk. In many respects, it could be described as a poker game or game of chicken. And, of course, there is a strong element of retroactivity to any decision. If it has a good outcome, one is willing to own it and bask in the halo of its successful glow. If it has a bad outcome, the response is akin to, “Whatcha talkin’ about Willis?”

DOWNLOAD:  The Growth Driver Owner Tool

As a young marketer, I learned to never remove the “Draft” header from any consequential strategy document or product launch, etc. It was best to maintain “strategic flexibility” as they say. What I discovered as I moved into leadership was that most people either lack the capacity to lead and/or the courage to make decisions, even if they owned the “D.” The result was dysfunctional decision-making through “pocket veto” (e.g. “forgetting” about it, not returning email, avoiding related meetings) or denial of accountability due to “client service demands” (e.g. the appearance of busyness and utilization demands).

 

Human Attributes

Professional firms attract some of the smartest, most talented people in the world. We matriculate to top schools and graduate at the top of our classes. We are star athletes, cheerleaders, debaters, musicians, student council members, and more. We are competitive, driven to succeed, and expect to achieve. We work in high rises, travel the globe, and live in affluent communities.  After a couple of years working, we begin to think our lives and our work are normal and commonplace.

 

They’re not.

 

We, as human beings, are frail creatures full of gifts, foibles, desires—and, mostly, fears. It really doesn’t matter what title, firm address, or degree you possess; human beings are pretty much the same. We are running from our fears.

Let’s take a little test about an unseen human driver of your firm’s culture and performance. Ask yourself if you’ve done any of the following or sat idle and allowed another to do any of the following:

  • Have you ever bluffed your way through a client question because you didn’t want to say, “I don’t know the answer”?
  • Have you ever criticized a junior member of your team for having a better answer to a question than you offered because it looked like someone less experienced than you was smarter or more articulate?
  • Have you told a lie of omission to avoid confrontation?
  • Have you resisted selling or presenting a new service until you felt prepared to handle any possible question or objection because you did not want to look ignorant?
  • Have you ever felt threatened when you were left out of the loop on a business deal or not invited to an “important” meeting because it was a harbinger of your standing in the firm?
  • Have you ever felt “less than” because you went to a “state” school, Tier-2 school or lacked a certain degree from the “right” prestigious school?
  • Have you ever felt “better than” for having gone to a prestigious school?
  • Have you felt insecure because your office had fewer windows, a lesser view or less square footage than a “peer’s”? Better because yours did?
  • Have you ever blown a gasket or criticized someone for a typo in a presentation, whitepaper or client email?
  • Have you bought cars, watches, phones, suits, vacations, homes, memberships, etc. to “fit in” or appear successful?
  • Do you always have to speak first or last in a meeting?
  • Do you plan/rehearse what you will say “spontaneously” during leadership meetings?
  • Have you ever said, “I was wrong” or “I am sorry” to a subordinate?
  • Do you live in fear of being labeled incompetent, non-partner material, weak, unprofessional, over the hill, tactical, out-of-the-loop or some other non-acceptable firm cultural moniker?

 

You’re not alone. Most of us are culpable of these.

 

RELATEDAre Your Firms Values Any Different Than the Local Dry Cleaner’s

 

We’re even afraid to admit that we’re afraid.

Our refusing to acknowledge our fear does not mean that the fear does not exist; it does not negate the fact that the fear is driving our lives, our behavior, and our firms’ performance. Isn’t it often the valedictorian who is afraid of being seen as stupid or who fears not being admitted to a prestigious college? Isn’t it the loveliest girl who thinks she’s unattractive? Or the top athlete who fears to lose? Fear can be a great short-term motivator, but as a long-term motivator, it is cancerous.

Fear rears its ugly head when we sense injustice, perceive scarcity, feel judgment, are ostracized or anticipate failure. It manifests as passive aggressiveness, aggressiveness, defensiveness, withdrawal, revenge, power exploitation, bullying, belittling, or avoidance.

  • Do we invest in a practice that is clearly off strategy because we can’t say “no” to a powerful partner?
  • Are we writing a brochure because it adds client value or because someone is afraid to sell?
  • Do we blame bad data on an impartial CRM tool when we really have a culture that lacks the trust to share relationships or sales discipline?
  • Are we realigning our P&Ls to better serve clients or as a power play that we refuse to acknowledge?
  • Did we fire the marketing leader because he was unable to execute or was our business strategy complete pie in the sky?

A firm that is aware of the BS of PS, sees the connections between fear, avoidance, and unproductive actions. Those that don’t continue to underperform.

 

The BS of PS’ Impact on Brand and a Firm’s Legacy

You can tell a lot about the level of BS of PS in a firm when the topic of “personal brands” comes up. Among intelligent, driven people, discussions about personal brands can get a little heated. There are firms that quash personal brands and firms that buy them as a growth strategy. Both can be acceptable and worthwhile approaches. Firms make a mistake when they do not articulate a clear strategy and purpose for personal brands. Failing to acknowledge and address the BS of PS leads to mismanaging personal brands and damages a firm’s reputation, culture, productivity, and employee engagement. Here’s why.

Firm cultures fall into two camps. The first camp is the “Firm as Group” camp. The second is the “Firm as Team” camp. Your camp dictates how you perceive and manage personal brands. In his seminal book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni outlines five elements of a dysfunctional team, highlighted in the pyramid below.

 

The Levels of Dysfunction

  1. Absence of Trust—The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.
  2. Fear of Conflict—The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.
  3. Lack of Commitment—The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability—The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results—The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

 

Each dysfunction is built upon its predecessor. For example, when there is an absence of trust, people will be afraid to enter into situations that present a conflict because they can’t be sure of the outcomes. Groups that have these characteristics do not function as teams. Instead, they operate as loosely held confederacies driven by insecurity and self-interest. In my experience, firms are simply large teams. (Source: The Table Group)

 

RELATEDThe 20 Biggest Brand Mistakes Professional Services Firms Make (And How to Avoid Them)

 

Personal Brands in “Group” Firms

Firms with “group” cultures represent Lencioni’s dysfunctional teams. They develop brand umbrellas to accommodate the needs of the member confederacy. The firm’s brand exists to accommodate the personal brands and businesses of individual partners. Partners and practice leaders are loyal to the firm and its brand to the degree that neither infringes on their fiefdoms and abilities to produce individual results that undergird personal brands. The firm is happy to accommodate as long as the partner’s practice is contributing to the appropriate level of profit to the firm’s bottom line. 

Personal Brands in “Team” Firms

Firms that operate as “teams” demonstrate the healthy dimensions of Lencioni’s model. Team members trust each other on an interpersonal level. They have tough conversations that address unacceptable behaviors, refine ideas and make everyone better. These teams have a commitment to the firm’s values and legacy. As a result, they hold each other accountable for the role that each team member plays, and they play to deliver a united outcome. Personal brands are earned through each team member’s selfless contribution to the team.

In a nutshell, “Group” firms see personal brands as symbiotic, living together in a more or less intimate association as in parasitism. “Team” firms see personal brands as synergistic.  Either approach is acceptable depending on a firm’s culture. Things get ugly when firms do not proactively communicate their expectations of personal brands. Don’t make the mistake of not knowing what type of firm you are part of and what legacy you are trying to build. 

There are 4 reasons why the structural and human attributes are allowed to foster:

 

  1. The firm has a culture of “optionality.”

Every firm has one or two REAL behavior drivers. More often than not, it is a utilization or a revenue number. If you hit the number, all manner of sins is forgiven. Firms allow partners to opt-in. “If it doesn’t cost me my job or threaten my path to partner, no need to focus on it.”

 

  1. The firm has a culture of feigned accountability.

Accountability is a popular “value” on posters, recruiting materials and client presentations in firms. It indicates that the firm is serious about taking personal responsibility for serving clients and managing people in a professional manner. If you want to see if the value is real, ask someone (anyone) in the firm who, when and why the last person was let go for violating a firm value. If they can tell you a name (any name), then the firm made an example of unacceptable behavior. If they can’t tell you, then accountability is a platitude.

 

  1. The firm has a culture that punishes risk-taking.

The reason most firms refuse to make decisions about growth choices is that there is no safety net. Make a big bet and it goes south or takes too long to come to fruition, and the firm cuts you off at the knees through a demotion or termination. This is a recipe for a culture of “learned helplessness.” Slowly, day-by-day, initiative puts its head down and the firm spirals downward, because the best, most ambitious talent goes elsewhere.

 

  1. The work required to attack the BS of PS is an unnatural act for professional services firms and leaders.

It requires team members to pay personal costs and deny their natural human tendencies. In professional services firms, this means:

  • Having uncomfortable conversations. Most senior partners didn’t achieve their current roles by being the most persuasive colleagues. They got there because they’re great at working with clients or they’re technical experts. Looking a colleague in the eye and challenging him to do the right, but difficult thing is something they don’t have a lot of training for. Don’t underestimate the lengths leaders will travel to avoid telling a colleague that he doesn’t trust his client relationship with her.
  • Trusting others when the heat is on. Working together usually comes at a short-term cost, even when everyone agrees intellectually with the long-term benefits. The big fear is that one of us will be exposed to “the powers that be” as a direct result of our agreements to work together and while others will scurry to the shadows. Don’t think that smart, accomplished partners are above the fear of abandonment.
  • Expending unbillable time. Collaboration takes time, usually in meetings and often away from clients. This is especially true in the early days when you have to gain clarity into where the high-gain collaborative opportunities lie and discern how to capture them. In environments where short-term results are king, that up-front cost hurts. Don’t forget that people generally avoid big up-front costs with uncertain rewards.
  • Thinking long, long term. Consultants are rewarded for short-term performance. Asking them to collaborate today for a benefit tomorrow is like asking a 6-year-old if they would like dinner or dessert first. Don’t ignore the pull toward the quick hit.

 

So, how do you overcome the BS of PS? 

...With purpose.

 

THE SOLUTION: The Purpose of a Leader

 

While many issues leading to underperformance can be “systemic,” the system is seldom the cause. Systems simply reflect and reinforce the existing culture. Ultimately, culture is just a collection of mutually reinforcing worldviews. Whose worldviews? First, it’s the founders(s). Second, it’s the restructured view of the “qualified” executive team that sends him/her to pasture. Third, it’s a minion of partners pursuing the “brass ring” of their own worldviews. Collectively we call this “leadership” and by leadership, we mean individuals—partners or business leaders—wielding power.

Culture shapes behavior—and leaders create culture. Not with posters, slogans, and mission statements, but with every human interaction. Not because people are watching. Not because they are “incentivized” to. They are doing it whether they are rewarded or seen. Leaders create cultures that reflect who they are. I have seen partners fire people to save their own hides. I have witnessed others, to their own detriment, help their top performers pursue dreams elsewhere. I have seen trifling partners take down others just to look good and others take a quiver full of arrows for their teams.

The ends we live for shape our lives and our firms. Cultures don’t change and systems do not self-correct. Neither can coerce change. Only individuals change. Change comes from within and it comes only when an individual opens himself or herself to it.

 

The purpose of a leader is to BE THE EXAMPLE.

 

This is why I believe firms need leaders who are:

  • High-minded
  • Humble
  • Realistic
  • Objective
  • Wise
  • Straight-forward
  • Shrewd
  • Vigilant
  • Sagacious
  • Deliberative
  • Decisive
  • Bold

 

 

Firms need leaders who are, in a word, prudent.

Prudent leaders steward prudent firms.

Prudence is THE cardinal virtue of a great leader and the most misunderstood and maligned leadership quality today. It is not an SNL comedic punchline, a risk-averse mindset, or an archaic metaphysical diatribe. Prudence is wisdom gained from experience and knowledge that is expressed in realistic actions. Prudence is the habit of making the right decision, at the right time, for the right reason.

Prudence guides the virtues of courage, self-control, and justice. It gives us the ability to sacrifice today’s gain for tomorrow’s greater gain. Prudence requires us to choose a path greater than individual ambition and bottom-line profit.

Contrary to popular misunderstanding, prudence has nothing to do with playing it safe—quite the contrary. Prudence most often demands that we make more courageous choices than conventional wisdom and business mindsets would lead us to take. It is easy to judge what is “good” and what is “bad.” Prudence judges what is “best.”

Prudent firms live by a different code.

While “What is our Why? is an important question, prudent firms ask themselves more vital questions:

  • Who do we want to become? What kind of firm do we want to be remembered as?
  • What goals do we have for the firm?
  • What do our goals say about us? Do they point to selflessness, big-heartedness, high-mindedness? Or do they point the other way?
  • What is our firm’s driving philosophy? Power? Money? Prestige? Service? Humility? Personal growth for our people? Some special impact on the world?
  • What elements of undesired philosophies or behaviors have wormed their way into our firm’s daily life?
  • What will we leave behind as our legacy? 

Prudent firms:

  • possess magnanimity and meaning.
  • seek the truth — even uncomfortable truth.
  • focus—on what matters most to their culture, their people, and their clients.
  • build the habit of making the “best” decisions into their DNA.
  • think and act boldly.

RELATED: Does Your Firm Have the Confidence to Be a Leader

Prudent firms focus on a few performance indicators like other firms, but they don’t just measure the quantitative result.

They evaluate the qualitative aspect of how the objective was achieved. The means and end are weighed together because together they create the resultant culture. Decision makers are held accountable for means and ends. Violate the values and you are gone in a public way. BEHAVIOR + REWARD = CULTURE

Prudent firms don’t punish failure; they reward learning.

It is fine to fail in healthy firms. As a matter of fact, failing indicates that people are searching for answers, trying new approaches, and looking for new ways of creating value for the firm. It could be new revenue opportunities, productivity gains or cost-cutting. It can big or small as long and it makes the firm stronger in terms of its core values and value. Healthy firms develop prudent processes that anticipate downside risk and set decision points and evaluation milestones to invest in measured ways, redirect or terminate based on LEARNING.

Prudent firms set CLEAR expectations for culture and roles.

Matrix organizations have built-in confusion. The inherent conflicts must be addressed with clear objectives, authority, and processes. Smaller firms often finesse their way through complexity via astute interpersonal skills or leader strength. Without clarity and support, medium and larger firms will eventually meet a point of unsustainability. Firms must outline who has the “D” at the matrix intersections.

The precursors to healthy growth are steadfast values, role clarity, and ownership of making a “D.” There is no optionality, no failure without learning—and no passing the buck. Letting hard decisions languish because of risk or confusion leads to chaos and sub-optimal performance. As a managing partner, you and your leaders are stewards of your culture. Your organizational structure outlines the roles.

Conclusion

There are no perfect organizations or people in any industry.  The real problem with BS of PS in firms is that it makes it much easier to blame someone else or passively ignore them, rather than deal with the real issue.  Why go to the trouble? After all, the path of least resistance is probably working just fine.

What is unacceptable to firms building a legacy is having the awareness of the dysfunction yet mindlessly going about their business. Legacy firms attack the BS of PS for three simple, powerful reasons:

Your clients deserve it. Sure, you can keep doing business like everyone else. But the truth is that your clients have challenges your team could solve collaboratively, and they need you to solve them.

Your people deserve it. You have a group of partners and younger professionals who got into this business because they love the creative act of solving client problems. And they want to be part of a firm that creates exciting opportunities for the future– opportunities to do cutting-edge work, to be known as a great firm, to meet and work with fascinating clients, to take on increasing responsibility.

Your firm deserves it. Whether your firm is five years old or into its second century, you stand on the shoulders of your predecessors, and you’re a steward of the future. Sure, you can continue using a set of practices loosely held together by an organizational chart and a logo, but you have to ask yourself: Is that the best way to instill pride, reputation, and accomplishment into the firm?

 

After achieving the impressive results mentioned at the start, McKinsey’s directors began to worry that their focus on growth had cost the firm its soul. It almost did.

If you’re worried about the soul of your firm, don’t let the BS of PS steal it.

 

Be prudent.

 

 

 

Jeff McKay

Jeff McKay

Founder & CEO

Jeff’s strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment, and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

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Don't Let The BS of PS Steal Your Firm's Soul

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