Maintaining status quo is not enough to remain competitive in your marketplace, according to two titles from author David Maister—The Trusted Advisor and True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career.
As a professional services firm, you face a long list of challenges:
- Build strong relationships with your clients
- Provide growth opportunities for successors
- Wade through changing government regulations
- Deal with fee pressures on mature services
- Mobilize your professionals, including younger team members
- Meet client demands for specialized service offerings
- Navigate globalization and generational shifts in areas such as training, communications, and work styles
- Continually grow your volume and net profit
All of these factors create a constantly shifting landscape. But humans have a tendency to resist change. It can be all too easy for professional services firms to operate in a comfortable “business as usual” manner. They may still be working from traditional business plans that focus on goals and visions for what the firm hopes will happen.
However, progressive firms survive and prosper by embracing change, recognizing a need to adapt and plan for the future while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Robust business plans include “how to” explanations and stretch goals for the organization. When developing these plans, forward-thinking firms spend time listening to clients, the marketplace, and their team. They use focus groups, feedback surveys, formal market research, and information from industry meetings to identify client needs and opportunities for enhanced offerings and better client service.
An adaptive and forward-thinking mindset creates opportunities to evolve your client relationships from subject matter or process expert to trusted advisor. This progression takes time, as you must first demonstrate technical expertise and then gain the stature of a valuable resource before you are ultimately viewed as a trusted advisor and guide.
Your team must practice its trade in a manner consistent with the adaptive vision of your leadership, continuously striving to learn and grow. Static firms have too many team members who cruise through life doing a good job and meeting standards, but not learning and growing. Firm leadership, at the executive as well as at the practice group levels, needs to set the tone and act as facilitators of change.
Making investments in your people is critical. Your firm must commit to training (something that cannot be viewed as too expensive). In addition, skill building should be embraced by all levels in the firm. Lifelong learning needs to be a requirement, not a choice. It should be viewed as the responsibility of all your professionals, not a paid training director.
Premier professional service firms are open-minded, adaptive, and at the forefront of recognizing changing client needs and service delivery preferences. Eschew mediocrity and complacency by demanding technical expertise as well as soft skills from team members. And operate under a well-thought-out plan that includes execution parameters as well as measures and rewards for success.