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Jamie Buchan, CEO

I couldn’t commend Anne and her colleagues more highly… a brilliant service
Marc Wolman

I received an excellent service from Executive Action tailored exactly to my needs
Simon Oakes, Senior Civil Servant

Executive Action are demonstrably experienced in their field, well-connected and always went that extra mile
Ash Marston, Head of IT

Executive Action are a pleasure to work with, even after placement they keep in contact to ensure all is well
Chris Browning, Managing Director

Having someone to talk things through with, to support me and push me to focus my ideas was fantastic
David Blackwood, Group Finance Director

Empowering and very time-effective way of answering some key questions
Clara Swinson, Senior Civil Servant

Its great strength is that it is tuned to the individual instead of process-driven
Peter Whittle, Group Strategic Development Director

As well as my dedicated consultant, there was always someone on hand to help with whatever was needed, from interview training to research
David Blackwood, Group Finance Director

A Tough Job, But Someone’s Got To Do It

  John F Renz – Director, Executive Action

Managing professional service businesses well is indeed a very tough job – and often assumptions about particular types of firm are way off the mark.

Professional services have gone through major change, and will continue to do so, whether driven by regulatory, legal or entirely market-driven events. Firms cannot assume much about the business landscape, save for its complexity and the need to be constantly vigilant in terms of market share, reputation and professional standards.

Given the challenges of the business environment and ceaseless change management required, those charged with leading professional services firms have particular pressures to face. When managing significant issues – change of ownership model, merger or key shifts in business strategy, for example – what needs doing can often be too narrowly defined and limited to those things that one can see and touch.  Change management exercises, even change ‘experts’, can sometimes steer firms to a kind of ‘shallow transformation’ in which, when the dust settles, the conclusion is that “we introduced the new world with all the bells and whistles, and didn’t pay enough attention to the behavioural changes implicit in the new situation to make it really successful”.

An increasingly corporate style of management within professional services serves the very large global players well. In such firms, there is an unspoken acceptance that the role of partner comes with certain legal and moral obligations and (in some form) direct access to profits generated by the business. There is little expectation that individual partners will have any real impact on day-to-day management.

In smaller firms the picture is more complex. Even when firms are not partnerships but perhaps private corporates or some other form of ownership model, scale would seem to be a major determinant of attitudes prevalent within senior teams on their level of involvement in the day-to-day management; further, that senior individuals can feel they have considerable discretion to manage affairs according to their own personal preferences, rather than sticking with an agreed, firm-wide approach.

Where does all this leave those officially charged with management responsibility? Those in leadership roles within smaller firms need a different skill set to those in charge of classically pyramid-structured corporates with highly detailed governance maps and processes.

These individuals often require real vision and the ability to think strategically, but also need to be highly persuasive across a wider, intellectually-challenging group. The new head of the business within a professional services firm can rarely, if ever, ‘dismiss’ their way out of a disagreement, for example by changing the senior team. This can result in intolerable levels of stress for those managing the business in complex, uncertain or tough times commercially. The alternative is sometimes that they avoid difficult choices or significant change, and thereby end up elegantly managing decline.

In short, support for those at the top in professional services needs to be in place, particularly where change is crucial.

These individuals should recognise that being effective in a role like this requires help, even amongst the brightest and best, to shift their own behaviour, improve certain skills and manage weaknesses. My experience in professional services working with senior people attempting to deliver and embed change has shown me repeatedly that a degree of self-awareness is a pre-requisite for success, as are knowing your flaws and facing up to normal human levels of anxiety – and that being able to ask for help is a strength.

We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing from you if there is anything that we can do to help you, your employees or clients. 

Get in touch on jrenz@executive-action.com

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Posted: January 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Communication, Development, Miscellaneous, Networking | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »