The new world of professional services

Teamwork

The good old days are gone. Post the GFC, professional services clients now expect a very different service. Increasingly sophisticated clients expect professionals to be more responsive and have a better understanding of their business and the commercial pressures they face.

Service must now be truly client-centred and professionals need to be creative and empathetic. They must work with, not just for, their clients. They need to create solutions, not just present solutions. Innovation is about changing cultures within the organisation, engaging and collaborating with clients.

In Katherine Tower’s article “Culture Shock”, Paul Jenkins, Managing Partner of global law firm Ashurst, says:

   “It’s not about law firms choosing to innovate, it’s about being required to innovate by sophisticated clients. Clients now have the expectation that processes will be simplified, that we will make life easier for them and that they will be given greater accessibility.”

So why is it so difficult to innovate? The focus for many firms continues to be billable hours, with ‘today’ as the main focus. If ‘today’ is the dominant focus, what is the encouragement for professionals to innovate? While there is nothing wrong with making money today, what about building for the future?

Also, with most firms there is no alignment between innovation and compensation. You will never have innovation unless you allocate some time and reward to making it happen.

Often, the firm’s leadership does not see the value in innovation. The theory is, “Aren’t we successful now, so why do we have to change?” Leadership in the Big 4, global law firms and consulting firms see this issue differently and are constantly looking for ways to innovate. While they can spend more time and more resources than smaller firms, it does not mean that smaller firms can ignore this issue completely.

When it comes to the sales process, this is the new reality. According to the RAINGroup, in their “What Sales Winners Do Differently” research, there are three levels of selling behaviours and outcomes that set sales winners apart:

Level 1 is Connect. Winners connect the dots between client needs and their company’s services as solutions. Winners also connect with people. They’re perceived to listen and connect personally with buyers more often.

Level 2 is Convince. Winners convince buyers that they can achieve maximum return, that the risks are minimal, and that the seller is the best choice among all options. In other words, they are masters at making the value proposition case as compelling as possible, and communicate it effectively.

Level 3 is Collaborate. Winners collaborate through behavior – they are perceived to be responsive, proactive, and easy to buy from (collaborative in how they work). At the same time, it’s not just how the seller interacts; it’s what they do. Buyers believe that winners actually collaborate with them during their buying process (collaboration in the sense of working with the buyer to achieve a mutual goal), and that they educate buyers with new ideas and perspectives. Indeed, buyers perceived these sellers to be integral to their success.

It’s the third level, collaboration, that is now so critical to every step in the client journey, not just during the sales process. Client service should now be delivered as a collaboration between the professionals and the client. Solutions are developed and delivered by collaborating with the client. This means the professional must thoroughly understand the client’s industry and business. There are now far more professionals specialising in specific industries or categories of clients to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Professionals have known for some time that the best profit is not in the compliance services, but the broader advisory and consultative services, adding value by building and enabling. Firms do not want to become commoditised. To be able to charge premium fees, and grow the firm, it is vital that professional services firms master consulting and collaborating skills. In order to be truly innovative, firms need to enable and engage their people and the primary focus must be on genuinely engaging and collaborating with clients.

The Ringmaster not the Juggler

female ringmaster , leaves the circus

I was listening to a radio interview the other day. I can’t even remember now who the celebrity was. All I remember is the female announcer asking the female celebrity about her “growing brood” and how she manages to “juggle work and family”. Her answer was she has a lot of help, but that’s not the point. You hear the term ‘juggle’ a whole lot, in relation to women and careers, and frankly, I’m over it.

Juggling suggests that it takes some skill to keep all the ‘balls’ in the air – great – but it also implies that you could drop any one (or all) of said balls at anytime. Meaning that you are only marginally in control. Someone could throw you a new ball that you aren’t prepared for and they all come crashing down.

I think this metaphor, whenever it started being used, has had its day. It’s part of the rhetoric that is keeping female leaders from reaching their full potential. Language is extremely powerful and if we continue to talk about our lives in terms of juggling all the aspects of it, we’ll continue to believe our lives are about this balancing act and not about living our fullest and most rewarding life – all important elements of it included.

I prefer to think of myself as a ringmaster. I manage all the different aspects of my life with (practiced) control. Organised chaos. Like a juggler, the ringmaster has to learn these skills, and it’s not without the help of partners, family and friends. My husband and I are both ringmasters. I’m just changing the metaphor for my life, so I’m not limiting myself to ‘juggling’ imaginary balls. I’m ‘ringmastering’. Yes, it’s a word. I looked it up.

ringmastering
The work of a ringmaster; the action of directing or managing something as, or in the manner of, a ringmaster.
(oxforddictionaries.com)

I’m directing and managing and enjoying the thrill of the circus as I go. Let’s not limit female leaders to the role of a juggler. Women are capable of directing the multiple aspects of their lives with skill, agility, flexibility and flair. If we continue to talk about balancing and juggling we will continue to make women feel like the different aspects of their lives are somehow precarious, uncertain, insecure, and risky.

I want women to feel like every part of their full lives is meaningful, rewarding and completely manageable. In the circus of life, let’s not denigrate women to the role of the juggler, let’s recognise and celebrate them in their rightful role of the ringmaster.