How to manage in a professional services firm

Back to Blog

When you read the words ‘Manage in a professional services firm’ what emotion did that create?  I have to say that the word ‘manage’ almost creates a physiological response that is mostly negative.  To me manage means, control.  I do not like to feel controlled.  I think of the animals at the zoo when asked to stay inside their domains not expressing their true animal like selves.

You may think of your employees as animals, especially as the needs and demands of your clients push down on you.  Clients in professional services firms are your source of true equity and they deserve your very best.  Their best requires you to help lead your people to bring their best to the table every day.

I have 3 suggestions for you to manage in a professional services firm:

1.) Manage Less and Lead More: Ask yourself the question: “What kind of purpose would merit the best of everyone who works here?”  In other words, lead with a purpose vs. manage toward the immediate.   Towers Watson provides 3 factors that create an environment of engagement: 1.) employees need opportunities to advance 2) the company makes a difference  3.) the leader’s behaviors are helpful.

2.) Unleash Their Best:  Imagine if your employee came to work with their creative, passionate and initiating self to work every day.  Ask them the question from above: “What kind of purpose here would merit the very best of you?”

3.) Systems Serve Your Clients: Your systems serve you and your clients not you serving the system.   As you implement a CRM or a client service technology, make sure it becomes a tool to enhance your client’s experience.  How many times does a technology implementation take you away from the purpose of adding real value to your clients?

So what are the barriers from managing well in professional services:

1.) You Are Controlling: When the anxiety comes rolling in the temptation is to micro-manage.  Do you really want to be a controlling manager? I know it seems like the best decision to control.  An even better decision is to inspire, encourage the heart and provide exceptional accountability.  I think your team needs that from you.

2.) You Are Afraid: You are afraid to build a community or a relationship with your direct reports.  Why? Because data filled and strategic conversations keep what is really happening or the real issues away.   A mixture of strategy, data and community will enhance serendipity, innovation and a sense of connectedness.

3.) You Are Anxious: Anxiety is a tricky one.  Anxiety can inform us of real risk or create imaginary fear.  Anxiety can also drive us to behaviors that push others away or we choose to withdraw from others.  The goal is not a lack of anxiety.  The goal is a non-anxious presence.  A well differentiated leader is able to embrace their own anxiety and not pass it on to their team.  Focus on your vision and purpose vs. the gap of what you don’t have.

In closing, my friends at Hogan have a few interesting statistics and quotes related to today’s manager:

1.) Failed executive leadership cost companies anywhere from $1 million to $2.7 million annually.

2.) 75% of workers say that the most stressful part of their job is their immediate supervisor.

3.) Bad managers lack integrity.  They avoid personal accountability and don’t meet their commitments.  They are seen as dishonest in their dealings with others and their behavior is inconsistent with their organizational values.

Managing in a professional services firm is certainly a challenge.  What kind of manager and leader do you want to be? What kind of manager do you want to be remembered as?