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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Advise To Professional Service Firms

David Maister needs no introduction – the author/co-author of so many books on running professional service firms. He raises the question how professional service firms. could seek and get advice at the highest level. As he sees it, hiring a highly talented retired executive or regulator as full- or part-time vice chairman or senior advisor might be a viable approach to accessing ongoing independent thinking at the top. However, in a number of years the thinking might lose some of its “independence.” So the question is how do professional service firms obtain independent, external input at the leadership level- through directors of the board or through an external advisory or by hiring specialized consultants or outside CXO’s. After this is the age of management innovation. Despite trepidations, the professional service firms may not be all that difficult for well learned outsiders to understand and effectively intervene. Every business claims that they are unique and usually consultants find a common denominator of 80% underneath the different industries. A reality check shows that there’s no more certain way to avoid facing hard issues than to form a committee, establish an oversight board, or hire a new executive to a new position who actually cannot influence how the firm actually does things. Generally speaking outsiders tend to overestimate the impact of corporate boards. In real life we see that adding outsiders theoretically should give the board more power, but rarely does. The biggest barrier for professional firms acting like corporate businesses and getting high-level input at senior levels would likely be their (un)willingness to accept advice!. Fresh breath of air and independent thinking can always help – cross pollination generally bestows rich rewards. An advisory framework aimed at being part of a productive processes, but bereft of sticky structures could be the key. Thoughts definitely well thought out and written, definitely worth pondering. Professional service firms are seen by people linke Tom Peters as the model for future corporations in many ways. Excellence in professional service firms have always been a big ticket item for all interested in running/associated with them.
Speaking generally, I fully agree with David’s ringing endorsement of having principles both in personal and professional life. One way or another, all research conclusions, consulting advice and speeches come down to passion, people and principles

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