Professional service firms are typically built on the back of a skilled individual who has domain knowledge in a specific area like marketing, accounting, law, strategy, etc. In most cases, these firms never grow beyond that specialized individual. Some eventually add more service providers to take up the demand for additional service offerings, and then others build a system that transcends any single individual. It’s at this point that as an individual expert, you have built an engine. The path to sustainable success is a systems mindset by leaders but most professional service firms aren’t oriented this way. Let’s explore how to get there!
There are a few primary reasons many professional service firms stay small…
1. The founder is at the center of the wheel
I ‘m sure this appeals to our egos but there is something pretty secure about an organization built to serve the individual producer. “Hey, I’m the brains here!” is a common but often unstated assumption.
2. Systems are built for the person
As much as technology is designed to liberate us to build faster and more durable businesses, it can often create a barrier because processes and systems are really only understood by the founder or become legacy, and the motivation to change is low.
3. Data is not available or transparent
Most service firms run on founder instincts instead of being metrics-driven. What you can’t measure you can’t improve.
4. Many founders just want to make enough income for themselves
Many service firms are built to serve the income goals of the founder. Once that’s achieved, it’s all about staying steady. We call this a “lifestyle business” and it creates an artificial cap on growth.
5. Growth is “siloed”
If a law firm wants to grow, they add another lawyer. If an accounting firm wants to grow, they add an accountant. Many firms don’t step back and wonder, “Hmm, how could we create more leverage per producer so that growth doesn’t equate to just adding more bodies and instead create a more efficient and scalable system?”
Let me challenge you to think of your professional services firm as a machine with a desire to grow what the machine can produce while constantly look for areas to improve upon it. With a machine mindset, your organization will actually have more time to personalize relationships and drive higher quality services.
Here are the top 5 system mindset actions you can take today to grow your professional services firm:
1. Liberate the Wisdom of the Group
Implement a service like Canny.io or Asana to make it easy for all employees to identify and document ideas for improvement or spot quality issues in the business. Democratize quality and opportunity and unlock the greatness of your team!
2. Make a “What Will I Do Less Of” List
Think about all the things you do that could be delegated or managed by someone else. Commit to building a process that gets these tasks off your plate. Start with one per month and over time, figure out how to make yourself obsolete.
3. Create and Execute OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results)
I could explain this in detail but Asana has a great section explaining how this works. The bottom line is to set clear goals for the team and build plans to achieve them.
4. Create a Learning Culture
Encourage experiments and risk-taking that will lead to mistakes. Therein lies the greatest opportunities for learning. Celebrate the mistakes and the learning and drive a low drama culture where people feel empowered to make decisions. The mantra of “Ask for forgiveness and not for permission” tends to work here.
5. And… HAVE A PURPOSE!
Too many organizations spend time on what they do, not why they do it. The why drives a bigger vision, one that can and should transcend the leadership. The right purpose statement will force eyes to stay on the North Star of possibility and not get mired into “small” company thinking.
At Stride, we help our clients run their back-office bookkeeping/accounting on an outsourced basis so they can put their most precious resources toward staying focused on company building, culture building, and market impact. Companies that are systems focused take a view of the machine of their organization and figure out how to put their right components in the right place that will allow it to run smoothly. Companies that are person-focused tend to peak early and be highly vulnerable to changes in personnel.
If you are or want to be a systems mindset company and want to discuss how we support that leadership, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.