Archive for July, 2008

The Change Challenge for Professional Firms

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

David Maister, author, ex Harvard Business Professor and professional firm guru, clearly laid down the challenge to professional service firms such as accountants and lawyers in his book “True Professionalism” (which is now over 10 years old!) He is frequently invited to address gatherings of professionals to speak about how he sees the market place changing and what the latest trends are. He points out that this is a waste of time because what is required is not the ability to predict the market, but to adapt to it in the shortest possible time. This means that the key to success in this rapidly changing market place is to master Change.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” W. Edwards Deming

As far back as 1982 the following trends in the professional market place were predicted:-

  • Fee pressure on mature services
  • Increasingly mobile staff
  • Globalisation of the market place
  • Demand for increasingly specialised services
  • The need for greater counselling skills
  • Increased importance of micro technologies

I think most would agree that these challenges look very contemporary, and somehow 25 years have passed without them being resolved.

He points out (and it is certainly my experience too) that many professional firms tend to be rather change resistant. Certainly plans have been drawn up but implementing them is another matter. He claims they tend to be full of visions and goals but rather short on details about how they can be achieved.

He makes what I think is a crucial observation and I quote “As evolutionary biologists have taught us, the more adapted (ie. Comfortable) you are in your current environment, the less likely it is that you’ll be adaptive to environmental changes” If you think about this carefully, the people who are best adapted to the current environment are most likely to be successful within it and therefore to have power. So today’s winners have far less incentive to ‘rock the boat’ and possibly disrupt a winning formula.

He suggests that it is crucial to get good at listening to your clients and their real needs, and then implementing new management systems to make sure that you can deliver these. Professional firms are full of smart people who often know what needs doing but they need the systems in place to make this not only easy but mandatory. He recommends experimentation to try new ideas ands see if they work both in terms of the market and for the business.

People who have risen through the ranks in a professional environment are often professional experts, but a business requires managing and leading and these skills are not taught as part of those professional qualifications. Furthermore, the ability to talk the language of business builds trust and rapport with clients and prospects who are, of course, business people too.

It is essential to change the way you measure and reward success to align with these new goals; smart, ambitious professionals will not do things which adversely affect their pockets!

He talks about the importance of creating a culture that actually welcomes change. One of the ways he recommends is to invest time and effort in listening to market, and I would add, to your own clients and staff. Don’t be afraid to be innovative. Not every idea will work but the more things you try, the more likely you are to learn things that do work. If your culture attaches more value to not making mistakes than innovation or learning, then what you will get is a slow fossilisation. For the firms to change and grow, so must its people. Personal development, as opposed to just professional development, becomes a key strategy.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Victor Frankl

If the leaders and managers in the firm act as brakes on change rather than facilitators of it, then of course, what you will get is short term results rather than long term growth. Accountants are very good at running spreadsheets and shaving the odd percent off overheads; it takes a different sort of leader to invest in people who can grow the top line.

Here are a few questions you might like to ask at your next management meeting:-

  • What are the barriers to change in this firm?
  • What changes would our clients like to see us adopt?
  • How do we get our people to innovate?
  • How do we encourage them to contribute their ideas?
  • What is the role of the management team in building a firm that embraces change?
  • What are we doing to promote personal growth in all our people?

If you take this challenge I can pretty much guarantee you some very interesting meetings!

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” Robert C. Gallagher

Life is a project

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Regular readers will recall the renovation of Cooke Towers has been a topic that has both occupied much of my attention of late and inspired a number of these blogs. It has taken a lot of time, energy and money to make it all this happen, and whether you are building a pyramid or refurbishing a kitchen, resources have to be organised, sequenced and accounted for. I have just been a little gob-smacked by how much time it has taken to get this to happen. I know this is no surprise to most of you, because you have been here before and no doubt think me a tad naïve to be surprised.

However, at the office we take on all sorts of projects that require a similar degree of organisation. They need time, money, space, bodies, energy, imagination, commitment and a whole lot more, but how many get this? How often do we either lob a ‘little’ project at someone without giving these things due consideration and then we are surprised when it never quite works out the way we hoped.

If you aren’t prepared to resource a Change, then you would be far wiser just keeping schtum and walking on by. If on the other hand it is important to you, commit to it.

“A project is complete when it starts working for you, rather than you working for it.” Scott Allen

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.” Napoleon Hill

Flat pack life

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Yesterday, my son and I spent the best part of 5 hours assembling our new garden furniture.  Attach bar A to frame B with K,L, &N..’   Apart from needing to reverse the odd bit and go out and buy some missing bolts, we done pretty good.  However, despite illustrations, labels and instructions, I always struggle to get these things to come out right.

Unfortunately Life comes with no instructions, no illustrations and no labels. We have to put it together despite all this.  We have three young adults who are currently working out what that means for them, but I well remember being little clearer than they are when I was mid-career.  Luckily I did find my way, but Life comes with no Satnav.  So how do we work out how the various bits fit together?

Well it helps to have a plan, but I think it is even more important to listen to out inner voice about what feels right.  In real life (luckily!) bit A doesn’t have to slot into bit B, it just has to work for us.  Put it together as best you can and if it isn’t working, try something a bit different until it feels right to you.

“Plan out your life on paper but live your life by your heart”  Warren DeMike

The Circles of our Minds

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

“Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it’s face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind”  Michel Legrand

I awoke this morning with these lyrics circling in my head; so not so surprisingly,I start thinking about all the circles that affect our lives.  We live on the third rock for the sun, revolving at 1000mph, which itself orbits a bigger rock at a rate of 67,000 mph, and our whole solar system is also rushing through space at 200km per second! 

If we think about our lives they really are made up of series of patterns we keep repeating, where we shop, where we work, who we see, and the things we do.  It is true that some of us have more variation in our patterns than others, but we all play out these routines.  Obviously they serve a valuable purpose as they save us time, and keep us safe.  However, they also keep us locked up inside a tiny space.

One of the things I love when I am walking is when either we get lost (which is just a way of saying being somewhere you hadn’t intended to be and are not familiar with) or deliberately take an unknown path.  These little forays always open up new vistas and unlock all sorts of new possibilities, and also complete and fill out my mental map.

The Delai Lama recognised the value of Change in out lives in his Tips for Life.  I would suggest is that we recognise the importance of introducing a little space into our lives, by allowing in something new, something we don’t already control. These little cosmic ‘wild cards’ are the very seeds of Change.  Can I challenge you today to do something different, to break a habit, even if it is only as tiny as to wear your watch on the other wrist?

“Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel.
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning
Running rings around the moon”

Code keys & Communication

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Today I got round to setting up security on our home network (at long last!)  Theoretically easy but fiddly when you are dealing with 3 operating systems and multiple machines and wifi cards.  I had to try multiple combinations before I found a setting that worked reasonably on them all.  For those of you who are even less technical than me it works by sharing a code key between the router and the computers. This allows them to unscramble the meaning of the data they are exchanging.

It seemed to me that in groups of people there are similar exchanges whereby you need the key to really understand what is being said.  We sometimes use this system to exclude strangers, kids do it to parents all the time!  The trouble is that where as PCs know that they don’t have the right key and tell you, people just nod and allow you to carry on transmitting in the hope they will unscramble your meaning.  You leave thinking that you have just communicated with them, but they are are far less clear.I often find that this kind of scrambled communication is at the root of many of the problems I deal with.

So if it is important, take the time to make sure that they received the message that you think you transmitted….

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”    George Bernard Shaw

The Hidden Path

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Another feature of yesterday’s walk was the number of times we struggled to find a footpath. Now I’m no Ray Mears, but I’m not bad at navigation; added to which I had a handy GPS and map. Often we would be standing within 20 yards or so of where the path was meant to be and we could see nothing but vegetation. As I explained yesterday, it was pretty over grown, but in addition to that, often shifting your view point by even a few feet made all the difference.

I wonder how often in life, if we just shifted our viewpoint a little bit suddenly we would see our paths? How often don’t we see the path for the trees?

“I dreamed a thousand new paths. . . I woke and walked my old one.” Chinese Proverbs

The nettle strewn path

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

I am often amazed at how the outside world mirrors our inner one.  Today I was out on one of my yomps, down in Hampshire.  It is a magnificent bit of the country and I had planned a route that took us amongst the hangers. We had gone a couple of miles or so when we found that the footpath seemed a tad overgrown.  That isn’t that unusual at this time of year, with all this rain and sunshine.  So we beat our way through waist-high nettles, bracken and brambles, and we emerged into something a little clearer.  However, the further we went, the more nettles we found and by this time we had hacked through so many going back seemed unthinkable.  If I knew at the beginning what I know now, I certainly would never have attempted it; I sit here typing with legs abuzz with nettle stings.

So when you come across an  obstacle, what do you do; beat through it, find some way round it or change your plans? 

“The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong”  Thomas Carlyle
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”  Hannah Moore

Nature abhors a vacuum

Monday, July 21st, 2008

My plans for an easy day were scuppered by the necessity to assume my wife’s tasks as well as my own; chauffeur, handyman, gardener, chef, personal shopper and nurse.  Up at 6.20, shifting stuff in the attic, then off to take daughter No1 to work, then collect daughter No2 from the garage, then her friend from the station, drop them at work, then Homebase; followed by at stint in the garden strimming and pruning, make lunch, collect Daughter no 2, Sainsburys, then after a crafty cuppa, off to collect No 1 child, collect No 2’s car, and home in time to prepare supper!  Before anyone else says it, I know I’d make a lousy Mum!

It is strange how our time can be taken up like this.  In this case it was down to illness, but Life often finds ways of just sucking time out of our days.  It particularly happens when there are things that you feel you need to do but deep down don’t want to face.  If you are finding yourself caught up in this ‘make-work syndrome’, it might be worth asking yourself, what it is you could be avoiding?

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”  Virginia Woolf


Sunday, July 20th, 2008

My best beloved has spent the last 2 days in bed, having cornered the mucus market.  She is feeling totally rotten and useless, and being a woman suffers enormous guilt pangs from being in this state.  Mere males when feeling this way lie back and just make the most of their time in bed.  It is a very minor example of how we respond to being powerless, and that is a deeply troubling state.  All of our upbringing and societal cues tell us that the key to happiness is Power.  Obviously different people have different levels of power in different places and situations.  One of the great levellers is the money, in that my five pound note buys just the same level of attention as the next man’s.

However, there are many situations where we are either powerless or have insufficient power to control the outcomes we want.  It seems to me that perhaps a little education in handling these situations would reduce our stress levels significantly.  I was reading a blog the other day where someone was advocating ‘surrender’.  There are all sorts of situations where you either have no choice, or the outcome really doesn’t matter.  We tend to stress ourselves in trying to make things happen, when perhaps we should just metaphorically (or in my wife’s case literally) lie back and just surrender.

If you are feeling poorly, I wish you well, if you are not then perhaps you too might do well to consider letting go….

“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”   Julia Cameron

“Don’t seek God in temples. He is close to you. He is within you. Only you should surrender to Him and you will rise above happiness and unhappiness.”  Leo Tolstoy

All the right bits… not necessarily in the right order!

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

I was lucky enough to see again the wonderful Morecombe & Wise sketch with André Previn, and yesterday had one of those real life experiences where life seems to imitate art. I was out walking in the country outside Petworth; it is a walk I have done about 5 times over a period of some 8 years and whilst I am modestly familiar with it, it is by no means a route I know well. I managed the navigation without any problem and one by one the landmarks presented themselves, a gate here, a boat there, a little stream etc. The odd thing was that whilst I remembered them, I had no idea they were part of one coherent whole. They were stored as a jumbled series of still shots, not part of a movie clip. In reality it made no difference, but it was a weird, slightly unreal experience. I almost found myself thinking, “Who put that there?”

The fact is that as we navigate our lives, we never have a complete map. We often will tell ourselves that we can’t move forwards because we don’t know this, that or the other when we can never know all these things. Just as I managed my walk, so we can manage our lives, with this incomplete map.

So if today you are hesitating, perhaps it is a good time to move and trust that when you come to the turn, you too will recognise where you need to go. One thing is for sure, staying put won’t change anything!

“Map out your future – but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.” Jon Bon Jovi