Points of View
These articles written by PSfPS give our perspective on the latest psychological and consultancy research, principal themes, topics and trends prevailing in the professional services industry at this time.
Our aim is to give a point of view that provokes further thought and discussion and ultimately leads to mind-set and behaviour change amongst those working within the professional services industry.
We would love to get your thoughts on each Point of View. Please leave a comment and join the discussion.
How firms can develop critical thinking skills to solve unique, unforeseen and complex problems
The England rugby team are one of the world’s top performing sides of recent times.
For over 12 months, they have consistently performed at a higher level than the competition. They are on a national record winning streak and are very close to equalling the world record for consecutive victories.
In common with most high performing teams, England’s meticulous approach to each game could be a case study on planning, practice and preparation.
For 16 games in a row, this meticulous approach to practice had been a winning formula and for the next game against Italy, there was little reason to doubt its effectiveness. Italy would have to do something pretty extraordinary to have any chance of stopping England increasing their winning streak to 17 games.
In the event, Italy were extraordinary.
They implemented a unique tactic that had rarely been seen on a rugby field before.
Despite hours of practise and detailed preparation, England simply could not adapt to solve the problem they were facing. This was an approach they had never envisaged. They could barely work out what was happening and they were seemingly facing playing patterns they hadn’t seen before.
Why, despite hours of expert analysis, scenario planning, drills and practice were the team unable to think critically when it really mattered to solve the problem?
England were struck by a phenomenon that has been known to affect high performing teams: when intuition overrides the ability to think critically.
In a business context, this ‘intuition-bias’ creates an interesting paradox.
It is commonly held that the best way to ensure optimal performance in various business scenarios is to prepare, practise, role-play and simulate the expected interaction/presentation/situation, so when faced with the real-life scenario you can perform to your best.
Yet, when faced with a unique or unforeseen circumstance, too much practice can be detrimental to performance. As the well-known saying goes: a virtue has become a vice.
Our article outlines how firms can ensure they avoid the intuition-bias, namely, by considering how they practise. Rather than simply practising deliberately, high performing teams need to ‘think deliberately’.
The article outlines how managers and coaches can ensure their teams constantly develop their critical thinking skills so that even if they face an extraordinary situation, they have developed the cognitive flexibility to think on their feet and solve the problem.
When someone offers us a point of view that challenges our perception of our own ‘self’, the most common response is to become defensive and dismissive.
As consultants and professional advisors, you shouldn’t expect your clients’ (or prospective clients’) reactions to be any different.
But offering a challenging point of view is a key determinant of the value you bring to a relationship and helping a client see a new opportunity or approach can be integral to their future development and growth prospects.
So how do consultants offer clients a challenging but necessary point of view without being discounted? How do consultants get their clients to say “That’s fair enough” and ask for more information rather than “That’s far enough” and start scanning for an escape route?
The answer is to earn the right to deliver your point of view. How consultants can ‘earn the right’ is the theme of our latest article…
Our Managing Director, William Johnson, recently took part in a webinar for the Human Capital Institute (HCI) with Paul Vincent (Vice President of Global Talent Supply Chain Strategy, Kelly Outsourcing & Consulting Group) on the role of structured analytical thinking in resourcing and talent management decisions.
The webinar covered:
- Why a structured thinking approach is so important
- How to ask the right questions and what these key questions are
- How to collaborate with your procurement colleagues on data collection/analysis
- How to develop conclusions and recommendations for action
- How to have the critical internal/external conversations
You can view a recording of the webinar on the HCI website by following the link below (registration required):
“A mathematician starts with a problem and creates a solution; a consultant starts by offering a ‘solution’ and creates a problem.”
– Nassim Taleb in “The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms” (2010)
When I first read this quote by Nassim Taleb I couldn’t help but wince.
Yes, it is a sweeping generalisation (the definition of an aphorism is “a pithy observation which contains a general truth”) and doesn’t represent most of the consultants with whom we work.
Yet, for others, the quote will be a little too close to home.
Taleb’s quote is a neat and slightly contentious example of how ‘Procrustean solutions’ may impact the world of consulting.
Our article is based on the Greek mythological story of Procrustes, the macabre owner of an inn who developed a special bed that would fit any traveller who lay upon it. Unfortunately, all was not as it seemed… the bed didn’t resize to fit the traveller, the traveller resized to fit the bed.
In this Point of View article we examine Procrustean solutions in more detail – when a client is made to fit a pre-determined solution (bed) rather than the solution being specifically tailored to fit the client – and how they might negatively affect two key aspects of a consultant’s work: analytical problem-solving (the bedrock of strategic consultancy projects) and business development.
The Point of View concludes by suggesting ways that firms can ensure they are not affected by the scourge of the Procrustean solution…
Including an interview with Paul Vincent, Head of Global Talent Supply Chain Strategy at KellyOCG
‘Jobs’ are being redefined in a multitude of different ways and we are now truly entering the age of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ where resourcing decisions around an organisation’s “talent” – their intellectual capital, expertise, specialised skillsets – are critical drivers of a firm’s value, success, innovation, competitiveness and growth.
But how can organisations ensure they access the right talent with the required skills at the right time? This is a conundrum for many of our clients and given the number of variables at play, it is not an easy one to overcome. To help us understand the options in more detail we spoke with Paul Vincent, Head of Global Talent Supply Chain Strategy at KellyOCG.
This Point of View examines:
– The primary resourcing implications of an organisation’s business strategy, introduced as the ‘Buy/Build/Borrow’ equation
– Why there needs to be a step change in attitudes and strategies towards workforce planning and why the ‘Talent Supply Chain’ within some organisations is not as effective as it could be, or needs to be
– What ‘Strategic Workforce Planning’ actually means and why it is becoming far more important
– How and why resourcing decisions should be a direct result of reliable and valid strategic analysis; driven by the firm’s overarching corporate objectives
– The options for deploying a strategic thinking approach within a talent management context
– Why organisations who adopt a long-term, proactive contextual approach to resourcing decisions will stand the best chance
Throughout 2016 we were regularly asked by clients on our programmes: How can we make our firm stand out from the competition? How can we get new clients to buy from us and how can we get our existing clients to refer more contacts to us?
The key is this: it doesn’t matter why you think you are different or why you think clients buy from you. All that matters is what the client thinks.
Your firm’s difference, uniqueness and strength is in the mind of the beholder; it is a function of the client, not your professional services firm. To get new clients and to get existing clients to refer more business you need to have a clear understanding of the client’s perspective of your firm. What do they really think of you? What do they admire or dislike? Why do they buy from you and why do they (or don’t they) refer you to their own contacts?
In order to get our participants to really think about their clients’ perspectives we often run an exercise with them:
If your clients had a ringtone for you (or your firm) what would it be? Would there be a difference between the ringtone you thought they had and the one they actually have?
In this article we have put together a few examples of ringtones professional services advisors might think their clients have for them and the ringtone their clients might actually have. To turn the tables, we have also put together a few ringtones you might have for some of your own clients…
Why the critical factor for success in professional services is not simply expertise (IQ) but emotional intelligence (EQ).
- What is emotional intelligence and why is it so important in professional services?
- Developing emotional intelligence to progress and lead in the unique dynamics of professional services firms
- Why is Emotional Intelligence still underdeveloped in Professional Services Firms?
- It’s time to give emotional intelligence the status it deserves in professional services
Our latest Point of View article examines the fundamental role of emotional intelligence (EQ) in professional services.
The article suggests that while high levels of expertise (IQ) is important, it is not enough on its own.
Why? Because what truly determines the success of a professional services firm is the ability of your experts to start, nurture, influence and manage relationships with clients. It is how your specialist experts interact with clients to distinguish the firm from other potential service providers and it is how your technical experts react and behave during the essential ‘human’ interaction element involved in providing a service.
In short, the critical factor for success in professional services is not simply expertise but emotional intelligence.
The article examines the importance of developing emotional intelligence to lead and progress in the unique political and cultural dynamics found in many professional services firms and asks why, if emotional intelligence is so important, is it still underdeveloped in many firms compared to technical skills and knowledge?
Finally, the article argues that now is the time to give emotional intelligence the status it deserves in professional services: there is nothing ‘soft’ about soft skills…
Why US politicians need to pause, take stock, and adopt a hypothesis-based structured analytical thinking approach as used by high-level consulting firms…
The world is trying to come to terms with the fact that Donald Trump has won the US Election. Brexit plus!
How did this happen? What now?
Many have already concluded why Trump won the election, so the Democratic party may be able to tick off the first ‘How did this happen’ question:
It’s because of a white, working-class revolt, it’s because of James Comey, it’s because Trump was impermeable to scandal, it’s because of Wikileaks, it’s because Trump is anti-establishment personified, it’s because Trump was a marketing genius, it’s because people despised the Clinton dynasty, it’s because neoliberalism is a flawed ideology, it’s because of voter suppression, it’s because a significant number of US nationals are inherently racist and/or sexist.
It’s time for some structured thinking.
Clearly some of these hypotheses are more likely than others – while others are just offensive to many voters.
The critical point is this: they are only hypotheses. Hypotheses that need to be rigorously tested. They are not conclusions.
In this Point of View, our advice for the US Democratic party is this: to formulate a valid and reliable action plan, pause, take stock, and adopt a rigorous, hypothesis-based structured analytical thinking approach as used by high-level consulting firms.
Why? Because, similarly to the challenges currently faced by the US Democratic party, consultants are often asked to solve unstructured, complex and ambiguous problems by clients who want clear actions and recommendations very quickly.
As well as a outlining the key steps in the structured analytical thinking process, our Point of View should act as a reminder to consultants (and strategists) that despite high emotions and time-pressures they should not jump to conclusions because it sets a dangerous precedent for poor decision-making and prejudiced thinking…
Redefining the Role of Marketing in a Professional Services Firm & Introducing the ‘Hidden Curriculum’
Marketing in a professional services firm could be perceived as “a dead end position.”
So said Paul Bloom in the Harvard Business Review of September 1984.
While much has undoubtedly changed since Bloom wrote his article, in many firms the attitudes towards the role of marketing have changed little in over 30 years.
Indeed, recent research suggests that many professional services firms remain ‘two-tier organisations’ with marketing – and other ‘support functions’ – very much in the lower tier.
Why is marketing often viewed as a ‘second-tier’ function?
In our view, it’s firstly because of the prevailing sceptical attitudes of some partner and fee-earners towards marketing professionals and secondly the perceived value created for the firm by ‘traditional’ marketing activities, that is, they could be a waste of effort with marketing teams only controlling those activities which matter least.
To overcome these two challenges, we believe it is time to redefine the role of marketing in a professional services firm.
The emphasis for marketing teams needs to shift to supporting those activities that are at the foundation of a professional services firm’s success: namely, the critical interactions that occur when creating new and strengthening existing client relationships.
In our view, the dominant role of a marketing manager in a professional services firm should be to act, in effect, as a ‘consultant’ or ‘coach’ to the partner group.
The marketing/partner relationship should mirror that of the professional advisor (fee-earner)/client relationship.
This new role will require a re-evaluation of the core skills expected of marketing individuals, in contrast to the skills developed in a traditional marketing curriculum and career.
We believe there is a ‘hidden curriculum of professional services marketing’ that will give marketers the skills and abilities to succeed in their new role as strategic ‘consultants’ to the partner and fee-earner group.
Only by redefining the role of marketing to focus on those activities that add real value to the firm and by developing the ‘hidden’ skills and abilities required in a consulting capacity, will marketing teams be able to truly add value to the firm and prove to hitherto sceptical partners that marketing deserves a place at the top table.
It is an interesting question and something we have often considered, having been asked by several clients if we could turn our training programmes into short, bite-size eLearning modules.
There are several advantages of eLearning (outlined in this Point of View) and it is easy to understand why clients and those responsible for training might prefer online programmes for their organisations.
Despite these perceived advantages, it is clear to us that, while online learning is very well suited to acquiring knowledge and theory, it is poorly suited to developing behavioural and cognitive skills and then to ensuring the learning sticks.
Fundamentally it’s because the acquisition of knowledge is very different from the acquisition of skills.
When it comes to behavioural and cognitive skills, the right context and environment is critical. To acquire and then become proficient in behavioural and cognitive skills requires learning, practising, coaching and on-going feedback in real-life situations or simulated environments that are as closely aligned to real-world interactions as possible.
Using the latest psychological research and real world examples (including the UK Driving Theory Test), this Point of View questions the perceived benefits of online learning in the context of cognitive and behavioural skills and argues that there is not yet an acceptable online solution for learning and development managers tasked with developing these skills in their workforce…
Why women-only development programmes are important but not the complete answer
We’ve always experienced some discomfort about the idea of providing a skill development programme designed for women-only groups, despite the demand from organisations and women themselves.
Recently our discomfort has been echoed by some of our clients who have concerns that women-only training actually undermines equality.
In this Point of View we examine the role of women-only training and how we believe it fits into the bigger picture in the workplace. We also explore what work needs to be done towards gender balance at all levels of an organisation.
Ultimately we believe that women-only development is useful. The supportive, empathetic dynamic of a women- only group, plus the particular challenges that women face from male-stereotyped environments, means that there is a desire from many women (regardless of their seniority) to understand better how their own socialised expectations and the stereotyped expectations of others may have an influence on their behaviour and its interpretation at work.
Women-only programmes can provide participants with an awareness of bias and its implications, and opportunity to discuss strategies for dealing with current organisational cultures. They also help build skills in areas where many women have had enough of feeling uncomfortable and at a disadvantage, such as self- advocacy, negotiation on behalf of themselves, asking for things and taking credit.
However. And it’s a big however… gender balance in organisations will not be achieved by women-only programmes, or by developing professional skills in women. While we think the content of women-only programmes is both valuable to and welcomed by women, the problem is when the presence of such a programme positions the lack of equality in an organisation as a ‘women’s problem’, or a ‘problem with women’.
Women-only networks, diversity groups or training programmes are not the solution to gender inequality at work. Critically, it requires that the culture of the organisation is examined and changed where necessary so that it is equally attractive to women and men. The organisation that says: ‘it’s hard to find women who fit our company culture’ has got the diagnosis of the issue the wrong way round…
Here’s an idea…
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could invent a microwave bed?
OK. Here’s another idea…
Wouldn’t it be great if we could watch the “Great British Bake Off” and suddenly be Master Bakers?
More wishful thinking?
OK. Last one. A combination of the two…
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a behavioural change programme over a 1-hour lunch break?
We’ve yet to see a microwave bed, or a microwave being used on ‘Bake Off’. We don’t expect to see effective “Microwave Behavioural Training’ any time soon either…
Featuring individual analysis of firms including: Savills, JLL, Strutt & Parker, CBRE, Knight Frank, Chestertons, Colliers International, Cushman & Wakefield
Property and real estate firms face a real conundrum.
It stems from a desire to stop clients seeing them as simply ‘agents’ with short-term, lower value, transactional relationships – what we might describe as a ‘product-based’ approach.
Firms would much rather be seen as advisors with long term, higher value, collaborative client relationships – what we might describe as a consulting-led approach.
The fundamental problem for property and real estate firms is that every firm has the same objective.
As a result, despite their best intentions, firms often say the same thing, use expected stock phrases and at first glance to clients look exactly the same as one another.
To examine this lack of differentiation further, we analysed the websites of some of the best-known real estate firms and put our findings into individual word clouds. It is clear from these word clouds that many firms look exactly the same. Indeed, similarly to our analysis of the top 10 global consulting firms, if you remove the brand name from each word cloud, it would be nearly impossible to tell one property firm from another…
So how can property firms really distinguish themselves from the competition?
It begins with understanding that to truly be advisors and consultants – as opposed to agents – they need to adopt a consultative approach that aligns every behaviour, process, action and tool towards the client.
This Point of View outlines what a ‘consultative approach’ actually means for property firms and the associated key skills and behaviours we would expect to see in the top performing real estate firms…
What is specific about professional services firms that make them more averse to embracing change?
Most training is useless. Just ask David Maister.
Despite best intentions, many people who attend programmes to learn new skills and discover fresh approaches simply “go back to the way we have always worked” once they return to the firm.
Unfortunately our research, feedback and experience suggest professional services firms are particularly reluctant to change – even if the potential rewards might be great.
Why? Why do professional services firms, compared to other industries, have a particular favouritism for the status quo?
Essentially, it’s because being different is risky and uncomfortable. Moving from the status quo requires an acceptance that failure is a realistic consequence of originality.
In our experience, the prevailing culture and unique dynamics specifically found in many professional services firms amplify the perceived level of risk and intensify the consequences of failure. As a result, change is more uncomfortable and new ways of working are not always supported.
Using our own experiences and some excellent research by Prof. Laura Empson, this Point of View article outlines 10 unique dynamics of a professional services firm’s culture that create a greater barrier to risk-taking, intensify the fear of failure and create a reluctance to try a new, different (but possibly risker) approach – even when the rewards are potentially great.
Dynamics outlined in the article include individual autonomy, selective intervention, maintaining social capital, a blame and activity driven culture, power in ambiguity, burden of consensus, social embeddedness, lack of sharing and an obligation to preserve tradition.
We also provide recommendations to professional services firms who want to promote change initiatives…
A learning curriculum to help professional services firms achieve excellence
Consulting Excellence is the ground-breaking new scheme for the UK’s leading management consulting firms. It is a hallmark of quality that enables clients to make a better choice when buying consulting services and commits firms to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, client service and professionalism.
As an Associate Member of the MCA we are delighted and proud to sign up to and support this new initiative.
To achieve the three ‘Consulting Excellence’ professional development principles, as well as attaining exceptional analytical and business modelling ‘technical’ skills, consultants need to learn and excel in certain ‘non-technical’ cognitive and behavioural consulting skills.
Throughout a consulting career, consultants are expected to assume certain core responsibilities that can be summarised into four main areas. The shouldering of each responsibility changes as a consulting career progresses:
Consult: Core consulting activities that deliver value, identify opportunities and solve problems for clients
Manage: Lead a consulting team and manage client engagements
Business Development: Develop a stream of business (with new or existing clients) for consultants to deliver
Lead: Grow the business, exemplify the brand, embody the culture and ensure the firm’s legacy and heritage
To fulfil each key responsibility with distinction requires a consultant to apply a variety of behavioural and cognitive skills throughout their career, many of which will not be intuitive.
Having trained management consultants worldwide for over 25 years, in this Point of View article we have identified the core abilities and skills relevant to each responsibility and believe firms who learn, adopt, share and model these skills among their consultants will be best placed to achieve the ambitions of Consulting Excellence.
Despite the focus on consulting, the core elements of the learning curriculum could be relevant to any professional services firm…
How to stand out when logic suggests your firm should offer all things to all people whilst not appearing too specialist?
Including a word cloud analysis of the Top 10 Global Consulting Firms
The success of psychics relies on their subjects displaying two similar cognitive biases: ‘Subjective validation’ and ‘Confirmation bias’. Based on these biases, psychics are successful when what they say is vague and general enough that it could apply to a wide audience and positive enough without being unbelievably positive.
Based on a word cloud analysis of the Top 10 Global Consulting firms, it would appear that professional services firms who want to win as many engagements as possible rely on similar tactics. You need to try and differentiate your firm while:
Being general enough to appeal to as wide an audience whilst not being too specific for fear you will be deselected.
The key paradox for professional services firms is therefore: if cognitive biases and market dynamics mean you have to appear to be ‘all things to all people’ to meet clients’ expectations and yet not too specialist to avoid being discounted, how do you differentiate your firm from the competition without fear of being deselected?!
It all comes down to behaviours: the way your employees act in the critical moments of truth once the client or prospect has chosen to engage. It is how you illustrate that, in contrast to other firms, you could create real, tangible value for the client.
This Point of View details the cognitive biases and market dynamics that are driving firms to try and appear ‘all things to all people’ while removing the option to differentiate through specialisation. We then argue that while not being too specific, offering many service options and using expected stock phrases might be important to stop your firm being deselected in initial touch points (such as the website) equally, continuing to adopt a cautious approach in the way you behave will also stop you from being selected.
The article outlines the core behaviours that will always differentiate your professional services firm, many of which are not innate and must be learned, practised and refined…
You’ve probably heard the well-known business parable about a broken engine, an old man and a hammer that goes like this:
“A giant engine in a factory failed. The factory owners had spoken to several ‘experts’ but none of them could show the owners how they could solve the problem.
Eventually the owners brought in an old man who had been fixing engines for many years. After inspecting the huge engine for a minute or two, the old man pulled a hammer out of his tool bag and gently tapped on the engine.
Immediately the engine sprung back into life.
A week later the owners of the business received an invoice from the old man for £10,000. Flabbergasted, they wrote to the old man asking him to send through an itemised bill. The man replied with a bill that said:
Tapping with a hammer: £2.00
Knowing where to tap: £9,998.00
The moral of the story is that, while effort is important, having the experience to know where to put that effort makes all the difference.”
It is hard to argue with the moral of this simple tale but it perhaps undersells the different learning points that could be taken by consulting firms (or those organisations seeking to adopt a consultative approach).
Using a bit of critical thinking (and imagination!) we think the parable could be used to show implications for firms with regards to consulting skills, business development behaviours and even alternative pricing methods.
We also think that the ‘old man’ was not perhaps as perfect as the parable might lead us to believe…
We should get something straight right away – this is not another article arguing for or against the EU referendum result. Our Point of View is based on a particularly worrying aspect of the whole EU Referendum debate, namely, the rejection of experts, research-based evidence and facts.
We look at the implications for those working in consulting or advisory services and argue that politicians could learn a great deal by following the same critical thinking approach and rigourous, objective enquiry used by high level consulting firms.
The crucial point is this: consultants should set out to test their hypotheses, not prove their hypotheses. As Karl Popper said: “If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.
Based on this premise, we examine how a consultant might have approached the EU Referendum as if it were a consulting engagement, adopting a rigorous and critical thinking approach.
Finally, the article argues that the EU Referendum should be a wake up call for consultants and business advisers because a consultant who chooses to argue a position based on a personal agenda or presupposed argument seriously risks disenfranchising their clients and formulating mistaken conclusions.
“True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.”
A new book by Jeremy Raymond – May 2016
We are delighted to announce that PSfPS Associate Jeremy Raymond has launched his new book: “Secrets of Great Salespeople: 50 Ways to Sell Business-To-Business.”
Jeremy Raymond has worked with William Johnson, Managing Director of PSfPS, since the early 1990s and having been interviewed for the book, William is kindly listed as a contributor.
The book promotes many of the philosophies and ideas we advocate in our own business development training programmes for professional services firms (and non-traditional service firms who wish to learn from the best practices used within professional services).
We have kindly been given permission by Jeremy and the publishers to provide extracts of the book here and have chosen four specific chapters that we believe most closely match the learning, modelling, explanation and coaching we offer in our “Business development behaviours” programmes:
Chapter 1: Enquiry before advocacy
Chapter 18: The brand is you
Chapter 21: First meetings test your status
Chapter 35: Spontaneity takes practice
We have also provided sections from the introduction of the book which give a further flavour of the content of the book. Should you enjoy reading the extracts, we would urge you to purchase a copy here.
It is likely you will have seen or heard the ‘Think different’ advertising campaign run by Apple in the late 1990s (“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…).
An interesting but little-known subplot to the ‘Think different’ campaign is that Steve Jobs, whilst a fan of the overall concept, patently loathed the original commercial when it was proposed to him. His words were:
“It sucks! I hate it! It’s advertising agency shit! I thought you were going to write something like ‘Dead Poets Society!’ This is crap!”
The role of a consultant (or ‘advisor’) is to ‘Think different’, to offer a new perspective, a unique point of view based on an analysis of the client’s situation, needs and objectives.
However, as the story above neatly illustrates, it can sometimes be a risky and uncomfortable experience, particularly if the new point of view challenges and threatens the client’s position, judgment and supposed knowledge.
It is ironic that, while pitching an idea to ‘Think different’, the individuals who had indeed thought differently were vilified and opposed but would eventually be seen as geniuses – exactly as the commercial’s prose predicted!
As a result, it is easy to understand why a consultant may take the cosy option, maintain the status quo and tell the client exactly what he wants to hear.
However, choosing this easy option goes against the very essence of being a consultant.
Rather than the comfortable, cosy, easy option, this article illustrates why offering a unique point of view has to be the preferred strategy for a consultant and how it is entirely possible to mitigate any perceived risk and to manage client interactions effectively.
Finally, the article argues that as a consultant you have to move from ‘kiss-ass’ to ‘kick-ass’. You need to be brave, be remarkable, perhaps a little crazy and not afraid to ‘Think different’…
On March 24th 2016, the legendary footballer and manager, Johan Cruyff, passed away. To many he belongs among the hallowed quartet of truly exceptional individuals who have played the game: Pelé, Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stéfano.
These are players who somehow transcended their sport to become household names and globally renowned superstars, adored by their countrymen and an inspiration to millions.
In this Point of View, we examine five aspects of Johan Cruyff’s career that could act as a five step blueprint for values, culture and behaviours in your own business:
1. Start with a vision, then create a philosophy with a clear set of shared values
2. The philosophy and value set drive the required behaviours
3. Define the metrics that reward the right behaviours, even if they are not easy to measure
4. Education is the foundation of success and creates an enduring legacy
5. Be remarkable and often spectacular
Organisational sacred cows can be fine if they drive positive behaviours, beneficial client relationships and a thriving culture. However, when these sacred cows drive negative, out-dated and unsustainable behaviours, publicly slaughtering one can strongly signal positive change.
One such sacred cow for many professional services firms (particularly law firms – on whom this article focuses) is the ‘billable hour’.
This Point of View argues the top performing firms believe in putting the client first, doing things the right way and having a deeply rooted value set which drives all behaviours and any sacred cow that rewards behaviours directly against these values, such as the billable hour, should be slaughtered.
The article also examines ‘value-based pricing’ with its associated benefits and drawbacks and how some law firms are adopting alternative pricing models in practice…
Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? How organisations can overcome big data’s two biggest obstacles
Most organisations across the world are acutely aware of the significant competitive advantage big data and advanced analytics strategies could create for both their own businesses and those of their clients.
Recent research suggests that there are two main obstacles to the successful implementation of big data strategies that are yet to be overcome by a significant number of organisations:
Obstacle 1: Success for data-driven strategies relies heavily on technically brilliant ‘data scientists’ who may lack key skills and behaviours
Obstacle 2: There is lack of a clear, consistent and robust process to manage ‘information overload’
This Point of View suggests that to overcome these obstacles firms need to:
– Develop and cultivate ‘bilinguals’ (or ‘integrative thinkers); and
– Embrace a firm wide, cohesive, structured analytical thinking process
The article argues that firms need to develop their data scientists into ‘bilinguals’ (or ‘integrative thinkers) who can understand the intricacies of the data but also the ‘nuts and bolts’ of business and then communicate any findings, conclusions and recommendations throughout the organisation. To achieve this requires the adoption of a robust, reliable and cohesive structured analytical thinking process firm-wide and the embracing of associated skills and behaviours…
Part 2: Key Trends and Implications for 2016
In Part 2 of our Behavioural and Cognitive Professional Development Report 2016, PSfPS have determined the following 10 key trends that will affect the professional services industry and the possible implications for firms with regards to learning and development strategy, managing client relationships and behavioural change.
1. Competition for talent remains fierce. Use on-going training and development to remain a destination of choice for top performers
2. Developing cognitive and behavioural skills is as important as refreshing technical knowledge and should not be seen as a discretionary spend
3. Success in professional services is now about adopting an ‘advisory’ approach and finding new value for clients. The cognitive and behavioural skills required to achieve this ambition are not intuitive
4. Clients are more knowledgeable than ever. How employees perform in critical ‘moments of truth’ will define your business performance and brand
5. Professional services firms should develop a consistent analytical approach to resist any perceived commoditisation of their services
6. Traditional metrics of professional services performance ensure prevailing cultures remain. As a result, firms will struggle to change behaviours
7. Leaders and senior managers have to embody new behaviours from the top. Only then can cultural change really happen
8. Employees have to take personal responsibility for ensuring behaviour change. Training should not be viewed as a standalone ‘learning event’
9. Digital, analytics, big data and new technologies will continue to dominate agendas for professional services firms. Develop ‘bilinguals’ who understand complex areas but also communicate in business language
10. How to develop and manage Millennials should remain high on the agenda for professional services firms. Millennials are the future leaders of your firm but key skills are lacking
Survey into the current state of behavioural and cognitive development in the professional services industry
Following every PSfPS programme we ask participants a set of questions about how they plan to embed the learning at their firms and what difficulties they anticipate in applying what they have learned.
Having analysed over a thousand participant responses to these questions over the past year, we have been able to gain a snapshot of the key issues facing the top professional services firms in the world today with regards to professional development and behaviour change.
Our research suggests the fundamental skills and behaviours required of those working in professional services are not intuitive and still need to be codified, learned, practiced and refined, especially in relation to critical thinking, communication, presenting with impact and business development.
Using critical thinking as an example, our findings suggest that despite the clear benefits, before attending a formal training event, individuals do not regularly use a structured analytical thinking process in their everyday work. Individuals that do have prior knowledge of the required process and skills, frequently find an inability to apply the theory in everyday activities often due to a scarcity of time (even though the use of the process saves time!) and senior management support.
With regards to instilling behaviour change and embedding the learning, participant data shows that culture and prevailing mindsets in professional services firms still create barriers.
There continues to be a disparity in some firms between the new behaviours and processes that employees learn, which should be to the benefit of their firms and how their performance is actually measured and rewarded once they are back in the workplace. Similarly, Senior Managers often do not embody the behaviours or know the same processes that they are asking their more junior employees to utilise.
Participants’ responses suggest that behaviour change in professional services is not being effectively achieved because:
i. The act of sharing best practice and learning is not widely encouraged and mechanisms for sharing are rarely in place. Hence, employees simply go “back to the way we have always worked”;
ii. The prevailing culture in many professional services firms (short-term, metric-focused, ‘activity-driven’) means behavioural change is not always supported.
Confidence is a prerequisite mindset for a successful management consultant and is an essential trait when meeting a CEO, senior stakeholder or potential client who will test your knowledge to the full.
However, in order to justify a level of confidence, consultants need to have earned the right to ‘be in the room’.
The problem for consultants is that occasionally confidence can be superseded by a sense of entitlement which can also breed complacency. Consultants start to simply go through the motions, often in the belief that whatever they say will be met with agreement and perhaps even adulation.
This Point of View provides examples of how consultants might earn the right to ‘be in the room’ and outlines the negative outcomes that may arise should a consultant believe they are simply entitled to be in the room…
What professional services firms can learn from astronauts about turning down the foghorn in their minds…
Space exploration is amazing. Those who undertake the treacherous journey into space are truly remarkable people. No one would ever dream of sending an astronaut into space who has not learned, practiced and refined certain behaviours again and again in a simulated environment. The results would be catastrophic.
The problem in professional services? It is very rare to have the opportunity to practise and fail.
The key point about learning and practising in a simulated environment is that you are allowed the opportunity to learn from failure without disastrous consequences. You are able to reframe your thinking and condition your brain to react in a certain way so that, when faced with a similar situation in the real world, you are able to behave rationally and think clearly.
Why then do so many people working in professional services, who have to face potentially difficult and unfamiliar scenarios on a regular basis, decide to practise the required key behaviours for the first time, in real time, where failure isn’t an option – but highly likely?
This Point of View examines the science behind learning from practising and failing, specifically relating to the role of the “Amygdala Hijack” (as coined by Goleman 1995), or as we describe it, the ‘foghorn in your mind’.
The article argues that learning, preparation, practice, simulation, role-playing, modeling and coaching are the essential building blocks that allow astronauts (and those in professional services), when faced with a real-life scenario, to think straight and turn down the foghorn in their minds.
Astronauts, who are never very far from disaster, would most definitely agree that practising and failing is better than failing in practice. It’s time for those working in professional services to be more like astronauts…
While driving to work last week, I found myself singing along to a few old favourite festive tunes and it struck me that it always seems to be the same songs played on repeat at this time of year. Why haven’t we moved on? What is creating this loyalty?
The answer is they are not just songs – they ‘are’ Christmas. It’s because of what the songs represent, the memories they arouse, the nostalgia and how they make us feel.
We continue to make the decision to ‘buy’ these songs and are unwaveringly loyal because of the positive emotions they evoke.
Why is this discourse on our choice of Christmas tunes at all relevant to you? The answer is that feelings and emotions play a similarly large part in every business decision.
Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.
Professional services firms should remember that business decisions are never simply about price, ability, functionality, technical skills or business acumen – which many firms can offer – but about how the firm can differentiate itself by emotional impact.
This Point of View examines the most recent science behind emotions in decision-making and provides practical implications for businesses.
A feature series of Points of View articles based on latest research, client interviews, surveys and academic papers
The Millennial generation, with their unique attitudes and values, combined with an identified skills gap, pose significant challenges for professional services firms but also provide great opportunities if their potential can be harnessed.
Based on latest Millennials research, client interviews, surveys and academic articles, PSfPS have written a short series of articles giving our Points of View on the current situation and outlining potential implications for professional services leaders, particularly with regards to learning and development, talent management, HR strategy and future leadership decisions.
By 2020, Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. It is time for professional services firms to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities offered by this unique generation of employees…
‘Millennials’ – also known as Generation Y – are individuals who were born in the early 1980s to late 1990s and will come of age in the early noughties (2000s).
For some, Millennials are lazy, narcissistic, job-hopping, praise seeking, entitled, skill-lacking, under-prepared digital addicts. Others see them as digitally proficient, adaptable, confident, creative, knowledge-seeking catalysts for accelerated business change.
From recent client conversations and speaking to many professional services firms we know that one of the key questions currently being asked by senior managers and directors of professional services firms is how to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities offered by the Millennial generation…
Recent research of both employers and Millennials has found both groups agreeing that current education systems do not help students attain the required skills and behaviours to succeed in business.
This Point of View article outlines potential reasons why education is not giving students the required skills to survive in a real business environment and discusses why the perceived skills gap should be of concern to business leaders in professional services.
The article finds only a small percentage of business professionals believe that hard skills are more important than soft skills and argues that the fundamental skills required to succeed in professional services are ‘human’ skills, which can only be acquired through human experiences, interaction, coaching, explanation, modelling, collaboration, coaching, feedback and mentoring.
Fortunately, it is found that Millennials are keen to learn and develop skills and behaviours that will help them progress throughout their careers.
The next step for professional services firms is therefore to determine of what skills and behaviours a rounded business career skillset should comprise and then to establish how these skills and behaviours can be learned, developed, practiced and refined within the firm.
In order to formulate a learning and development strategy to overcome the perceived skills gap among Millennials, firms must first define the rounded skillset required to succeed in a 21st Century professional services environment.
Based on research and experience, the 21st Century professional services rounded skill set for Millennials is defined as
- Digital proficiency
- Technical knowledge
Which is most successfully applied when combined with:
- Human’ skills and behaviours
Fundamentally, Millennials working in professional services will most successfully apply technical expertise and digital proficiency when it is combined with ‘human’ skills and behaviours. Core business operations are all founded on learning and developing core ‘human’ skills and behaviours.
Moving beyond the concepts of ‘soft skills’ and ‘emotional intelligence’, the article defines human skills required by Millennials as either:
- Competencies – needed to approach complex challenges at work, and
- Character Qualities – needed in the new work environment
Millennials are different, with their own unique attitudes and values. They want to learn and they want to work hard, they just want to learn and work differently to previous generations. Firms who show commitment to the learning and development of their Millennial workforce will gain loyal, committed and engaged employees.
This article provides a potential framework that professional services might follow to develop ‘human’ skills among their Millennial workforce. The proposed framework is based on the McKinsey Quarterly article of June 2003 entitled “The Psychology of Change Management”.
Capability Building: Professional services firms should ensure that the necessary infrastructure and mechanisms are in place for Millennial employees to learn, practice, develop and then refine the human skills required to succeed in business based on an analysis of individual skills and capabilities gaps.
A Compelling Story: Employees will only change their mindsets if they can see the point of change and agree with it, which has interesting implications when considering the learning and development needs of the Millennial generation.
Consistent Role Modelling: In order for Millennials to learn the required ‘human’ skills, they must be exposed to “significant other” role models (those in a position of influence) in their professional services firm who “walk the talk” and are able to coach them in and also demonstrate the right behaviours.
Reinforcement Systems: The final building block is to ensure that firms put in place ‘reinforcement systems’ such as feedback; appraisals; coaching and opportunities for Millennials to practice newly acquired human skills on an on-going basis, in a live business environment.
5. Can a ‘traditional’ professional services firm’s culture ever be compatible with the attitudes and expectations of Millennials?
Professional services firms should be under no illusion – the Millennials are coming. In the next few years, Millennials will make up the largest proportion of the workforce and will become the leaders of your firm.
Over the last few months PSfPS have extensively researched the role of Millennials in professional services with regards to their attitudes and existing skills set and it has become clear that some firms have already started to adapt their policies and procedures to satisfy the unique attitudes, desires and expectations of their Millennial employees.
However, when specifically focusing on professional services an overarching question still remains:
Can a traditional professional services firm’s culture ever be compatible with the attitudes and expectations of Millennials?
Using real examples, this Point of View article examines how firms should start to adapt their cultures (behaviours, processes and mindsets) to become more compatible with the attitudes of their Millennial employees without forgetting that Millennials also have a role to play.
Those firms who continue to maintain a ‘traditional’ culture could well be perceived as out-dated and old-fashioned and will not be where Millennials decide to pursue a fulfilling and engaging career.
The only way to change a ‘traditional’ culture is to change its associated traditions. Stop eulogising about the past but instead establish new traditions that are compatible with the attitudes of Millennials.
Firms should seize the opportunity to redefine their version of ‘traditional’ – otherwise, be under no illusion, the Millennials and market will redefine it for them…
Internal consultants can be like coffee for your organisation.
At their best, internal consultants can provide your organisation with the ‘kick’ it really needs to pursue change.
Over time, however, research suggests internal consultants can become ‘decaffeinated’ as a result of internal politics and company culture and may require an external ‘surrogate partner’ to ensure they remain focused, energised and objective…
When it comes to critical conversations, consultants have a huge weakness. They just cannot help themselves. They know they shouldn’t do it but the urge is too great. It just has to come out.
The white angel on the consultant’s left shoulder says, “Don’t do it, don’t say it, now is not the time – it’s too early.”
The red devil on the consultant’s right shoulder says, “Go on, it’s fine, you’ve heard enough, just say it.”
The consultant gives in, the nodding begins, the eyes glaze over and then:
“Ok, I understand.”
This Point of View illustrates why consultants should resist the urge to say “I understand” too quickly and how to undertake critical conversations with clients, prospects and colleagues…
Including a checklist of questions to assess whether you are ready to take on a more active role
There are those in organisations who would happily say “Good riddance” to consultants. In particular, those who believe consultants cosy up to management, learn at a company’s expense and take the results with them.
There are others, however, who have had far more positive experiences and are willing to defend the use of consultants against the tough stance that the Board, the Audit Committee and other stakeholders may take.
With protagonists on both sides, decision makers in both the private and public sector should continually re-assess when it is right to use consultants – and what they can do to use them more effectively.
Team Sky and their Captain, Chris Froome, are the hallmark of excellence. In this year’s Tour de France, they are miles ahead (literally!) of the competition.
Commentators and fans are lauding them for their efforts, and competitors aspire to reach the same levels of success.
Sadly, a large proportion cannot accept that this level of success is possible. Instead they have decided and are happy to decree that Team Sky, and Chris Froome in particular, must be cheating.
In reality, the best firms don’t need to cheat. There is no secret formula. When you look deeper, the reasons for their success are clear.
The best organisations (and sports teams) in the world have a deep-rooted value set that drives all behaviours. Everyone shares the same values and works towards a common objective. Successful firms believe in doing things the right way…
You are a successful professional services organisation and have a proven track record. Why then, would you question your client management?
Maybe your client has started to suffer from ‘consultant fatigue’ having undertaken numerous consultancy projects over the last year and now feels that using more consultants will lead them to be criticised for their management of resources?
Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar to you: Your client has decided to postpone the next phase of a proposal and there are the usual excuses for the postponement – they now plan to go out to tender, next year the budget will not be there, there is no rush. The problem for you is that, if they delay, you know your client will struggle to get continuity of consultants.
What practical steps could you take to stop this standstill and get the best outcome?
PSfPS have created this checklist that you can download to help you benchmark your current practices, processes and procedures of client management against best practice…
Differentiating your firm from the competition – It is one of the most difficult tasks in professional services and yet one of the most important.
The perceived reality in the minds of many clients is that all accountants/lawyers/consultants offer pretty much the same services, in the same markets with the same outputs.
When you see the examples in this article from real proposal documents, it’s easy to see why this view is held.
There is no doubt that social media, particularly LinkedIn, is a very important tool when it comes to setting your personal brand.
Importantly, your personal brand also represents the organisation you work for.
These ‘LinkedIn Out Loud” videos put together by production company Joseph & Joseph show a collection of how not to set your personal brand on LinkedIn…
- “I run towards fires”
- “I’m not the boss. There’s only one boss and that’s Mr customer”
- “Welcome to a window into the life of me”
- “I don’t go with the flow – that’s for fish”
- “I’m not racist”
You can watch all the videos here…
William Johnson, Managing Director
Many organisations, across a variety of sectors, are undertaking the move towards a ‘services’ organisation.
We analyse the reasons for and implications of the move and how a successful transition can be achieved.
Ultimately, it’s all about the client…
There is a well-known affliction in Rugby called “White-line Fever.”
It occurs when a player senses glory and finds himself getting so close to the goal line that he simply has to try and go for it.
Unfortunately, White-line Fever also affects many professional services firms…
People across the UK will be pleased to hear that rail unions have called off a strike planned for this weekend. Against many odds and despite a perceived deadlock, this welcome result would appear to be a triumph for the negotiation process.
Unfortunately, the characteristics of these difficult negotiations can often be found in many business interactions – both within your organisation (with your colleagues) and outside of your organisation (with clients/suppliers/prospects/competitors). This is why mastering the key strategies to get an acceptable outcome from negotiation is a fundamental skill required in business.
Successful negotiation requires knowledge of various key behaviours and strategies. In this article we discuss one of these key strategies for gaining a mutually beneficial outcome from negotiation, which is how to develop a negotiation framework…
William Johnson, Managing Director
It’s hard to be an England cricket supporter at the moment. After being demolished by arch-rivals Australia in the Ashes series without winning a game, the England team were knocked out of the recent World Cup without even making it through the group stages and then limped to a drawn series in the West Indies.
Whilst this wasn’t much of a surprise to the weary supporters who have followed England for many years, when asked for a reason for England’s poor performance, the answer given by former Head Coach, Peter Moores, was quite surprising:
Fans and commentators were quick to scoff that this was the problem with the old management regime – an overreliance on facts and figures. But let’s not judge Mr Moores too quickly. Perhaps the data is the best place to look.
The key is to know what you are looking for based on an established set of hypotheses and then to apply analytical thinking…
William Johnson, Managing Director
The Managing Partners’ Forum (MPF) annual awards represent the best in class and current best practice amongst professional services firms. They provide a rare opportunity and set of current data to gain an understanding of what cultural traits the most successful professional services firms exhibit.
So what key cultural traits do these market leaders exhibit and what are the lessons that can be learned by other professional services firms?
After analysing each award winner and the explanations given by the judging panel, it becomes clear that success (growth, profits, client satisfaction and awards) is a function of three recurring cultural themes that make up what we have called “The Winners’ Formula”…
Exhibitions are a key component in the business development toolkit for many organisations. They also provide an opportunity to put into practice some key business development behaviours.
At marketing events, such as exhibitions and networking, the buyers are on the look out to make connections with potential partners. But with a large number of service providers, the process in the buyer’s mind becomes less about selection and initially, more about the elimination of unsuitable providers. A key objective for service providers at these events is therefore to not be de-selected.
So why are firms de-selected?
It is because many organisations do not have the required skills or convey the right behaviours to manage the critical ‘Moments of Truth’ and then capitalise on the ‘Chance Encounters’…
8 May 2015
People are resistant to change. The UK General Election has categorically proved this point.
Using the General Election 2015 as a case study, this article looks at why people resist change and the direct implications on your business behaviours.
Ultimately, if you understand the main forces of resistance to change, your business can form a strategy that builds credibility, minimises discomfort, wins hearts and minds and gains acceptance.
The 10 reasons people resist change are…
What you can learn for your own business development behaviour
General Election campaigns and gym memberships have a lot in common.
When it comes to critical client conversations and understanding how and why clients buy, vote and renew, professional services firms can learn a lot from the sales approaches of prospective general election candidates and gym membership sales teams.
That is, learn how it should not be done.
In recent days, I have had two similar ‘critical client conversations’. The first was an unexpected knock on my front door and the second was a phone call from an unrecognised local number. They both went something like this…
William Johnson, Managing Director
In today’s competitive market, there are many reasons why professional services firms might choose not to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP). They take considerable amounts of resources to complete and the chance of success is slim.
Yet, despite all of the factors that may be stacked against you, many firms must still, or simply choose to, submit a proposal document.
This article offers 10 top tips that you should always follow in order to maximise your chances of procurement success.
Paul Vincent, PSfPS Associate and Founder/Chair of the Management Consultancies Association Buyers’ Forum
Is there any point in professional services firms submitting a tender or proposal any more? Does the limited chance of success justify the time, money and scarce resources required?
Yes, argues Paul Vincent, BUT only if you are prepared to adapt your approach so that it properly aligns with the mind of your buyer.
Paul Vincent, PSfPS Associate and Founder/Chair of the Management Consultancies Association Buyers’ Forum
Professional services firms who understand that the market has changed, understand what their buyers are really thinking and who can make themselves as easy as possible to buy from, will be the ones that win.
Now be honest, would you choose to buy from you?
William Johnson, Managing Director, PSfPS
Exploring three critical areas of leadership behaviour that successful Partners exhibit.