Long ago, David Maister began preaching the gospel of the One-Firm Firm, the idea that the defining characteristic of some of the world’s most successful professional service firms was their unified culture that promoted professionals’ loyalty and efforts on behalf of collective success. Over the years, some firms have taken well-publicized steps to downplay individual stars, such as McKinsey’s split with Tom Peters.
Today, however, we typically find that many, if not most, of the kinds of knowledge-intensive organizations we study have some form of a “star culture” that celebrates individual achievement. In fact, if you believe that money is a proxy for a given individual’s star power, then the statistics bear out the reality of an ever-widening gap between the elites and the rest. In the legal industry, for instance, the spread between highest- and lowest paid partners in the average firm was 10:1 in 2014, but that gap grew to a whopping 23:1 in some firms.
There are lots of other signals of a “star culture” in firms besides compensation, of course, and we want to hear your experiences and observations:
What are the signals in your professional sector (or your firm) of the prevalence of “stardom”? Is it growing or shrinking? Have you seen any attempts – successful or not – to weed out a star-system and replace it with a more egalitarian culture (or whatever you call it)?
As ever in this Idea Space, please feel free to leave your comments below. If you have an especially sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share (perhaps one that I could disguise and use in the book, or at least learn from), then please email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.