My firm’s (credible) offerings?

To offer their clients sophisticated service, professionals need to know (1) what expertise exists across their own firm, (2) how it maps onto their clients’ needs, and (3) when it’s better to refer work to an outsider.  But as firms grow, staying current on credible inside offerings becomes increasingly difficult.  In our surveys across many professional firms, this lack of knowledge was one of the most frequently cited barriers to collaborating.

To increase collaboration, leaders can help professionals to learn about others’ expertise, identify cross-practice opportunities, and find competent partners to collaborate with.  Possible approaches:

  • Monthly workshops at practice group meetings that include short presentations from experts in high-potential areas.
  • Intranet-based tools for professionals to announce client opportunities, find experts, and ask / answer questions.
  • Rigorous onboarding of lateral hires, including having them do “roadshows” to highlight their expertise and pairing them with partners who are responsible for introducing them to others
  • A practice manager or other “honest broker” who can connect professionals with credible experts and give a balanced view of how and how much those services might benefit other clients
  • Internal newsletters featuring recent collaborative success stories so that professionals understand how others in the firm have combined expertise to solve client issues.

Questions for you:

  1. What are the best practices you’ve seen in helping get partners familiar with their firm’s full range of services?
  2. What’s your experience (good, bad, other) with any of these approaches?
  3. Does your firm use them? If so, do YOU actually use them?  How have they helped you? 
  4. What would you suggest instead?

Future blog posts will focus specifically on building interpersonal trust (“Can I trust you not to screw up? “  and “Can I trust you not to walk out the door with my client?”).  For now, we’re focused on getting partners familiar with services outside their specialist domain.  And don’t forget to check out the prior topic on “Downplaying Stardom” in the Archives at right.

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13 thoughts on “My firm’s (credible) offerings?

  1. We have tried a number of ways of getting people familiar with the range of services, including monthly presentations, newsletters, intranet etc. The most effective thing that we have found, though, is a regular “speed-dating” event whereby topic experts will have 5 minutes on a one-to-one basis with other partners to explain why their clients should be interested in this particular topic. Simple but effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karl, thanks – especially interesting to hear that your firm does it on a regular basis, which sounds like an effective way of keeping people current. And a 5-minute investment is pretty low-cost, even if done periodically. I suspect that participants get almost as much out of having to prepare their “elevator pitch” as they do from listening to others’, right? If you have a specific personal example or observation of a collaboration that stemmed from speed dating, I’d love to hear it (email me if you need it disguised).

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  3. We believe that the challenge in educating “the firm” about other services is effectively answering the question, “how does it benefit me to expose my client to another service line?” I would suggest that this challenge originates from the old short-term professional services business model of feast or famine on an annual basis. We believe to introduce other services to someone’s book of business, you need to have long-term alignment of goals among all players on the team, including the stars.

    In the creation of our new firm, we have designed the culture to get away from the star performer / rain maker platform to the concept of team and long-term objectives by reinvesting profits across the firm into longer-term alternative investments, i.e. real estate, renewable energy, litigation finance, business turn arounds, and then distributing those investments to the staff and partners as part of compensation. We believe that the minimization of current financial liquidity at the individual coupled with the perspective of long-tern equity growth of individual net worth separate from the firm’s net worth will better align interests, retain top talent, and incentivize team members to work together.

    As we implement the model, we have encountered many challenges. The core challenge, however, is for the stars to be willing to give up current compensation for possible future returns, which is a unique mind set for star performers. With that, we start every interview with, “Who do think about making money for when you wake in the morning, yourself or the team?”

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    • Don, this is a bold & novel approach to motivating collaboration. It would be fascinating to hear more about how your performance management approach / metrics help to keep the teams aligned around common goals. Thanks for sharing your perspective – I’ll reach out for some follow-up details as I move onto writing Chapter 3 (soon…!)

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  4. My experience is that collaboration can be “directed” or “bottom-up”. Both have a place in a company aiming to strengthen collaboration.
    I first experienced this at my old employer (Deloitte Australia) where staff were directed to reach out to specific practices and include them in their discussions with clients (i.e. including Change Management to de-risk large scale system implementations). Directing collaboration had the advantage of a high degree of alignment between the firm’s official strategy and what practitioners said in the field.
    The downside was that – in some cases – collaboration felt somewhat forced and became lip service.

    There was however a separate program to instill collaboration while leaving the direction to the individual. It simply stated: “reach out to a different practice and see how that could create synergies, new offerings etc.”. While participation was predictably lower than in the directed model, the ownership it created was substantially higher. It also lead to real (bottom up) innovation and differentiated offers to clients.

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    • Jesco, thanks for crystalizing the trade-offs between these two kinds of approaches. I’ll keep thinking about how to get the best of both: some level of direction/alignment with strategy from the top-down way AND the motivation/ownership from the bottom-up. If anyone has ideas, I’m open to more suggestions!

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      • I couldn’t agree more with Jesco’s point and, in fact, the combination of top-down strategy alignment with enabling of bottom-up ownership is incredibly powerful across multiple different areas and challenges within law firms.

        Whilst I have seen ‘speed dating’ sessions, mini-seminars, intranets and secondments all achieve a degree of success in building a better understanding of the firm’s entire offering, these initiatives seem to always (at least in my experience) start to decline/fall away with time as people get more busy, key supporters of the initiative move on or the firm focuses on different projects.

        Don started to touch on a salient point for me, in that you need to appeal to the individual’s sense of ‘what is in it for me?’, but I think this goes further in that you need to be able to provide the relevant information to the right individual at the time they need it most – making me attend an hour lecture on what the Real Estate department does is likely to be counter productive, but providing me with an interesting update on what one of the Real Estate partners has just achieved for a client at the exact time I am dealing with a client who may have a similar issue is much more likely to kick me into action.

        So for me, the top-down is that firms have to embed a culture of sharing information (in a succinct and relevant fashion), celebrating cross-referral success more openly and investing in technology that allows for easier sharing of business intelligence. The bottom-up is that individuals must be incentivised (and not just in monetary terms) to participate in sharing information and ensuring that clients are introduced to as many areas of the business as possible.

        I have also seen one firm really promote this sense of collaboration by insisting that every new lateral hire (be they partner or associate) must, in their first month at the firm, spend a day shadowing a partner in each of the major departments within the firm. Whilst they of course didn’t become experts in each offering, they did get an insight into the work that the different teams do and, more importantly in my opinion, start to build relationships with colleagues in different areas.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. We (the senior leader team) have made professional collaboration improvement a priority this year. Our historical practices have been too informal to scale well, and our growth is stressing the system. Some of the advisors are aware that advisor “A” has particular subject matter expertise in a particular area and know how to efficiently access that expertise primarily using their personal relationship. We’ve seen a real weakness developing with newer advisors not having the benefit of more entrenched internal relationships. Our efforts at using our intranet as a robust knowledge base have been average at best. Here are some of the things we are doing:

    1. Make collaboration on technical matters a stated priority with prioritized relevant subject matter.
    2. Full rolling year of pre- scheduled monthly practice managment meetings where at least 1 advisor must present technical / product subject matter. When possible they will present an actual client case to help illustrate.
    3. Video record the presentations and archive on intranet for future firm-wide access.

    We still need to attack the intranet adoption level. In a prior firm we had better searchable intranet knowledge base tools. We’re in the process of selecting a new intranet collaboration tool that should help increase usage.

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    • Pete – the video archive sounds like it would be a gold mine for helping to integrate laterally hired advisors, as well as to inspire juniors who are on their way toward building clients relationships. Do you have practice managers or someone on staff who can help refer others to the right videos when a possible cross-practice opportunity comes up? My experience at McKinsey was that those knowledgeable “brokers” saved huge amounts of time by making the right introductions — and in your case, it would be easy for the help-seeker to preview a video to see for herself whether the connection would make sense. Thanks for sharing the idea.

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  6. We have tried a few things.

    Interestingly a lot of our people talk about better technology to solve the problem of efficient knowledge sharing to promote more collaboration, especially cross selling. However, some attempts with technology including internal social media have had limited success. What has had success is investing in people getting to know each other to allow an easy transfer of knowledge and IP between people who know and trust one another. As an international firm this means lots of travel and conferences. It has impossible to complete measure effectiveness but there are some clear correlations between successful people and this echo have the most and best relationships. It is high cost but the judgment is that the return will come from deepened relationships as a a key enabler of better cross selling.

    Secondments between offices also assist this.

    A few other things – collaboration is one of our 4 Values and “Collaboration and teamwork” is one of the 7 criteria in our Balanced Scorecard used to assess partner performance. In fact it is the first of the Critteria. every partner has her/ his performance on that criteria rated annually. It is not restricted to knowledge sharing to enable cross selling but that is an important part of it. Too early to tell if it will drive higher levels of knowledge sharing, cross selling and collaboration but it is creating a common language and clear reference potints for performance discussions, bonus awards and goal setting. Revisit us in a year or two when the trends emerge.

    We also have a credit system where partners allocate credits to partners who have helped them be more successful, and that soft metric ( your credit score) feeds into performance assessment and remuneration. The credits can be allocated for any reason not just collaboration, knowledge sharing a no cross selling- but those reasons for the allocation of credits come up a lot. This allows the firm’s leadership to reinforce the importance elf collaboration, knowledge sharing and cross selling in various messaging and communications. We hope to inspire people to self solve to find ways that work for them on the basis that doing so will be something congruent with the firm’s strategy and recognised for performance purposes. Interestingly one group has came up with a speed dating concept along the lines Karl mentioned and it has now evolved into some more targeted but deeper discussions.
    Mark

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    • Mark, it might sound strange coming from someone who stakes her reputation on finding hard evidence to support hypotheses, but I actually believe it’s crucial for leaders to pick high-priority areas for investment (like travel for face-to-face meetings and conferences) even when you can’t measure the direct benefit. I have some ideas for tracking the effects of both secondments and partner retreats — “all” I need is the right data (hint, hint readers!) and enough time for computation.

      Can’t wait to see the effects of your partner credit system down the road, but definitely want to hear more about it in the meantime. Thanks for your post.

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  7. Based on these comments, to what extent would it be fair and useful to understand the roadblocks and potential solutions to knowledge sharing in terms of getting 3 things “right”:

    1. Motivation: the incentives professionals have to share knowledge and identify cross-domain opportunities. Some levers might be performance factors and compensation, professionals’ intrinsic desire to be involved in interesting, novel work, etc.

    2. Creating the occasion or venue for knowledge exchange: e.g. regular “speed-dating” events and presentations, focused problem-solving sessions, etc.

    3. Technology and tools: e.g. Intranet systems, videos, etc for easy retrieval of professionals’ expertise

    In my experience all three elements are important, but some perhaps more so than others in any particular organization. Obviously, professionals will not seek out opportunities to share knowledge if there is nothing it it for them. But desire to share may not translate into action if the occasion to do so easily or in a structured way never presents itself. Finally, depending on the size of the organization or the nature of the expertise, prodessionals may need tools to quickly access best practices, even after they know these knowledge areas exist.

    How useful are these 3 buckets as a way of understanding the issues at play? Which are most salient at your firm? Are we missing any categories, or would you describe things in an entirely different way?

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  8. Heidi, many good comments and ideas above! Let me add a couple of things that may help I hope.
    – Talking about a sales pitch, we developed a method called the 30-3-30 which helps our partners define their offering in 30 seconds (elevator pitch), 3 minutes, and 30 minutes in a structured manner. Starting from clients’ business needs of course! It gives more info and details about the client profile, needs, the firm’s expertise, solution and credentials, thus sounds very tangible for other partners, who could then re-use these messages in front of potential prospects and then organize a cross-selling meeting with their partners,
    – Success stories: we ask partners to create a one-page presentation about a success story they want to share with other partners. Again, we ask them to define: (1) Industry and clients Profiles, (2) Client’s needs and problem, (3) Methodology used and engagement action plan and steps, (4) Results, ROI for the clients, example of deliverables…
    – Last idea: Harvard Business case adapted to firms. While organizing partners’ meeting, we decided to create client business case (From 2 to 4 pages, only ) summarizing the firm/client relationships, the evolution of the offerings… Then, asking this particular client to come and share his or her point of view about this client/firm relationship and have the partners along with the client answer simple questions on cross-selling, clients’ innovation versus offering innovation…
    Hope this helps.
    Thanks for your work.
    Olivier.

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