Some firms mandate that partners can’t go on a client pitch unless they pair with a colleague for the meeting. So far my research suggests that this approach may do less than expected to spur true, valuable collaboration – and may even be dangerous unless the process is very carefully managed.
On the positive side, mandatory pairings send a strong signal that lone wolf behavior is not tolerated. When implementing the new policy, one firm leader basically said, “You don’t have to take a colleague with you, but you’ll never get more than 50% credit for originating business. So if you go alone, you have to split credit with the house.” Mandatory pairings also ensure that at least two brains are tackling each problem; ideally, the pair includes professionals with complementary expertise so that they really do bring diverse problem solving perspectives, not just greater firepower. A third benefit of mandatory pairings is that partners build camaraderie, trust, and a mutual respect for each other’s expertise and client development skills. Finally, mandatory pairings help to mitigate the risk associated with a single partner having the only set of eyes on an account.
On the flip side, however, a mandatory pairs policy can be gamed. In one firm, I’ve observed lots of horse-trading and backroom deals, along the lines of “I’ll list you as the 2IC [second-in-charge] this time, and you list me next time,” often with a bit of a wink that meant “…even if neither 2IC does anything substantive for the client.” If mandatory pairings is treated like a box-ticking exercise that merely allows partners to move past the initial screen on the client-intake system, then it breeds cynicism and can undermine serious efforts to instill collaboration.
Even worse, mandatory pairings can force a partner to foist an unwanted service onto a client. Rather than inquiring about a client’s most pressing issues and then lining up the right team to deliver it, a mandatory pairings policy makes a partner guess in advance about a client’s needs and then push that angle to matter what issues emerge. (For a longer rant on this point, see the last post “Collaboration versus cross-selling: ‘No, I don’t want fries!’”).
Careful management of this policy would include clarifying expectations, holding partners accountable for doing it in the spirit of true value-added collaboration, and equipping professionals to have the in-depth, inquisitive business development conversations that reveal collaboration opportunities that clients value.
What are your observations or experiences with mandatory pairings? What other aspects of management are necessary to give it teeth? To ensure that it has the intended effects of building trust – amongst partners, and between them and clients?
If you’re a client: how do you view this policy – and do you know which firms have it in place? Does it help or hinder value-add?
As ever in this Idea Space, please leave your comments below. If you have a sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share, then please email me directly on email@example.com . And please check out prior topics in the Archive section at right.